This post is part of a series on The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip, our 10-month, 15,000-mile tour of the top pet friendly attraction in each of the lower 48 states.
This quiet location along the Knife River, surrounded by farmland as far as you can see, wasn’t always so tranquil. At one time, nearly 400 people call this place home, and archeologists believe that this area has been occupied for more than 11,000 years! The Upper Missouri River and it’s tributaries not only acted as a highway connecting native people, its wooded banks also provided berries, nuts, cover for game, and eventually the rich soil that allowed American Indians to adopt agriculture and settle in permanent villages.
The earliest people to settle here were nomadic, passing through as they hunted large game that’s now extinct. They were followed by hunter-gatherers who harvested the bounty provided by the river as it cut through the prairie that was hot and dry in the summer, and brutally cold in the winter. Next came the Hidatsa and Mandan who’d been living along the Knife River for more than 200 years when the first French trader arrived in their village in 1738.
In the summer the tribes lived on the natural terraces along the river in large earthen lodges measuring 30 to 60 feet in diameter. Construction of the homes was handled by the women and each lodge housed extended families of 5 to 15 people. Much of their food came from their gardens, which were also tended by the women. In this warrior culture, the men were occupied primarily with hunting and raiding. Bison, deer, and small game, and fish supplemented their diet and provided hides and bone for tools, and raiding was a way to collect horses and other loot.
In 1804, Captains William Clark and Meriwether Lewis embarked from St. Louis on their mission to explore the Missouri River in search of a passage to the Pacific Ocean. After traveling 1,600 miles, they arrived in what is now the Knife River Indian Villages, and with cold weather approaching, built a fort to spend the winter. They named their post Fort Mandan, in honor of their neighbors, and throughout the winter traded and shared information with the tribe.
During the winter they met Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trader who’d been living among the Hidatsa, and his wife, Sakakawea (Sacagewea). Recognizing that Sakakawea’s translations of the tribal languages they would encounter as they continued west would be invaluable, they hired Charbonneau and he, Sakakawea, and their son, Jean Baptiste, joined the expedition. Though they eventually reached the Pacific Ocean, they discovered no waterway across the land. By August 1806 the expedition had returned to the Knife River, and Charbonneau, Sakakawea, and their son, returned to live with Hidatsa relatives.
Over time, westerners exposed the native people to diseases for which they had no immunity, and in 1837 a small pox epidemic took the lives of many Indian nations. By 1845, the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes had abandoned their village along the Knife River to form a new village, Like-A-Fish-Hook. All the visible evidence that’s left of this great village are the depressions in the ground were the earthen lodges once stood.
Leashed pets are welcome to walk the trails and explore the grounds at the Knife River Indian Villages site with you, as long as you pick up after them. They’re not allowed inside the visitor center or the reconstructed earthen lodge. The Village Trail can be accessed from the visitor center, and the North Forest Trail and Two Rivers Trail are accessible from parking areas on Hwy 18. Maps are available at the visitor center.
Pet Rules at Knife River Indian Villages
- Pets must be leashed and pet waste must be cleaned up and disposed of properly
- Pets are welcome on all trails and throughout the grounds
- Pets are not allowed inside buildings or the reconstructed earthen lodge
We were lucky to visit on a day when the weather was absolutely perfect. The Village Trail provides the best views of the former village sites and a beautiful walk along the tranquil Knife River. The rangers here are also very friendly and informative – they’re happy to provide you with a tour of the reconstructed lodge behind the visitor center, so be sure to ask. One fact that I found astonishing: the reconstructed lodge took about 9 months to complete with modern equipment approximately 10 years ago. Once the materials were gathered, the women of the village constructed a new lodge in 7 to 10 days!
Visiting these attractions with Ty and Buster is a dream come true. We’ll be blogging about each one as we go along, so fasten your seatbelt and stay tuned!
The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip wouldn’t be possible without the support of our wonderful sponsors: Winnebago, 2 Hounds Design, Alcott, goDog®, PetGuide.com, Red Roof Inns, Sleepypod, The Bark, PetHub, RVPetSafety.com, and The Honest Kitchen. Please be sure to visit their websites and social media pages and thank them for their participation!