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Chief Looking’s Village


Long ago there stood a village in the midst of the prairie. It was high on the hillside overlooking the great Missouri River Valley. From this place one could see for miles across the landscape. A landscape without pavement, car exhaust, or road signs; only marked by the rise and fall of the sun and the night stars. This place was home to the Mandan people, whose earth lodge village was part of the rhythm of the land. This was Chief Looking’s Village.

Flash forward about 350 years; the Northern Pacific Railroad is building a new line headed towards the western shores of North America, cutting across the Midwest. In 1872 its terminus is Bismarck, a city whose foundations share the very same bluffs as the Mandan’s village.

The new name for the young city of Bismarck came from thousands of miles away at the 1873 Vienna World Exposition. The Northern Pacific Railroad created a grand map for the Exposition boasting the reach of its rail lines. This map showed a great city called Bismarck, “very near the heart of the universe.” The renowned German leader Otto von Bismarck’s name was chosen by the industrious company to attract German investors and encourage settlement on the prairies.

In 1872 Bismarck was wholly unsettled, but soon many homesteaders would be making their way to the Missouri River Valley. Hopes of a new life and a piece of rich soil brought immigrants from around the world to the Missouri River Valley.

One of these settlers was O. J. Simmons whose homestead was located about 2.5 miles north of Bismarck. In July of 1873 upon examining his new homestead Simmons found some remnants of previous inhabitants. On the high bluffs there appeared to be traces of a well-fortified ditch, an embankment, and distinct “camping grounds.” Simmons also found pieces of pottery, bones, flint chips, and arrow-heads. Simmons was impressed by the beauty and craftsmanship of the pottery, which was “hard as flint” and “fine,” probably made from the fine silt which abounds in the Missouri River bottoms.

The village that was once a part of the Simmon’s homestead is now preserved within Pioneer Park of Bismarck. It was excavated in 1934 by Bruce Wallace, and named “Ward Village” after William Oscar Ward, who donated his land to the city to create a public park. The village was studied again in 1997, but much of its history is still unknown. In May of 2003, the archeological site was renamed from Ward Village to “Chief Looking’s Village” in honor of the name it once held to the Mandan people.

Today one can still visit the site and learn about its deep history. Although the landscape and its name have changed slightly over the years, the view is still spectacular.

Written by Maria Witham


Bismarck Tribune July 11, 1873, October 2, 1934

Beth Hughes Bauman and Dorothy J. Jackson “Prairie Trails to Hi-Ways” 1978