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Leaders - Traditional Leaders of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish - Traditional Sahnish (Arikara) Chiefs - Part 2

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Intro | Mandan | Hidatsa | Sahnish pt 1 | Sahnish pt 2

Traditional Sahnish (Arikara) Chiefs - Part 2


Father of Son-of-the-Star. Little written history is known of this renowned leader. A drawing was done of him by Catlin. He was called “Bloody Hand” in the picture.


White Shield was an elder statesman who was a wise and respected chief. He was ousted by Indian agent Mahlon Wilkinson for refusing to sign a document that he knew would cheat his people. Wilkinson declared that White Shield was no longer chief and ineligible for his $200 annuity. Wilkinson replaced White Shield with Son-of-the-Star, however, the people still recognized him as their chief. In June 8, 1869, 500 Dakotas attacked Fort Berthold. The Three Tribes were badly outnumbered. During a lull in the battle, White Shield rode out between the hostile lines and said “I am old. My teeth are bad. I can’t eat corn. I am ready to die. Will my enemy meet me—will my enemy come?” His challenge was unanswered and the old chief returned to his men. The fighting began again and after a savage battle, the Sioux broke and scattered. (51)

White Shield was a mentor for Son-of-the-Star. He signed the1866 Agreement at Fort Berthold.


Son-of-Star chief

Son-of-the-Star was a strong and respected leader of his people. His father was chief Star (Bloody Hand). He was chief of the Sahnish police, and was one of the delegates to a meeting with the Indian commissioner in Washington in 1874.

Son-of-the-Star was the leader of the society that protected the tribe. This society could be interpreted as the police or village guards. In 1874, the Commissioner called for Son-of-the-Star to come to Washington, D. C. Son-of-the-Star, Bull Head, Peter Beauchamp I (Sahnish interpreter), Bad Gun, Bald Eagle, and Shows-fear-in-the-Face, a Mandan, were the men who met with the officials in Washington. At this meeting, the party agreed to scout for the military in trade for protection from the vast numbers of Sioux. (52)

Son-of-the-Star was the chief of the Sahnish people during the great changes that took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Son-of-the-Star promoted education for his people. White Shield was his mentor and assisted him during his early years as chief.


Sitting Bear, chief

Sitting Bear was born in 1839, on the west side of the Missouri River opposite what is now Washburn, North Dakota. His father was Son-of-the-Star and his mother’s name was Red Eagle Woman. He was eighteen years of age before making his first trial at war, and even then he took no part in the actual conflict with the Assiniboine with whom his party encountered.

The following year, he engaged in the fight with the Sioux while on a hunting party near the Fort Berthold village. He achieved distinction by being first to strike one of the horses of the enemy. In all, he participated in twelve battles, six of which he led. Sitting Bear lead the Sahnish in a combined party of Hidatsa and Mandan, into Sioux country. His first expedition as chief was made down the Missouri River in bullboats. After traveling for nine nights, concealing themselves by day, his party made an escape after an engagement with the men of a hostile village. Sitting Bear married at nineteen, and like his father and grandfather, became the tribal chief. (53)

IRON BEAR—BEAR CHIEF, no date–1867

Iron Bear (a.k.a. Bear Chief -kuunNx tee shan) was a Sahnish Head Chief. He was born when the Sahnish were living along the Grand River, in the late 1700s. His place of birth was the village on the west bank. The Sahnish were living in two villages on both sides of the river at the time.

At an early age he learned the tactics of warfare from his father and uncles. When he grew to manhood, he was chosen to become a war chief because he was a fearless leader and a strategist in warfare against the Dakota, the traditional enemy of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish.

Iron Bear was sent to Fort Laramie in 1851, along with Young Chosen Eagle, a Sahnish warrior, as the Arikara delegates. Accompanying them was Francois L’Etalie, interpreter. The purpose of their delegation was to represent the Sahnish Nation.

Chief Iron Bear was given the authority (Article 6 of the treaty) to choose a tribesman on his return, to be chief with him to govern the Sahnish. White Shield (1798–1878) was chosen and he in turn appointed Son-of-the-Star (1813–1881) as head of the Sahnish police. Each chief, according to Sahnish custom, maintained a police force to keep peace and order. Iron Bear was one of the signers of the July 27, 1866 Agreement at Fort Berthold, along with Head Chief White Shield and the Second Chief Son-of-the-Star. Their interpreter was Pierre Garreau.

Chief Iron Bear died in the spring of 1867, leaving no direct descendants. He had a brother, name unknown, who had children. (54)

WHITE SHIELD I, 1798–1878

White Shield, NahtAsuu’taaka, was born with the Sahnish while living at the Grand River Villages. When he grew to manhood, he married Ka-wit (Last Child). They had three children, two daughters, Smoke or Tobacco Woman and Yellow Calf Woman, and a son whose name was Comet.

