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The Welsh and the Mandans

Legend has it that the first Welsh emigrants to the New World were Madog ab Owain Gwynedd (Prince Madog) and a band of settlers disillusioned with their lives in the 12th century. Howell Powell, who left Brecon for Virginia in 1642, was the first official Welsh settler in America. Until the late 17th century, most emigration from Wales had been on an individual basis.

Prince Madog was the the son of Owain Gwynedd, one of the greatest and most important rulers in Wales. While there are many who discount the story of the Welsh in America, Owain Gwynedd did exist; his reign was marred by long and hard-fought disputes with Henry II, King of England.

The story goes that in 1170 Owain died and, almost immediately, a violent and very bloody dispute arose between his 13 children regarding the succession.

Madoc and his brother Rhirid were so upset and angered by events that they decided they wanted no further part in what was happening. Indeed, they wanted nothing more to do with their family or their homeland. They duly took ship from Rhos on Sea (Llandrillo) and sailed westwards to see what they could find. They crossed the Atlantic and landed on the shores of the New World.

Madoc returned to Gwynedd for more men, then sailed off again, this time never to return. His sailors inter-married with a local Native American tribe and for years the rumour of Welsh speaking Native American tribes was widely believed. The earliest reference to such a people can be found in a Welsh poem by Maredudd ap Rhys who lived and wrote in the years between 1450 and 1483. However, it was during the Elizabethan period that the story gathered momentum and grew.

Welsh in America. 1170.

The Falls of the Ohio area became especially connected with the Madoc mythology. A story related to early settlers by local Indians meshed with the Madoc legend. A tribe of White Indians, remarkable for their light hair and blue eyes, was said to have resided in the falls area at one time. However, hostilities broke out between the White Indians and another neighboring Indian group. A final battle between the two tribes occurred on Sand Island at the Falls of the Ohio where the White Indians were massacred. Contemporaries to this account soon connected the story of this White Indian tribe with the Madoc legend, believing they had found the descendants of the Welsh voyagers.

Madog Owain and the Mandan people.

As America was explored and colonised several Native American tribes were discovered, speaking a language that did actually sound quite like Welsh. That was not the only connection. The Mandan Indians used Bull Boats for transport and fishing, vessels that were identical to the famous Welsh coracles.

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Mandan Village around a Sacred Ark
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The legend lasted well into the 19th century and even the explorers Lewis and Clark were instructed to keep their eyes open for these "Welsh speaking Indians" while trekking through the interior of the country.

The Mandan Indian tribe also know as the "White Indians" is conjectured to have mixed with and therefore were descendants of prince Madog (Madoc) Owain of Wales who may be assumed an ancestor of the Madogs of Llanfydnach Wales. Prince Madog ap Owain Gwynedd was a younger son of Owain Gwynedd, King of North Wales, and Queen Brenda, daughter of the Lord of Camo, it is likely that he was born at Dolwyddelan castle in the twelfth century.

Prince Madoc of Wales and his people may have discovered America in 1170 or some 322 years before Christopher Columbus would arrive. British historian Richard Deacon writes in his book Madoc and the Discovery of America:

"Prince Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd son of a king of Wales, was born in 1150 the story goes. He sailed from Wales and landed near the present site of Mobile, Alabama. He returned home, then made another voyage to the continent. This time he went up the Alabama River and other streams, then disappeared in the wilds of what is now Tennessee. But a traveler's account of the 1800's tells of fair-skinned Indians in that area who spoke some Welsh words and put sentences together in the way Welsh people do."

March 25, 1894, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.


From the well known publishing firm of G. P. Putnam's Sons we have in Wah-Kee-Nah and Her People, by James C. Strong, an entertaining and popular account of the customs, traditions and legends of the North American Indians. Mr. Strong informs us in his preface that be began to live among the Indians upon the Pacific coast in 1860; that he learned one of their languages, and traveled with and among them for six years. He divides his book into 18 short chapters, in which be gives a historic glance over the relations that have obtained during the last four or five centuries between the white races of the old world and the native races of the new world, and lets us draw our own conclusions, which are not flattering to our claims to a superior civilization than inheres in the minds and conduct of these so-culled savages. It is an old story, with which we are all familiar, and painful as it is, it is always interesting.

He distinguishes the differences between the various tribes along the northern parts of the continent, and writes as one who has studied them face to face, as well as mastered what has been written about them by travelers of repute. Their name is legion; their characteristics are strongly marked, the Dacotah having but little affinity with the Konigas. the Aleuts, or the Tinnah family.

