There has been much confusion concerning the definition and designation of

the Hidatsa Indians. They were formerly known as Minitari or Gros Ventres

of the Missouri, in distinction from the Gros Ventres of the plains, who

belong to another stock. The origin of the term Gros Ventres is somewhat

obscure, and various observers have pointed out its inapplicability,

especially to the well-formed Hidatsa tribesmen. According to Dorsey, t

French pioneers probably translated a native term referring to a

traditional buffalo paunch, which occupies a prominent place in the

Hidatsa mythology and which, in early times, led to a dispute and the

separation of the Crow from the main group some time in the eighteenth


The earlier legends of the Hidatsa are vague, but there is a definite

tradition of a migration northward, about 1765, from the neighborhood of

Heart river, where they were associated with the Mandan, to Knife river.

At least as early as 1796, according to Matthews, there were three

villages belonging to this tribe on Knife river--one at the mouth, another

half a mile above, and the third and largest 3 miles from the mouth. Here

the people were found by Lewis and Clark in 1804, and here they remained

until 1837, when the scourge of smallpox fell and many of the people

perished, the survivors uniting in a single village. About 1845 the

Hidatsa and a part of the Mandan again migrated up the Missouri, and

established a village 30 miles by land and 60 miles by water above their

old home, within what is now Fort Berthold reservation. Their population

has apparently varied greatly, partly by reason of the ill definition of

the tribe by different enumerators, partly by reason of the inroads of

smallpox. In 1890 they numbered 522.

The Crow people are known by the Hidatsa as Kihatsa

(They-refused-the-paunch), according to Matthews; and Dorsey points out

that their own name, Absaruke, does not mean crow, but refers to a

variety of hawk. Lewis and Clark found the tribe in four bands. In 1817

Brown located them on Yellowstone river. In 1829 they were described by

Porter as ranging along Yellowstone river on the eastern side of the Bocky

mountains, and numbered at 4,000; while in 1834, according to Drake, they

occupied the southern branch of the Yellowstone, about the fortysixth

parallel and one hundred and fifth meridian, with a population of 4,500.

In 1842 their number was estimated at 4,000, and they were described as

inhabiting the headwaters of the Yellowstone. They have since been duly

gathered on the Crow reservation in Montana, and are slowly adopting

civilization. In 1890 they numbered 2,287.