White Indians? Who were the Mandan Indians? Free Mass Market give-away of WAR CLOUD’S PASSION


Welcome to another day at Petticoats and Pistols blog. Today I’ll be giving away a mass market copy of WAR CLOUD’S PASSION.  All the rules that we have here at Petticoats and Pistols applies.  But please do check back tomorrow — or Thursday — to see if you were the winner and to claim your prize.  Now, on with the blog.

Did you know that there were White Indians, living on the upper Missouri River?  Did you know that when George Catlin (Catlin visited the Western tribes around 1832 — he was a painter and had gone amongst the Indians to put their image to paper) — made his way to the Mandan village on the upper reaches of the Missouri (in 1834), he found what he called strange Indians…Indians who were white.images3[1]

Catlin found this particular Indian Tribe fascinating and devoted much of the first volume of his work to documenting these people.  To the left here is Sha-ko-ka, Mint.  This young girl was in her teens when Catlin painted her picture, yet if you look closely at the picture, you’ll see that she has white hair — I believe she also had hazel or blue eyes.

I’m going to quote Catlin here, because I think he describes this phenomenon quite well — and makes you feel as if you are there.thCAYR08K5  Forgive me, but I think you’ll enjoy these passages from his book, Letters and Notes on the Manners, customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians.  The painting to the left by the way is supposed to be about Mandan warrior and their women.    Here’s Catlin:

“A stranger in the Mandan village is first struck with the different shades of complexion, and various colours of hair which he sees in a crowd about thim; and is at once almost disposed to exclaim that ‘these are not Indians.’

“There are a great many of these people whose complixions appear as light as half breeds; and amongst the women particularily, there are many whose skins are almost white, with the most pleasing symmetry and proportions of features; with hazel, with grey, and with blue eyes, — with mildness and sweetness of expression, and excessive modesty of demeanour, which render them exceedingly pleasing and beautiful.”

thCARW3WLOInterestingly, Catlin notes that there were Indians who had gray, almost completely white hair — and had had such color from infancy.  He notes that the only color of hair not seen by him was that of red or auburn.  He notes that the men who had the bright, silvery gray hair, often hid it and “dyed” it using means available to them at the time.  But the women were often proud of their hair and displayed it openly.  Catlin, of course, goes into their daily lives in great detail, even to their foods and how they take their meals.

Another aspect that is interesting is that Catlin noted that none of the people had any knowledge of how their heritage came to look so different from other American Indian tribes.th[10]  The Mandans were traders and they were also an agricultural tribe of Indians — often trading the corn that they raised for buffalo meat or other items of exchange.  Off to the right here is a painting by Catlin of their village on the Missouri River.

Today, the Mandan tribe lives mostly in North Dakota.  They were almost wiped out by the diseases that were carried to them by the white man when he came in contact with them.  It’s a glorious history and somewhat of a mystery, since even in Catlin’s day, no one of the tribe could offer an explanation for their looks, that were so unusual for the Western Tribes.

Catlin ventured that a Celtic Prince, lost to his country, might have found these people — I now forget the name of that Prince.  It’s possible.  What about you?  Do you have any conjectures about these people?  How they might have come to be there — half-white?

If you’re more than a little curious, I would offer you to get this book, THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF, where I go into more detail about the strange customs of this people.

So tell me, what do you think?  Come on in and let’s talk a little about it.


Website | + posts

KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
Please refer to https://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules for all contest rules.

47 thoughts on “White Indians? Who were the Mandan Indians? Free Mass Market give-away of WAR CLOUD’S PASSION”

  1. Although I’m grateful to Catlin for his descriptions from his perspective, for me I’d rather hear a tribe’s history without European inflection. I know a bunch about Lakotas, for instance, from which I learned from Lakota authors themselves, but little about Mandans. Here is some from Wikipedia, though:

    “The Mandan and their language received much attention from European Americans, in part because their lighter skin color caused speculation they were of European origin. In the 1830s, Prince Maximilian of Wied spent more time recording Mandan over all other Siouan languages and additionally prepared a comparison list of Mandan and Welsh words (he thought that the Mandan may have been displaced Welsh). The theory of the Mandan/Welsh connection, now discounted, was also supported by George Catlin.”

    “18th-century reports about characteristics of Mandan lodges, religion and occasional physical features among tribal members, such as blue and grey eyes along with lighter hair coloring, stirred speculation about the possibility of pre-Columbian European contact. Catlin believed the Mandan were the “Welsh Indians” of folklore, descendants of Prince Madoc and his followers who emigrated to America from Wales in about 1170. This view was popular at the time but has since been disputed by the bulk of scholarship.”
    (Newman, Marshall T. “The Blond Mandan: A Critical Review of an Old Problem.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology. Vol. 6, No. 3 (Autumn, 1950): 255–272.

    From what I can tell, not being an expert on this tribe, the last theory standing is of possible pre-Columbian contact with Vikings, which may be plausible given the waterways between Canada and the US, and archaeological digs in North America confirming early Norse landings on the continent.

    • Hi Eliza!

      Thanks so much for your commentary and for looking this up on the internet. Since neither of us were there at the time, and since almost all of the tribe was wiped out by disease, for me the first hand accounts from Catlin are inspiring. Whether Nordic or European, it is a very interesting aspect of the West that we don’t often hear about. I thought I’d bring up the topic.

  2. I found your post fascinating, Karen! With DNA analysis available now, I wonder if the mystery could be solved. The situation with the Mandans is like a big puzzle — so intriguing. On second thought, perhaps the mystery is more fun…(genealogists would probably hate to hear me say that!)

