Gros Ventre

The Gros Ventre (English: /ˈɡroʊvɑːnt/; from French: "big belly"),[1] also known as the Aaniiih, A'aninin, Haaninin, and Atsina, are a historically Algonquian-speaking Native American tribe located in north central Montana. Today the Gros Ventre people are enrolled in the Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation of Montana, a federally recognized tribe with 3,682 enrolled members, that also includes Assiniboine people or Nakoda people, the Gros Ventre's historical enemies. The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation is in the northernmost part of Montana, just south of the small town of Harlem, Montana.

Gros Ventre
Edward S. Curtis Collection People 013
Assiniboin Boy, a Gros Ventre man, photo by Edward S. Curtis
Total population
3,682 (2000 census)
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Montana)[1]
English, Gros Ventre
Roman Catholicism, Sun Dance,[2] traditional religion[3]
Related ethnic groups
Arapaho, Cheyenne


A'aninin, Aaniiih, and Haaninin are the tribe's autonyms. These terms mean "White Clay People" or "Lime People".[1]

The French used the term Gros Ventre, which was mistakenly interpreted from their sign language. They were once known as the Gros Ventres of the Prairies, while the Hidatsa people were once called the Gros Ventres of the Missouri.[1]

The Piegan Blackfoot, enemies of the Gros Ventre throughout most of history, called the Aaniiih, "Piik-siik-sii-naa", which translates as "snakes". According to the Piegan Institute, the contemporary Piegan name for the Gros Ventre is "Assinee", meaning "big bellies", which is similar to the falsely translated label applied by the French. Atsina, a Pieagan word, translates to either "gut people" or "like a Cree". Further clarification of the name is required. After the division of peoples, their relations the Arapaho, who considered them inferior, called them Hitúnĕna, meaning "beggars".[4] Other interpretations of the term have been "hunger", "waterfall", and "big bellies".


The Gros Ventres are believed to have lived in the western Great Lakes region 3000 years ago, where they lived an agrarian lifestyle, cultivating maize.[5] With the ancestors of the Arapaho, they formed a single, large Algonquian-speaking people who lived along the Red River valley in northern present-day Minnesota and in Manitoba, Canada.[1] They were closely associated with the ancestors of the Cheyenne. They spoke the now nearly extinct Gros Ventre language (Atsina), a similar Plains Algonquian language like their kin the Arapaho and grouped therefore as an Arapahoan language (Arapaho-Atsina). There is evidence that, together with bands of Northern Arapaho, a southern tribal group, the Staetan, spoke the Besawunena dialect, which had speakers among the Northern Arapaho as recently as the late 1920s.

18th century

In the early 18th century, the large tribe split into two, forming the Gros Ventres and the Arapaho. These, with the Cheyenne, were among the last to migrate into Montana, due to pressure from the Ojibwe.[1] After they migrated to Montana, the Arapaho moved southwards to the Wyoming and Colorado area. The Cheyenne who migrated with the Gros Ventre and Arapaho also migrated onwards. The Gros Ventres were reported living in two north-south tribal groups - the so-called Fall Indians (Canadian or northern group) of 260 tipis (2,500 population) traded with the North West Company on the Upper Saskatchewan River and roamed between the Missouri and Bow River, and the so-called Staetan tribe (American or southern group) of 40 tipis (400 population) living in close contact with bands (which would become the later Northern Arapaho) and roamed the headwaters of the Loup branch of the North Platte River (Lewis and Clark 1806).[6]

The Gros Ventres acquired horses in the mid-18th century.[1] The earliest known contact of Gros Ventres with whites was around 1754, between the north and south forks of the Saskatchewan River. Exposure to smallpox severely reduced their numbers about this time. Around 1793, in response to attacks by well-armed Cree and Assiniboines, large groups of Gros Ventres burned two Hudson's Bay Company trading posts that were providing guns to the Cree and Assiniboine tribes in what is now Saskatchewan.

19th century

In 1832, the Gros Ventres made contact with the German explorer and naturalist, Prince Maximilian. Along with the naturalist painter Karl Bodmer, the Europeans painted portraits and recorded their meeting with the Gros Ventres, near the Missouri River in Montana.

