Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research


The Mandan and Hidatsa tribes located in modern day North Dakota have a rich history characterized by elaborate social and religions structures and trade based economic systems; however, because of their stationary lifestyles and increased European and American trade, the Mandan and Hidatsa faced substantial loses during the 1837 smallpox epidemic. The tribal decimation altered both social and ceremonial structures resulting in a new and collective identity and a new ceremonial structure. Through the analysis of the anthropological studies of Alfred Bowers and the journals of fur traders and explorers like F. A. Chardon, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark, it is possible to provide an overview of the Mandan and Hidatsa community structure, age grade system, and the significance of spirit bundles to their religion. These accounts also paint a personal picture of the devastation caused by the 1837 smallpox epidemic and the Mandan and Hidatsa struggle to maintain their cultural identity in the face of overwhelming destruction. Finally, the changes to Mandan and Hidatsa village life and religion post-epidemic are analyzed to see the lasting affects of European epidemics on these tribes.