1700s - Indian trade routes across the continent

        The Hudson Bay and North West Companies would soon exploit trade routes connecting Indian tribes all over the continent.  Throughout this century the Mandan Villages were the principal trading center on the plains.   Their thriving villages sat at the nexus of trading routes that had been used for more than 10,000 years, routes that connected the tribes of eastern Canada and the Great Lakes region with tribes of Northern Mexico, the southwest, Meso-America, and the Pacific Northwest. 

         Certainly, the Mandans and Hidatsa were the most important inter-tribal trade brokers on the Great Plains.  The arrival of the Canadians, French and British, followed shortly by the Americans and Spanish, would herald enormous changes for these people.  It was also the place where the horse culture of the plains met the gun culture of the wooded northeast.  Decades before they saw their first white man, the Mandans were trading for goods manufactured in Europe.

         The Mandans found themselves in the position of warehousing horses and guns for distribution to all the tribes that arrived at their village, often with a 100 percent markup.  It was their prominence as traders, like the Genoese in Europe, that made them so important as potential allies and trading partners to all the outside commercial ventures.  By the end of this century and the beginning of the next, two commercial trading systems would be vying for dominance.  The American system exploited the Missouri and Arkansas River regions, and in time extended to the Rocky Mountain front in the Colorado and Wyoming territories, hundreds of miles south of their Canadian counterparts.  The Canadian system controlled the Great Lakes region, the northern plains and the Pacific Northwest.  Very cleverly, the Mandans and Hidatsa played both systems off each other to their own advantage.

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         At the beginning of the 18th century, their villages at the Heart River comprised the largest concentration of Indians on the northern plains.  Many tribes borrowed things from the Mandans, and it is likely that the feathered headdress of the Plains Indian was a creation of Mandan ceremonial art.  By now, the Mandans had become accustomed to semi-sedentary living and were flourishing as horticulturalists. They had evolved into a complex social and political culture, and each village enjoyed autonomy.