George Caitlin's Map.
Caitlin's map
indicating the moves of the Mandans and the place of their extinction. 1837

The most attractive of all are, perhaps, the Mandans, who lived in two villages about, three miles apart on the banks of the Missouri river. Of this tribe be says: "In the matter of complexion, as well as in the color and texture of the hair, the Mandans were unique among all the Indians of the continent. There is that in their traditions and language which leads to the belief that they were descended from the Welsh voyager, Prince Madoc, and his followers who sailed from their native country in 1170, and were never afterward heard from. It is supposed that they sailed up the Mississippi river, and that their vessels becoming disabled or unseaworthy they intermingled with the natives, and finally formed a new tribe. The evidence in support of this supposition is the hair and complexion, already spoken of; the frequency of blue eyes among them, and the close resemblance of many words In their language to the Welsh. A list of these words was made by Mr. Catlin, and when compared with words in Welsh having the same meaning the resemblance was so apparent that, as he informs us, almost any theory would be more credible than that such affinity was the result of accident.

The most interesting portion of Mr. Strong's volume is the tenth chapter, which contains the story of the Indian maiden from whom its title is derived. She was a Yakima girl whom his brother obtained from her parents in 1850 to attend upon his wife, not so much as a servant as a companion. Her name, Wah-kee-nah, signified "moat beautiful" in Yakima speech, and well did she deserve the name, for she was not only beautiful but faithful, courageous, heroic. The 20 pages of this chapter are a poem, which we will not mar by attempting to translate into these poor words of ours. It should be read in the pages of the story or not at all. It is exceedingly cheap, being only $1.25 in the cloth binding.

Mandans.Mandans.George Catlin, a nineteenth-century painter who spent eight years living among various Indian tribes, was among those who were impressed by the Mandan's remarkable traits. Catlin wrote: "A stranger in the Mandan village is first struck with the different shades of complexion, and various colors of hair which he sees in a crowd about him, and is almost disposed to exclaim that these are not Indians." The artist also noted "a most pleasing symmetry and proportion of features, with hazel, gray and blue eyes."

1837 Lodges. Numakii, Indiana.
George Catlin.

Caitlin and the Mandans.

In 1833, artist George Catlin visited the Mandan near Fort Clark. Catlin painted and drew scenes of Mandan life as well as portraits of chiefs, including Four Bears or Ma-to-toh-pe. His skill at rendering so impressed Four Bears that he invited Catlin as the first man of European descent to be allowed to watch the Okipa ceremony. 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.

During his long stay which lasted for years among the Mandan tribe, Catlin makes many interesting paintings of almost every aspect of their daily lives as well as written observations. Catlin was the only White man to make a written and pictorial history of these rituals and customs which included, their dwellings and torture rituals. Catlin finally came to the conclusion that the Mandan's were the descendents of the Madog people based partially on these factors.

December 29, 1896, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


The Explorer's Theory Concerning the Tribe of Indians Called Mandans

Among the old documents of the Smithsonian Institution a number of letters of George Catlin, the Western explorer, writer, painter and naturalist, were discovered lately. They bring out certain facts connected with his explorations on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in the first part of the century, and they furnish evidence that the tribe of Indians called the Mandans, now extinct, were lineal descendants of the followers of Madoc. Madoc was the leader of the Welsh colony which is thought to have landed on the shores of this country in the fourteenth century. The ancestors of these Indians are supposed to have moved up from the mouth of the Mississippi, where they had landed, and to have been pushed far up the Missouri by attacks of enemies until they were entirely destroyed, either by disease or the incursions of other tribes.

North American Indians.North American Indians. Catlin descended the Missouri River from the Mandan village to St. Louis a distance of 1800 miles and examined its shores with great care. By discovering again and again the remains of the ancient locations of the Mandans, he traced them down to the mouth of the Ohio River. From exactly similar remains noticed in several places in the State of Ohio and other Slates to the south, he arrived at the conclusion that these Indians, from some cause, had made repeated removals, until they arrived at their place of residence at the time of their extinction on the Upper Missouri. The ancient fortifications of the Mandans inclosed a great many acres and were built on the banks of rivers. They had walls twenty or thirty feet in height, with covered ways to the water, and showed a knowledge of the science of fortification apparently not a century behind that of the present day. It is not believed that they could have been built by any nation of savages in America and they are considered to present proof of the former existence of a people very far advanced in civilization. In Catlin's words, written in the '30's, his belief in regard to the early colony of Welshmen was stated as follows:

"Now I am inclined to believe that the ten ships of Madoc, or a part of them at least, entered the Mississippi River at the Baliz and made their way up the Mississippi, or that they landed somewhere on the Florida coast, and that the brave ana persevering colonists made their way through the interior to a position on the Ohio River, where they cultivated their fields and established in one of the finest countries on earth a flourishing colony, but they were at length set upon by the savages, whom perhaps they provoked to warfare, being trespassers on their hunting grounds, and by whom in overpowering hordes they were besieged until it was necessary to erect these fortifications for their defense, into which they were at last driven by a confederacy of tribes, and there held till their ammunition and provisions gave out, and they, in the end, have perished, except, perhaps, that portion of them who might have formed alliance by marriage with the Indians and their offspring, who would have been half-breeds, and, of course, attached to the Indian side, whose lives have been spared in the general massacre, and at length, being despised, as all half-breeds of enemies are, have gathered themselves into a band, and, severing from their parent tribe, have moved on and increased in numbers and strength as they have advanced up the Missouri River to the place where they have been known for many hears by the name of Mandans a corruption or abbreviation of Madagwwys, the name applied by the Welsh to the followers of Madawc."