Karl Bodmer Travels in America (71)
Camp of the Gros Ventres of the Prairies on the upper Missouri. (circa 1832): aquatint by Karl Bodmer from the book "Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834"

The Gros Ventres joined the Blackfoot Confederacy. After allying with the Blackfoot, the Gros Ventres moved to north-central Montana and southern Canada. In 1855, Isaac Stevens, Governor of the Washington Territory, concluded a treaty (Stat., L., XI, 657) to provide peace between the United States and the Blackfoot, Flathead and Nez Perce tribes. The Gros Ventres signed the treaty as part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, whose territory near the Three Fork area became a common hunting ground for the Flathead, Nez Perce, Kootenai, and Crow Indians. A common hunting ground north of the Missouri River on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation included the Assiniboine and Sioux. In 1861, the Gros Ventres left the Blackfoot Confederacy.[7]

Allying with the Crow, the Gros Ventres fought the Blackfoot but in 1867, they were defeated.[1]

In 1868, the United States government established a trading post called Fort Browning near the mouth of Peoples Creek on the Milk River. This trading post was built for the Gros Ventres and Assiniboines, but because it was on a favorite hunting ground of the Sioux, it was abandoned in 1871. The government then built Fort Belknap, which was established on the south side of the Milk River, about one mile southwest of the present town site of Harlem, Montana. Fort Belknap was a substation post, with half of the structure being a trading post. A block house stood to the left of the stockade gate. At the right was a warehouse and an issue building, where the tribe received their rations and annuity goods.

In 1876, the fort was discontinued and the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine people receiving annuities at the post were instructed to go to the agency at Fort Peck and Wolf Point. The Assiniboines did not object to going to Wolf Point and readily went about moving; but the Gros Ventres refused to go. If they did, they would come into contact with the Sioux, with whom they could not ride together in peace. They forfeited their annuities rather than move to Fort Peck. In 1878, the Fort Belknap Agency was re-established, and the Gros Ventres, and remaining Assiniboines were again allowed to receive supplies at Fort Belknap.

White Eagle, "the last major Chief of the Gros Ventre people", died "at the mouth of the Judith River" on February 9, 1881.[8]

Gros Ventre moving camp with travois.

In 1884, gold was discovered in the Little Rocky Mountains. Pressure from miners and mining companies forced the tribes to cede sections of the mountains in 1885. Jesuits came to Fort Belknap in 1862 to convert the Gros Ventre people to Roman Catholicism. In 1887, St. Paul's Mission was established at the foot of the Little Rocky Mountains, near Hays. Much of the traditional ceremonies were lost through the course of time following the establishment of the mission. However, the two sacred pipes, The Feathered Pipe and The Flat Pipe, remain central to the traditional spiritual beliefs of the Gros Ventres.

In 1888, at this site, the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation was established. By an act of Congress on May 1, 1888, (Stat., L., XXV, 113), the Blackfoot, Gros Ventre, and Assiniboine tribes ceded 17,500,000 acres of their joint reservation and agreed to live on three smaller reservations. These are now known as the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Fort Belknap was named for William W. Belknap, who was Secretary of War at that time.

20th century

By 1904, there were only 535 A'ani tribe members remaining. Since then, the tribe has revived, with a substantial increase in population.

21st century

In March 2012, 63 American bison from Yellowstone National Park were transferred to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation prairie, to be released to a 2,100-acre game preserve 25 miles north of Poplar. There are many other bison herds outside Yellowstone, but this is one of the very few genetically pure ones, not cross-bred with cattle. Native Americans celebrated the move, which came over a century after bison were nearly wiped out by hunters and the government. The Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation will also receive a portion of this herd. [9]


Historically, Gros Ventres had twelve independent bands, each governed by a chief.[1] The current reservation government has an elected council, which includes four officers, as well as four members from each tribe. Today, the tribe belongs to the Fort Belknap Indian Community, whose constitution and by-laws were ratified in 1935. The tribal council has six elected Gros Ventre members, as well as six elected Assiniboine members, and three appointed members.[3]

