Long before white settlers came to the region, Native tribes farmed, hunted, and worshipped here. While their numbers were small (barely one person per square mile), the different tribes would still come into frequent contact. While sometimes this was for trade or celebration, other times the tribes would clash.
Wars could start over stolen horses or hunting ground rights. Once ignited, the animosity could last for generations. While it is near impossible to know when intertribal warfare began, archaeologists have determined from artifacts that fighting extended well in to the prehistoric past, continuing until the last of the bison herds were gone, in the mid 1880s. Palisades and other fortifications along the Missouri River date back to times before Europeans discovered North America. The people from these villages would be ancestors to the Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa, who had their own fair share of tribal warfare before they united.
One record of intertribal warfare comes from William Clark’s journal entry on this date in 1805. He wrote, “[The Arikara] express a wish to visit the Mandans, & know if it will be agreeable to them to admit the Arikaras to settle near them and join them against their common enemy the Sioux. We mentioned this to the Mandans, who observed they had always wished to be at peace and good neighbors with the Arikaras, and it is also the sentiments of all the Big Bellies [Hidatsas], & Shoe Nations.”
So surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa were already allies before they officially became the Three Affiliated Tribes. Clark goes on to describe conflict between white settlers and the surrounding tribes. Some of the tribes liked the settlers and others that did not. Depending on which tribes the settlers liked, they would provide tools of war in exchange for resources like food and blankets. While it may not be a nice part of history, intertribal warfare is a significant element of the Great Plains narrative.
Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas