Four Bears Bridge
If you’ve ever been around the Fort Berthold Reservation, you may have driven across the Four Bear Bridge, although you were probably not aware of its long and rich history. It began with the Mandan, Hidasta, and Arikara tribes. Since the 15th century they lived in the river bottomland. When the Fort Berthold Indian reservation was created in 1851 they became the Three Affiliated Tribes and received a small portion of those lands to live on. In 1934, they decided to build a bridge to cross the Missouri River at the now underwater town of Elbowoods. They dedicated the northern half to a Hidasta Chief and the southern half to a Mandan chief, both of whom were named Four Bears, and thus the bridge received its name.
Severe floods swept the lower Missouri River basin in 1943. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started surveying to plan a flood control dam. From 1945 to 1954 they constructed the dam. Many tribes and white settlers migrated as a result, because the project took 155,000 acres, or about 25 percent of reservation land. The bridge also moved, getting dismantled with portions reused 70 miles upstream at New Town … the second Four Bears Bridge.
Unfortunately, by the 1990s the 20-foot-wide roadway was too narrow and was deemed unsafe. The state began to conduct studies in 1993 to evaluate ways to improve the bridge and decided they would replace the bridge with one that integrated designs from the Three Affiliated Tribes. They began construction in April 2003. Unfortunately, on this date in 2004, when the bridge was 65 percent done, a portion of it collapsed, killing one of the workers and injuring three others.
The bridge was finally finished in September of 2005, complete with tribal medallions, markers, and storyboards with the history of the Three Tribes. So, if you’re ever by Fort Berthold, stop by Four Bears Bridge for a history lesson.
Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas