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Unit 1: Set 2: Mapping the Land & its People - Sitting Rabbit's Map

Introduction | List of Maps

This map was drawn on canvas by Sitting Rabbit. It measures 23 feet 4 inches by 17 ½ inches.

Sitting Rabbit's Map
Sitting Rabbit's Map (1905)

In 1905, Orin G. Libby, the acquisitive Secretary of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, asked a Mandan man by the name of Sitting Rabbit to draw a map of the “old villages of the Mandan and Gros Ventre [Hidatsa] . . . just as they used to be.” Sitting Rabbit drew on the oral traditions of the Mandan and Hidatsa to draw the course of the Missouri River and its tributaries in relation to villages of the past and present.

This map is interesting because it layers history with the geography of 1906. To the left as you look at this digitized image is south where the map begins on the South Dakota/North Dakota border. The upper side of the map is the west bank of the Missouri River. The map is drawn in sections, so that Sitting Rabbit could stretch the curves of the river in a relatively straight line. He used both English and Mandan languages to identify specific locations.

This map includes villages that by 1905 were known only in the long memory of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people. Many of these villages were abandoned as other tribes moved through or settled in the region. The Three Tribes, as they are known today, tended to move northward, settling into fairly large villages which offered more protection against enemies. Near the mouth of the Heart River the Mandan built 7 villages which around the year 1700 may have housed as many as 7,000 people.

Sitting Rabbit included the modern cities of Mandan and Bismarck which can be identified by city street grids and railroad lines. Other landmarks overlap new and old features, such as ancient Mandan Town in the midst of the present-day Standing Rock Agency.

Near Fort Clark are the 5 Knife River villages where Lewis and Clark visited the Mandan and Hidatsa during their winter at Fort Mandan across the river. These are also the villages where the tragic small pox epidemic of 1837 began, killing thousands of northern plains Indians and nearly destroying the Mandan and their culture.

Following the epidemic, the Mandan and Hidatsa again moved upriver and built a new village called Like-a-fish-hook (identified as Fish-hook house on the map). This village was the home of the Mandan and Hidatsa in the later 19th century. Nearby Fort Berthold lent its name to their present-day reservation.

Key to Site Identification:
Beaver Creek: Warraconne in Lewis and Clark map; Carp River
Heart River: Chiss-che-tar in Lewis and Clark map; Riviere du coer
Yellow Bank Village: Double Ditch Village (State Historic Site)
Mountain Village: in Knife River National Historic Site; home of Sakakawea
Dip Creek: Deep Water Creek; Onion Creek to Lewis and Clark
Hawk Creek: Goose Creek on Lewis and Clark Map; Shell Creek

Map Activity:
Use the zoom function to enlarge the map. Compare Sitting Rabbit’s map to a modern highway map. Do any state parks, historic sites, highways, towns, or other features correspond to those on Sitting Rabbit’s map? How many names of creeks and rivers are the same on today’s maps as on Sitting Rabbit’s map?

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