Mandan Earth Lodges

Jeff inside Mandan Earth Lodge
inside earth lodge at Knife River National Park

  The Mandan tribe is mostly known for being the hosts of the Lewis and Clark expedition when they wintered in 1805 on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  I took an interest in them from reading the logs of Lewis and Clark's trip, but also in their unusual home design.  Since the Mandans stayed in one place unlike many other tribes in their area, their homes were more permanent.  I wanted to see how they were built so I took a quick trip up to North Dakota.

   I read Elizabeth Fenn's book Encounters at the Heart of the World.   This nformative work gave me an idea of where to go to see the earth lodges today. 


Mandan earth lodge frame
earth lodge frame, Stanton, ND

Earth lodges were generally 30 to 40 feet in diameter, though community lodges were much larger.  The floor was sunk a foot or two. 

earth lodge interior
dome framing (Fort Abraham Lincoln Park)

A hole was left at the top for light to enter and smoke from the central fireplace to escape.

mandan earth lodge interior
interior (Knife River National Park)

Cross-threaded willow branches covered the framework horizontally. This was topped with pulled grass, then dirt on top of that.  Grass was sown in the dirt to help keept the soil in place.

community earth lodge
much larger community earth lodge (Fort Abraham Lincoln, ND)

exterior Mandan earth lodge
exterior (Knife River National Park, ND)

The outside framing was designed to keep the dirt from slipping down and as a foothold for climbing onto the roof.

exterior Mandan earth lodges
exterior (Fort Abraham Lincoln National Park, ND)

If the weather got bad, the round boats could be used as a cover over the smoke hole.

Mandan village model
On a Slant Mandan Village model. note that entrances point to comunity square (Fort Abraham Lincoln National Park)


On a Slant Village location was selected for its protective ditch on one side, and the Missouri River on another.  Other tribes attacked the Mandan villages from time to time.

In 2010 an earth lodge was constructed in Kearney, Nebraska, although they did use some modern tools.



home             all photos by Jeff Jacobsen