  3. How interesting Karen, as always an afternoon of Internet research will follow to learn more after you have peaked my interest.

    • Hi Vickie!

      Great! Please let me know what you find. I just find it fascinating that here in the West were these people who didn’t know why their coloring was so different — too bad that wasn’t passed down from one generation to another, huh?

      • It is? To not have passed down the information of where they came, from there heritage seems strange, and the Internet has been no help today. Although in looking through a couple of sites for further information, I have found yet another book I want. So silver linings.

  4. True if any of the Mandan tribe lives DNA tests could help pinpoint the outside influences of who found and traveled with the tribe propagating their features into it. Be they, Welsh, Viking or others that gave the tribe their striking looks. Blonde/Grey would suggest viking with thr non-red hair and no dark eyes. If someone today would take a test that may help solve this riddle of exactly who helped found this tribe. Interesting though and very beautiful no doubt. What people had grey hair when young in other countries could be a start to this.

    • Hi Elaine!

      Well thought out considerations. Because of the non red hair aspect, I’d be inclined to think Nordic also. But it is fascination that the West had these people here who really didn’t know why they looked so different. : )

    • Thanks so much, Melissa C. When one researches the Mandans in more detail, which I did for the book THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF, they were very, very different, also in the many different and varied cultural aspects from the other Indians on the Plains at that tribe. In fact, one of their cultural aspects was so controversial, that I had to search it out in rare books. Interesting, I think.

      Perhaps sometime, also, I might blog about what I encountered when writing about these people, also. But that’s another story.

  5. How very interesting! DNA testing would probably yield answers, but alas, the mystery would be lost… Thanks for a very interesting article.

    • Hi Karen!

      Gosh we share the same name? One of the other’s posts mentions the fact that because of the lack of red hair, they were probably Nordic.

      Again, I just find it fascinating to know that these people existed in the West. : )

      • Erik the Red was from Norway. He had red hair. He went to Iceland and Greenland too.

        I don’t know of any people that have gray hair so young . My dad turned gray at age 30. He was German and English with a small bit of Scottish.

  6. A completely different theory:

    “DNA links Native Americans with Europeans”
    “Ancient DNA reveals that the ancestors of modern-day Native Americans had European roots. The discovery sheds new light on European prehistory and also solves old mysteries concerning the colonisation of America.”

    Now, coming from the other direction entirely—-

    “600-Year-Old American Indian Historical Account Has Old Norse Words”

    A map? http://www.frozentrail.org/

    Finally, has anyone tried Ancestry or Family Tree sources?

    • Cool Eliza or………Vikings! A band of Vikings who decided to stay instead of go home and intermarried? Maybe it was even a crime or something to NOT go home so they buried their roots deeply. Or maybe they MURDERED the leader of their expedition and all those loyal to him, but some escaped and ran for home across the sea, abandoning these traitors. There they were, stranded in America. Didnt the Vikings get at least as far west as Minnesota????

      North Dakota Mandan Tribe is right there.

      So these men stayed behind, intermarried with the tribe but not that long ago. Or all European traits would have been lost within a couple of generations don’t you think?

      • Which would explain why they kept it secret until their roots were lost. They were criminals hiding out!
        Maybe the men who got away swore to return and make them pay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        It’s like Mutiny on the Bounty only in North Dakota and with an Indian Tribe element.

      • Some great speculations here. And I don’t have an answer. Thing is, they were different in other ways, too. From the fortified towns to some of their strange customs — they were different.

  7. This is a really interesting post. I learned something new today! This really makes you think about history and who really were the first people to find america. I am going to have to do some reading about the Mandan people. Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Hi Darlene!

      It had a similar affect on me when I found out about it. I also go into more detail on their customs in one of my books, THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF. : )

  8. It’s all very fascinating. You can come up with ideas for the whiter skin – intermarriage with whites, etc. But as far as I know, there are no peoples that have grey/silver hair from early on. I guess it could be a mutated gene that somehow was passed on but I find it a puzzlement!

    • Hi Catslady!

      I, too, find it fascinating. The only explanation I can come up with was that there could have been explorers coming down the Missouri River long, long ago. So long ago that the people themselves who had those traits, no longer carry the knowledge of their heritage. : ) I think this because in 1832, when Catlin records his experiences with the Mandan, there were very, very, very few white people in this area. Only a handful, which would not have explained this. So I think earlier — how much earlier I don’t know — but earlier so that the memory of where they came from vanished from memory.

  9. What a great article, Karen! I’d heard of the Mandans, and the theory that connected them with Wales, though I always thought it far-fetched. Although you love the mysterious aspect of their origins, I am curious the knowledge DNA testing could provide. It would be a reminder that all humans have more in common with one another than they do differences.

  10. Still that wasn’t that long ago You’d think that history would have survived in tribal lore. Still, it gave me chills to think of it so I’m going with it!!! 😀

  11. What intrigues me is the theory that there was contact with some Europeans within a few centuries of when they were found again by Europeans, yet the European diseases nearly wiped them out the second time. I would have thought if there was enough contact to create the genetic traits described in your post, those people would have also inherited some of the immunity to better fight off the European diseases. Yet, they didn’t. That tells me either the initial contact with Europeans was far earlier than the 1100’s, or there is another explanation for their genetic differences. Oh, to get a read on their DNA….

    The book sounds fascinating. I would love to read it.

  12. Hi Robyn!

    This is really some good logic that I hadn’t considered. Yes, why did the smallpox practically wipe them out to a man or a woman, if they had European roots — perhaps it goes back even farther than that.

    There was much more that was different with the Mandans than the other Western Tribes as far as their culture goes. But it is fascinating.

Comments are closed.