Double Ditch State Historic Park
Double Ditch Indian Village, overlooking the Missouri River, was a large earthlodge village inhabited by Mandan Indians between about 1500 and 1781. The remains of earthlodges, midden mounds (trash heaps), and fortification ditches are clearly visible today. Interpretive signs are posted throughout the site.
Captain William Clark wrote in his journal of October 22, 1804
Who are the Mandans? The Mandans are one of the most well-known agricultural tribes of the Missouri Valley region. They developed a rich and elaborate culture based on farming and bison hunting. According to Mandan oral history, Double Ditch was one of seven to nine villages occupied at the same time near the mouth of the Heart River. The Mandan population in this area probably totaled 10,000 or more during this time.
The Mandans, as well as the Hidatsas and Arikaras, built dome-shaped houses of logs and earth, known as earthlodges. The men usually decided how large an earthlodge would be, and the women did most of the building. To build an earthlodge, a wooden framework was erected, then covered with layers of willow branches, grass, and finally, earth. It took about 150 trees to build one earthlodge. Earthlodges varied from 20 to 65 feet in diameter and housed a family of eight to twenty people. They were built close together. All that remains of the earthlodges are circular depressions. There are about 150 of these circular depressions still visible today at Double Ditch.
Why was Double Ditch abandoned? A massive smallpox epidemic swept the interior of North America about 1780-1781. This catastrophe appears to be responsible for the abandonment of Double Ditch and all the other Mandan villages near the Heart River. By the year 1800 the Mandan population was reduced to perhaps 1,200 individuals. In 1804 Lewis and Clark were traveling upriver and observed a band of Teton Dakotas camping near the abandoned Mandan village. Native American informants told Lewis and Clark that the village had been vacant for about twenty-five years. The Mandans had moved to new villages further upriver.
Double Ditch is open to the public. Currently excavation (of the possibility of a second set of rings that would make it Double Double Ditch) is taking place. Come walk the path, read the interpretive signs, learn about the Mandan Indians, and take the free guided tour.
June 11-July 11, 2003