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Hidatsa Ranchers

The U.S. Indian Office first issued cattle to Indians for food, but in the 1890s federal officials began encouraging the tribes to develop commercial herds as a way to generate jobs and cash. The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara families whose lands were now combined to form the Fort Berthold reservation began building such a herd in 1891. Within a decade many families were engaged in this new enterprise, sending hundreds of head of cattle to eastern stockyards each year.

In winter, Indian ranchers kept the cattle close to their Missouri River homesteads, while in summer they set the animals loose on the surrounding prairies. These pictures show the fall routine at Fort Berthold. They demonstrate how quickly these Indians had become cowboys.


Carolyn Gilman. "Cattle Ranching on the Ft. Berthold Reservation," in The Way to Independence: Memories of a Hidatsa Indian Family, 1840-1920, 1987.

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Minnesota Historical Society, Gilbert Wilson Photograph Collection.