1837 Mandan Cholera Epidemic

This was the second time smallpox had ravaged the Mandans, for it was an epidemic toward the end of the eighteenth century that had made them move from their old villages farther downriver and establish these near Knife River. The earlier epidemic had halved their population; this one killed much more than ninety per cent of them. The best estimate is that the tribe numbered about sixteen hundred in June, 1837. Few if any more than a hundred were alive six months later. 2 No tribal organization could be maintained; the survivors lived with the Minnetarees or the Arikaras from then on. There are no full-blooded Mandans today.

So ended a people whom most white men liked, though from the lesser Alexander Henry on there had been some who, like Chardon, abhorred them. They were the first of the Western Indians whom the white men knew as a tribe. (The elder Verendrye, who visited them in 1738-1739, had probably had predecessors.) They had always been friendly to white men. Lewis and Clark had spent a winter among them. So had many others, finding their manners agreeable, their living standard high since they had agriculture, their earth lodges comfortable, and their women ardent. They were not a predatory people; as Indians go, they were pacific and it was their stockades and fortifications rather than their valor that kept the Sioux from exterminating them. In fact, they suffered almost as much, over the years, from the Sioux and the Assiniboins as from the whites and their smallpox. But the whites did for them in the end. ‘Them,’ Chardon’s report of Four Bears’ speech runs, ‘them that I always considered as Brothers has turned Out to be My Worst enemies.’