Notable Gros Ventre people


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pritzker 319
  2. ^ Pritzker 304
  3. ^ a b Pritzker 320
  4. ^ "Canadian Indian Tribes." Archived 2009-10-12 at the Portuguese Web Archive Access Genealogy. (retrieved 1 Nov 2011)
  5. ^ Pritzker 297
  6. ^ Loretta Fowler: Shared Symbols, Contested Meanings: Gros Ventre Culture and History, 1778-1984, ISBN 0801494508, Cornell University Press, page 45]
  7. ^ Pritzker 303
  8. ^ Smith, Jeffrey J. (2003). Montana Book of Days-365 Days-365 Stories-The Short Course in Montana History. Missoula, MT: Historic Montana Publishing. p. 42. ISBN 0966335562.
  9. ^ "Yellowstone bison return to tribal land". Great Falls Tribune. 2012-03-21. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
  10. ^ "Blackfoot Culture and History." Native Languages. (retrieved 1 Nov 2011)


  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.

See also

External links

Arapahoan languages

The Arapahoan languages are a subgroup of the Plains group of Algonquian languages: Nawathinehena, Arapaho, and Gros Ventre.

Nawathinehena is extinct and Arapaho and Gros Ventre are both endangered.Besawunena, attested only from a word list collected by Kroeber, differs only slightly from Arapaho, but a few of its sound changes resemble those seen in Gros Ventre. It had speakers among the Northern Arapaho as recently as the late 1920s.Nawathinehena, is also attested only from a word list collected by Kroeber, and was the most divergent language of the group.Another reported Arapahoan variety is the extinct Ha'anahawunena, but there is no documentation of it.

Doubletop Peak

Doubletop Peak (11,720–11,760 feet (3,570–3,580 m)) is a mountain in the state of Wyoming. The peak is the tallest in the Gros Ventre Range. Doubletop Peak is within the Gros Ventre Wilderness region of Bridger-Teton National Forest.

East Gros Ventre Butte

East Gros Ventre Butte is a butte located at 43°29'04.8"N 110°46'46.6" northwest of Jackson, Wyoming. It is sometimes referred to as "Saddle Butte" by long-time residents of Jackson Hole.

Gros Ventre (disambiguation)

The Gros Ventre are a Native American people of Montana.

Gros Ventre may also refer to:

Gros Ventre language, the extinct language of the Gros Ventre people

Gros Ventre of the Missouri, an archaic term for the Hidatsa people

Gros Ventre Formation

The Gros Ventre Formation is a geologic formation in Wyoming, USA. It preserves fossils dating back to the Cambrian period. The Gros Ventre consists of three main members; the Wolsey Shale, the Death Canyon Limestone, and the Park Shale.

Gros Ventre Range

The Gros Ventre Range ( groh-VAHNT) is part of the Central Rocky Mountains and is located west of the Continental Divide in U.S. state of Wyoming. The highest summit in the range is Doubletop Peak at 11,720 feet (3,570 m). The Gros Ventre Range is mostly within the Gros Ventre Wilderness of Bridger-Teton National Forest. To the northwest of the range lies the valley known as Jackson Hole. Snow King ski resort is in the range adjacent to the town of Jackson, Wyoming. Also in the Gros Ventre Range is the Gros Ventre landslide, which in 1925 slid down the north slope of Sheep Mountain.

Gros Ventre River

The Gros Ventre River (pronounced GROW-VAUNT) is a 74.6-mile-long (120.1 km) tributary of the Snake River in the state of Wyoming, USA. During its short course, the river flows to the east, north, west, then southwest. It rises in the Gros Ventre Wilderness in western Wyoming, and joins the Snake River in the Jackson Hole valley. In 1925, the massive Gros Ventre landslide dammed the river and formed Lower Slide Lake. The natural dam collapsed in 1927, flooding the downstream town of Kelly, Wyoming. The river is noted for the excellent trout fishing along its length, where native Snake River Fine-spotted Cutthroat Trout average 12 to 16 inches (300 to 410 mm), with some to 20 inches (510 mm).

Gros Ventre Wilderness

The Gros Ventre Wilderness ( groh-VAHNT) is located in Bridger-Teton National Forest in the U.S. state of Wyoming. Most of the Gros Ventre Range is located within the wilderness.

U.S. Wilderness Areas do not allow motorized or mechanized vehicles, including bicycles. Although camping and fishing are allowed with proper permit, no roads or buildings are constructed and there is also no logging or mining, in compliance with the 1964 Wilderness Act. Wilderness areas within National Forests and Bureau of Land Management areas also allow hunting in season.

