Ten Interesting Facts About Life in the Upper Missouri Country in the Nineteenth Century

1. In the winter months, the Indians traveled across the frozen surface of the Missouri on dogsleds.

2. None of the Upper Missouri tribes navigated the Missouri in canoes. Rather, they employed bullboats for short trips and dugouts for longer journeys.

3. Both Indian and European-American hunters preferred bison cows over bison bulls. They considered the meat of the cows more flavorful and more tender than that of the bulls.

4. During the occasional epidemics that struck the region, the Indians practiced an extreme form of social distancing. They departed their villages along the Missouri and dispersed across the plains.

5. European-Americans referred to dried bison dung, which they used in heating and cooking fires, as “prairie wood.”

6. Indians bathed year-round in the Missouri, even during the coldest days of winter and even when they had to cut holes in the ice to gain access to the water.

7. Indian warriors considered it cowardly and undignified to kill an enemy from a distance. The bravest thing a warrior could do was touch a live enemy with his hand or a coup stick before dispatching him.

8. The rugged, independently-minded European-American men who hunted and trapped across the Upper Missouri Country were known as “mountaineers,” not “mountain men.”

9. In order to keep the hair out of his eyes while in combat, a horse-mounted warrior tied it in a bun on the top of his forehead.

10. Before the age of electrical refrigeration, European-American settlers cut large pieces of ice from the frozen Missouri, covered the ice in sawdust to slow any melting, and then stored the ice in excavated caves in the nearby bluffs. Later, during the warm months of summer, they removed the ice, carved it into smaller blocks, and placed those blocks in ice boxes to cool fresh meats, produce, and beverages.

Above photograph courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck, ND.

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