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United States. Office of Indian Affairs / Annual report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, for the year 1873

[Fort Berthold agency],   pp. 234-237 PDF (2.0 MB)

Page 234

SIR: I have the honorto submit this my third annual report as agent for the
Gros Ventre, and Mandan Indians. 
The bottoms of the Missouri have, in this neighborhood, an average width
of about 
a mile and a half. The most elevated parts are about fifteen feet above low-water
mark, but four times within the last twenty-three years they have been entirely
flowed. From side to side, in these bottom-lands, the Missouri winds cutting
at each 
bend almost, or entirely through the first bench, and sometimes through this
to the 
second bench. In the latter case we find the stream bounded on one side by
a high and 
precipitous bank. 
The general surface of the land is not fertile; generally Sterile and sparsely
bered and watered. The deeper ravines and bottom-lands produce grass sufficiently
long to be made into hay, but on the higher ground the grass is too short
to be 
cut. Even on the better soil the second crop of hay is not as abundant as
first. For agricultural purposes only the lower lands seem to be available.
In the 
bottom-lands of the Missouri, where they are covered with timber and undergrowth,
the soil is rich and rendered tolerably moist by percolation from the river,
and because 
the melted snow and rain and water from overflows are retained long on the
in consequence of the flatness apd peculiar composition of the soil. Drought
is one of 
the chief difficulties, but not the only one, for what the drought spares
the grasshop- 
pers are apt to devour. Some years when there is a pretty fair rainfall,
and a scarcity 
of grasshoppers, careful husbandry rewarded by a fair crop on these
At Fort Clark, seventy-five miles below here, where the Arickarees formerly
at the mouth of Knife River, sixty miles below here, the site of the old
Gros Ventre 
and Mandan Villages, and here the Indians have for many years cultivated
irrigation) corn, squashes, and pumpkins, and been rewarded by fair success.
The cottonwood constitutes the bulk of the forest-trees in this vicinity,
and is the 
only wood available in any quantity for fuel or building purposes. The low
lands along the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers are, for the most part, covered
cottonwood forests. The wild yellow, or red plum, is found in the ravines
and on the 
prairie side of points of timber on the river lands. It is edible and of
good flavor, being 
the best fruit this vicinity affords. The number of trees, however, is limited,
and the 
supply consequently scanty. The choke-cherry is found in much the same places,
a variety of service or June-berry, somewhat similar to the huckle-berry,
is abundant 
along the streams as a shrub. The smooth wild goose-berry is sparingly found
in the 
ravines. The currant is more common in the same locality. The buffalo, or
bull berry, 
an edible, acid, red fruit, ripening late in the season, is to be met with
abundantly in 
the bottom-lanids. It is very valuable to the Indians, who often subsist
on it almost en- 
tirely for several weeks during the fall, at times when there happens to
be great scarcity 
of game. The pomme blanche, or "Indian turnip," is abundant in
the high grounds and 
sandy soil. It is much used for food by the Indians. The prickly pear, or
cactus, is 
extremely abundant on the prairie, and its sharp, stiff spines are very annoying
to the 
traveler, whether mounted or on foot. Lamb's quarter grows plentifully. The
onion is common on the prairies, and a species of wild mint finds a place
on the moist or 
marshy banks of streams. 
The average temperature is about 430 F.; extremes, 1050 F. and 400 F. The
mers short and hot; winters long and cold, continuous, and severe. Wind and
storms are of common occurrence. The atmosphere is dry, and the variations
in tem- 
perature not so marked as in more humid climates. The climate is generally
dry; the 
fall of rain is very small; the annual average for the past five years has
been only ten' 
and a quarter inches. It is generally supposed that game is plenty about
here. This 
is an erroneous impression. There are but very few small streams, an entire
of lakes, and an almost entire destitution of timber, the whole country being
one wilder- 
ness of dry prairie for hundreds of miles around, and hence there is but
a very little 
small game, fish, or wild fruits to be found. In former times the buffalo
roamed over 
the country, but they hav receded and are now some two or three hundred miles
These Indians nre manufacturers as well as agriculturists, being very skillful
various manufactures, and display great art and ingenuity in the design of"
 he various 
articles they make. Besides the usual pipes, pipe-stems, bows, arrows, &c.,
they malee 

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