History of the Knife River Indian Villages
The history of land and vegetation use in the vicinity of Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site begins with the Native American occupation. This occurred about 10,000 years ago when big game hunting and berry/nut gathering people traversed the area.
For nearly a millennium this area was a trading hub established by the earthlodged Hidatsa and Mandan tribes with the primary commodity being Knife River flint. In addition, it is important as a place where Indian culture and agriculture developed.
It should be noted that there were more people living along the Knife and Missouri Rivers in the 18th and early 19th Century than there are today. After North Dakota Knife River in Maythe small-pox epidemic in 1837, the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes abandoned their villages here and moved approximately 60 miles up river to establish Like-a-Fishhook village.
During the second half of the 19th Century steamboats frequented the area and created “wood yards” on the Missouri River bottomlands. Their purpose and function were to cut and store wood to be used as fuel for the steamboats. The largest of these “wood yards” occurred at the mouth of the Knife River in what is now Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site and present day Stanton.