He was a young child when Lewis and Clark journeyed up the Missouri River in 1804. He was a young man when the United States Army and Dakotas tried to annihilate the Sahnish in 1823. In 1924, William Clark wrote to the President of the United Sates asking for permission to annihilate the Arikara if they didn’t sign the treaty of 1825.

In 1825, through emissaries, another treaty signing was arranged for the Sahnish. White Shield was an observer of the treaty signing. His sister, Woman Who Goes In Every Lodge, her husband Two Nights, a Sahnish warrior, signed the treaty along with the Head Chief Bloody Hand (Star) (staanapaa’At - sakaa’A) and Chief Bad Bear (kunnex te nosiiA’) and other prominent Sahnish chiefs and warriors. (55)

White Shield I was called upon in 1851 to share head chieftainship with Iron Bear. White Shield was known as a fierce warrior and a strong-hearted leader. (56)


Floyd Bear, chief

Floyd Bear was the son of Awahu Chief Sitting Bear and Black Calf Woman. He had one brother, six sisters, four half-sisters, and three-half-brothers. His father Sitting Bear had been married four times.

Floyd Bear, during his term as chief, along with his cousin Burt Wright, wrote letters to Congressman L.B. Hanna and succeeded in securing army pensions for the last remaining nine Ree Scouts.

At the time of Chief Floyd Bear’s death, the sub-chiefs considered his son Robert too young to serve as Head Chief. A meeting was held in August of 1926, at which time Harry Gillette was chosen to serve until such time as Robert Bear Sr. could take his rightful place as chief. (57)


Harry Gillette, chief

Harry Gillette was born at Fort Berthold in 1867. His mother, Omaha Woman, was the daughter of Chief Son-of-the-Star and Red Eagle. He had four brothers and one sister. He was married to Anna Gillette and they had one son and three daughters. They also raised their grandson Evan Gillette. His great grandson, Austin Gillette, served as tribal chairman between 1978 and 1982. (58)

Harry Gillette and his cousin Floyd Bear were the last two Sahnish chiefs to deal with the U.S. Government before 1936, after which the Three Affiliated Tribes began electing council members. The role of the chiefs had been taken over by the government which required an elected tribal council. The hereditary chiefs of the Sahnish are still recognized, but do not perform the duties of a traditional chief among the Sahnish people. Harry Gillette died at the age of 80 on March 6, 1947. (59)


Robert Bear’s parents were Floyd Bear (Sahnish) and Rachel Wolf (Hidatsa). He had three brothers and two sisters. He was married to Dora Hopkins in 1925. They had seven sons and five daughters. He was a member of the “Dead Grass Society.”

Robert became chief in 1947 following the death of his uncle, Harry Gillette. Robert’s home was open to all visitors alike—no one was ever turned away. As is custom of the Sahnish Chiefs, no one ever left their home hungry or without money or a place to sleep. This tradition is still carried on by his children and grandchildren. (60)


Robert Bear Jr., chief

Bobby was born on the Fort Berthold Reservation. His parents were Robert Bear, Sr. and Dora Hopkins Bear. He has spent the majority of his life in the Six Mile Creek and White Shield communities.

Bobby Bear became Awahu Head Chief after his father was killed in a coal mining accident in 1961. Bobby is a direct descendant of Chief Son-of-the-Star.

Robert has a wide-range of knowledge of the Sahnish oral history, Grass dance songs, veteran songs, Old Scout songs, and Ree hymns. He learned his tribal history from his father, and was tutored by his uncles Dan Howling Wolf, Dan Hopkins, Peter Beauchamp, Jr., and other Sahnish elders. He recently passed his ownership of a Dead Grass stick to a younger singer.

He was a bronco rider in his younger days, a career that ended when he suffered a broken hip and leg. (61)


Acitaneeshnu was mistakenly called Ankedoucharo which was his title rather than his name. Eagle Feather was chief when Lewis and Clark took him to Washington, D.C. While there, the Sahnish Chief died. Officials gave no explanation as to how or why he died. Lewis and Clark, fearing the wrath of the Sahnish, did not tell of their chief’s death until a year later. When the Sahnish found out about his death, they became angry. The inexplicable death of their chief was the major reason for hostilities which resulted in the Battle of 1823 where the Sahnish took revenge on General Ashley and his men who were coming up the river from St. Louis. They killed several men, took goods, and set the party’s boats adrift in the river. The attack angered the military forces and they set out with soldiers, artillery, cannons, and 800 or 900 Sioux for Leavenworth to “teach the Arikara a lesson.” (62)

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