St. Louis Republic.

The Mandans spoke Welsh, they used a boat which was know as the Welsh Coracle and many of the Mandans had blond hair and blue eyes.

Another account of the Madog legend is from, in James G. Perry's Kinfolk:

170 with one ship. He returned and equipped ten ships and with colonists sailed again for the new world. It is presumed that he landed at Mobile Bay, Alabama. Early explorers and pioneers have found evidences of the Welsh influence along the Tennessee and Missouri Rivers, among certain tribes of Indians."

There is no record that the Prince ever returned to the land of his birth. Peculiar things have been found in America. There are Welsh speaking Indians up the Missouri River called the White Indians. Also, they fish with coracles, and pull the little skin covered boats with one oar, like a spade. These boats are used in Wales today.

Portrait of a Mandan Chief

Portrait of a Mandan Chief. Shahaka.

Shahaka was a Mandan chief who welcomed Lewis and Clark upon their arrival at the Mandan villages in October 1804. Shahaka was a genial and friendly man who made the explorers feel welcome. Once he brought them a gift of 100 pounds of meat, for which he received presents and an ax for his wife. Lewis and Clark were especially impressed with Shahaka's extensive geographical knowledge. On one occasion he gave Clark a sketch of the country between the Mandan villages and the Black Hills including the Yellowstone River.

When Lewis and Clark returned to the Mandan villages after completing their journey to the Pacific Ocean, they persuaded Shahaka to accompany them back to the United States so he could meet with President Jefferson.

Shahaka brought with him one of his wives and his only son. After five months of travel, they reached Washington, D.C. and met with President Jefferson on December 30, 1806. Shahaka and his family were then taken on a tour of eastern cities, including Philadelphia. When Shahaka returned to his tribe, the Mandans refused to believe the stories about life in the United States.

After European contact, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish were subjected to several devastating smallpox epidemics that nearly destroyed them. They had no immunity and were trusting. Unprotected from these diseases, they became infected. Whole families, clans, specific bands, chiefs, spiritual leaders, and medicine men died quickly, taking with them many of their social and spiritual ceremonies and clan rites.

The tribe was virtually destroyed by Small Pox epidemics before 1796 and is chronicled in Henry and Schoolcraft. Lewis and Clark found two villages one on each side and about fifteen miles below the Knife River. Both villages consisted of forty to fifty lodges and united could raise about three hundred and fifty men. Lewis and Clark describe them as having united with the Hidatsa and engaging in continual warfare against the Arikara and the Sioux. In 1837, smallpox attacked them again, raged for many weeks and left only one hundred and twenty-five survivors. The Mandan's were taken in by the Arikara, with whom they intermarried. They separated, again forming a small village of their own at Fort Berthold. By 1850 there were three hundred and eighty- five Mandan, largely of mixed blood.

Mato-Tope (Four Bears)
A Mandan Chief

Karl Bodmer

Mato-tope (Four Bears) was the second chief of the Mandan tribe to be known to whites as four bears, a name he earned after charging the Assiniboine tribe during battle with the strength of four bears.

Four bears lived on the upper Missouri River and was a favorite subject of artists George Catlin and Karl Bodmer. Among his people he was a brave warrior, famous for killing a Cheyenne chief in hand to hand combat.

He became friends with artist Karl Bodmer in 1833, and became chief in the year 1836. Around that time, a smallpox epidemic wiped out most of his tribe, leaving 125 survivors out of a population of formerly 1,600.

The great plague of smallpox brought in by whites struck the Three Tribes in June of 1837, and this horrible epidemic brought disaster to these Indians, including ending Mato Tope's life..

Francis A. Chardon's journals state that on July 14, a young Mandan died of smallpox and several more had caught it. The plague spread with terrible rapidity and raged with a violence unknown before. Death followed in a few hours after the victim was seized with pain in the head; a very few who caught the disease survived. The Hidatsa scattered out along the Little Missouri to escape the disease and the Arikara hovered around Fort Clark. But the Mandan remained in their villages and were afflicted worst; they were afraid of being attacked by Sioux if they ventured out of their villages. By September 30, Chardon estimated that seven- eighths of the Mandan and one-half of the Arikara and Hidatsa were dead. Many committed suicide because they felt they had no chance to survive. Nobody thought of burying the dead, death was too fast and everyone still living was in despair. The scene of desolation was appalling beyond the conception of the imagination. The Mandan were reduced from 1800 in June to 23 men, 40 women, and 60 to 70 young people by fall. Their Chief Four Bears, had died.

Hut of a Mandan Chief

Travels in the Interior of North America.
c. 1844, Karl Bodmer.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

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