Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization

Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization

Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization

Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization


Generations before the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery wintered in the northern Plains, the Mandan Indians farmed along the banks of rivers. The traditional world of the Mandans comes vividly to life in this classic account by anthropologist Alfred W. Bowers. Based on years of research and conversations with Crows Heart and ten other Mandan men and women, Bowers offers an engaging and detailed reconstruction of their way of life in earlier times. Featured here are overviews of how their households function, the makeup of their clan and moiety systems and kinship network, and a valuable look at the entire Mandan life cycle, from birth and naming through adulthood, marriage, and death.

Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization also includes descriptions and analyses of Mandan ceremonies, legends, and religious beliefs, including origin myths, the Okipa Ceremony, sacred bundles, Corn ceremonies, the Eagle-Trapping Ceremony, Catfish-Trapping Ceremony, and the Adoption Pipe Ceremony. Many of these practices and beliefs remain vital and relevant for Mandans today. A comprehensive look at the legacy and traditional roots of present-day Mandan culture, Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization is a classic ethnography of an enduring North American Native community.


Gerard Baker


I first met Alfred W. Bowers in the summer of 1980. I was a young National Park Service ranger stationed at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site near the city of Stanton, North Dakota. I had heard a lot about Alfred Bowers from my father, Paige Baker Sr., before I actually got to meet Bowers in person. My father was the first to tell me that my grandfather Jim Baker was the interpreter for Bowers when he was writing his Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization, a book I consider a companion to this book. Bowers would later describe my grandfather Jim this way in Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization: “I used James Baker as interpreter during the late winter while I worked in the Independence district of the Fort Berthold Reservation and lived in his home. Jim, as he is known by everyone, made no claim of competence as an interpreter, his only experience being with White stockmen of the district who came to call on non-English-speaking Indians about ranching problems. He was warm and friendly, and we became close friends and kept track of each other as long as he lived.” This was in 1930 and 1931.

When I learned of Alfred Bowers’s visit, I looked at it as my opportunity to go back in time and somehow get that direct connection to the Mandan people and their way of life from one who actually knew and lived among them—and who wrote what I feel is the most comprehensive book ever written about the Mandans as a people. I also looked at his visit as another way to enhance my understanding of the first edition of his Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization. I talked with my father about Bowers’s visit, and he instructed me (as he and my mother always did when I was to talk to the older ones) to “treat him as an elder, with the utmost respect, as he was adopted.” I had talked to Alfred Bowers by phone and found him to sound as I had expected a gentleman in his eighties to sound. We agreed to meet at 6:00 a.m. in one of the local cafes in Stanton. I can remember walking into the cafe and not seeing anyone, then I noticed this little old man drinking coffee way in the back. I walked up to him and sat down across the table. He did not look up at me (or maybe he looked at me like one of the elders—in a way I did not notice) but appeared to be in deep thought and was staring into his coffee. I said, in what I thought was my best attempt to greet this . . .

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