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Huff Indian Village Historic Site

2/8/2016:

Fifty years ago the National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America. As the homesteaders’ plows began turning over the prairie sod, only minimal curiosity and concern was given to the remnants of earlier civilizations. Various effigies, tipi rings and burial mounds were removed with little trace left behind, and village sites were lost to cultivation. Fortunately, along the Missouri River, a number of sites have been saved. Although mapped as early as 1908 by Ernest Steinbrueck, it was 1997 that the Huff Village site was nominated as a National Historic Landmark.

Located along the river, sixteen miles south of Mandan, the site is a classic prehistoric Mandan settlement dating to about AD 1450. The village covers about twelve acres. Beginning in 1938, extensive excavations have revealed depressions marking more than one hundred lodges. The large, well-planned community was surrounded by a massive fortification system consisting of a ditch more than two thousand feet long with ten well-defined bastions. A ceremonial lodge dominated the center of the village.

Perhaps a thousand or more people once lived there. The lodges were roughly arranged in rows, each around 40 to 47 feet in length and 25 to 35 feet wide, but weren’t quite rectangular as the ends varied in width by approximately five feet. Four-foot side walls surrounded an excavated floor area. The walls supported beams that reached a height around ten to fifteen feet in the center.

The study of sites like Huff Village is important for better understanding of the culture and traditions of ancient civilizations. Researchers conclude that the village was probably occupied only for a short time, perhaps 20 years, as indicated by the clarity of the village plan and a lack of evidence for rebuilding or trash accumulation. The rectangular construction of the lodges were part of Mandan tradition, but the style soon gave way to the circular lodges described by the first European visitors. And we know they cultivated corn, squash, beans and pumpkins – an agricultural legacy that still benefits people today.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

“The Upper Missouri River Valley Aboriginal Culture in North Dakota,” North Dakota Historic Quarterly, Volume 11 (1&2):5-126 George F. Will and Thad C. Hecker

United State Department of Interior, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form “Huff Archeological Site”. 1997