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A Tragic Battle on the Red River near Pembina (1840)

In the early 1900s, an account of a battle between the Ojibwe and Mandan was recounted by Flying Nice – a warrior of the Pembina (Turtle Mountain) band – that saw the terrible mutilation of a young daughter of chief Red Bear and a resounding victory for the Ojibwe.

About 1840, the Pembina band was camped on the Red River about a mile and a half north of the present city of Pembina, on the west side of the river. The headman of the camp was the first Red Bear chief. While camped there, a party of Mandan were out on a war expedition in this vicinity. The Mandan arrived at the Pembina River and decided that they would attack the Ojibwe camp. The Mandans made a raft and floated across the river and proceeded north to the camp of Red Bear and his people. Along the way to the camp, the Mandans encountered some Ojibwe children who were playing and digging wild carrots along a slough south of the camp. The Mandans crept cautiously along and rose up to capture the children, but the children were able to run away towards their camp – all except one small girl, the daughter of Red Bear. Red Bear’s daughter was grabbed by the Mandans and was immediately scalped on each side of her head above her ears. She was then released, bleeding and staggering towards her home.

Meanwhile, in Red Bear’s camp, a medicine man named Mishequot had a premonition that something terrible was about to happen. He called to the other men of the camp just as the first child ran into camp crying “The Sioux are here!”, mistaking the Mandans for the traditional enemies of the Ojibwe. Immediately, the Ojibwe warriors rushed to their tipis and grabbed their weapons, running in the direction from which the children had come. On their way to the slough, the warriors found Red Bear’s daughter staggering toward the camp, her scalp gone and her head covered with blood. Among the warriors were two sons of Red Bear, Southern Sky and Great Walker, who were horrified to find their sister in this state. After seeing that she would survive, the brothers rejoined the warriors and rushed to find the enemy and extract revenge.

The Ojibwe warriors approached the Pembina River, where they found the Mandans dropping over the river banks to escape. Immediately, both brothers fired their guns and the rest of the Ojibwe followed suit and were all shooting from the top of the riverbank down on the fleeing Mandan warriors who were desperately diving into the water to escape death. It is uncertain of how many Mandans were killed that day, but it was found out years afterward, when the Ojibwe and Mandan were at peace, that very few warriors from this party – numbering about 40 people – made it home to the Missouri River after the battle. All of the Mandan’s clothing and provisions were seized by the Ojibwe as war prizes.

The daughter of Red Bear survived her horrific wounds and did not die as some had expected. She lived to adulthood and was married. Sadly, she passed away when her canoe tipped while fishing. Flying Nice, the teller of this story, was the brother-in-law of the daughter of Red Bear who survived.


SOURCE: SHSND (1923) Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Volume 5. O.G. Libby (Ed). State Historical Society of North Dakota, Grand Forks.

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