Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
Elizabeth A. Fenn
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Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for History
Encounters at the Heart of the World concerns the Mandan Indians, iconic Plains people whose teeming, busy towns on the upper Missouri River were for centuries at the center of the North American universe. We know of them mostly because Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804-1805 with them, but why don't we know more? Who were they really? In this extraordinary book, Elizabeth A. Fenn retrieves their history by piecing together important new discoveries in archaeology, anthropology, geology, climatology, epidemiology, and nutritional science. Her boldly original interpretation of these diverse research findings offers us a new perspective on early American history, a new interpretation of the American past.
By 1500, more than twelve thousand Mandans were established on the northern Plains, and their commercial prowess, agricultural skills, and reputation for hospitality became famous. Recent archaeological discoveries show how these Native American people thrived, and then how they collapsed. The damage wrought by imported diseases like smallpox and the havoc caused by the arrival of horses and steamboats were tragic for the Mandans, yet, as Fenn makes clear, their sense of themselves as a people with distinctive traditions endured.
A riveting account of Mandan history, landscapes, and people, Fenn's narrative is enriched and enlivened not only by science and research but by her own encounters at the heart of the world.
immunized many of the nations below the Arikaras. Some individuals chose not to submit to the strange procedure, developed in England by Edward Jenner in 1796. But those who were vaccinated included 2,081 Omahas, Otoes, Sioux, and Pawnees. By February 1833, more than seventeen thousand had been vaccinated nationwide.61 The Mandans and Hidatsas were not among them, nor were the Crows, Blackfeet, Crees, or Assiniboines. Why? The immunization effort had gotten off to a late start in 1832, with
fifty pounds, perhaps an underestimate. Horses probably traveled only slightly faster—about four miles per hour—than pedestrian humans when loaded. See Army Veterinary Department, Great Britain, Animal Management, 1908 (1908; repr., London: Harrison and Sons, 1914), 136. 29. Jeffrey Hanson writes that “an atmosphere of chronic warfare made the quick completion and transport of the hunt desirable.” Indeed, this is true. But both the Mandans and their enemies were mounted by the late eighteenth
Ariz.: PaleoCultural Research Group, 2007), 170. 31. Stanley Ahler makes this suggestion in his “Reflections and Future Suggestions,” in “Archaeology of the Mandan Indians at On-a-Slant Village (32MO26), Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Morton County, North Dakota,” ed. Stanley A. Ahler (Flagstaff, Ariz.: Office of Research and Graduate Studies, Northern Arizona State University, submitted to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, 1997), 432. 32. Garrick Mallery, Picture-Writing of
interlac’d and cemented with a sort of fat Earth.” There were fortifications too. “They have their Houses fortified with the branches of Trees,” he wrote, “and Fascines strenghen’d with fat Earth.”27 The French party resumed its voyage on November 12, passing village after village. At the last Eokoros settlement, the “Great Governour” told Lahontan “that sixty Leagues higher” he would “meet with the Nation of the Essanapes, who wag’d War with him.” The Eokoros had other enemies as well—the Sioux
here. Charles Joseph Kappler, ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904), 2:243–44. 52. [Anonymous], “Journal of the Atkinson-O’Fallon Expedition,” 35–36; and Atkinson, Expedition up the Missouri, 6. 53. Kappler, Indian Affairs, 2:242. 54. Ibid., 243. 55. Ibid. 56. Ibid., 242. 57. Ibid., 225–46. 58. April’s appellations included “moon of the game,” moon “of the wild geese,” and moon “when the ice breaks up.” Maximilian, Journals, 3:198. For