Etymology : In French, Gros Ventre means big belly / big stomach.

Gros Ventre landslide

The Gros Ventre landslide ( groh-VAHNT) is located in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming, United States. The Gros Ventre landslide is seven miles (11 km) east of Jackson Hole valley and Grand Teton National Park.

The landslide occurred on June 23, 1925, following the melt from a heavy snowpack, several weeks of heavy rain, and earthquake tremors rocking the area. Approximately 50,000,000 cu yd (38,000,000 m3; 1.4×109 cu ft) of primarily sedimentary rock slid down the north face of Sheep Mountain, crossed over the Gros Ventre River and rode up the opposite mountainside a distance of 300 feet (91 m). The landslide created a large dam over 200 feet (61 m) high and 400 yards (370 m) wide across the Gros Ventre River, backing up the water and forming Lower Slide Lake.

On May 18, 1927, a portion of the landslide dam failed, resulting in a massive flood that was six feet (1.8 m) deep for at least 25 miles (40 km) downstream. The small town of Kelly, six miles (9.7 km) downstream, was wiped out, killing six people. It is one of the world's largest known examples of recent mass wasting events aside from volcanic eruptions. Slide Lake is now much smaller than before the flood.

Today, the landslide is partially reclaimed by the surrounding forest but is still an obvious landmark from many vantage points in the Jackson Hole valley. It is easily accessible by traveling north from Jackson, Wyoming or south from Moran, Wyoming and then taking the Antelope Flats road east off U.S. Route 26.

Gros Ventre language

Atsina, or Gros Ventre (also known as Ananin, Ahahnelin, Ahe and A’ani), is the ancestral language of the Gros Ventre people of Montana. The last fluent speaker died in 1981, though revitalization efforts are underway.

Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole is a valley between the Teton Mountain Range and the Gros Ventre Range in Wyoming sitting near the border of Idaho. The term "hole" was used by early trappers or mountain men, who primarily entered the valley from the north and east and had to descend along relatively steep slopes, giving the sensation of entering a hole. These low-lying valleys surrounded by mountains and containing rivers and streams are good habitat for beaver and other fur-bearing animals.

James Welch (writer)

James Phillip Welch Jr. (November 18, 1940 – August 4, 2003), who grew up within the Blackfeet and A'aninin cultures of his parents, was a Native American novelist and poet, considered a founding author of the Native American Renaissance. His novel Fools Crow (1986) received several national literary awards, and his debut novel Winter in the Blood (1974) was adapted as a film by the same name, released in 2013.

In 1997 Welch received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas.

Jamie Fox (fiddler)

Jamie Fox is a Native American musician of the Assiniboine and Grosventre nations, who is a well known performer of the Métis fiddle tradition of Montana. She is a member of the Fox family of fiddlers from the on the Fort Belknap reservation. She has performed widely in the US and in Europe, where she has collaborated with husband Danish traditional fiddler Kristian Bugge and with Old Time fiddler Ruthie Dornfeld.She studied with Montana fiddler Marvin "Fatty" Morin, learning his bowing technique.

Lower Slide Lake

Lower Slide Lake is located in Bridger-Teton National Forest, in the U.S. state of Wyoming. The natural lake was created on June 23, 1925 when the Gros Ventre landslide dammed the Gros Ventre River. The lake was once much larger, however part of the rock dam failed less than two years later, on May 18, 1927, causing deadly flooding downstream. The lake waters have natural and stocked fish including lake and Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout, and mountain whitefish.

Nawathinehena language

Nawathinehena is an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken among the Arapaho people. It had a phonological development quite different from either Gros Ventre or Arapaho proper. It has been identified as the former language of the Southern Arapaho, who switched to speaking Arapaho proper in the 19th century. However, the language is not well attested, being documented only in a vocabulary collected in 1899 by Alfred L. Kroeber from the Oklahoma Arapaho.

While it shares many important phonological innovations with Arapaho, it presents the merger of *r, *θ and *s with *t as t instead of n as in Arapaho, a sound change reminiscent of Blackfoot and Cheyenne (Goddard 1974, Jacques 2013). PA *w changes to m instead of merging with *r, *s and *n as n.

Sheep Mountain (Teton County, Wyoming)

Sheep Mountain (11,244 feet (3,427 m)) is located in the U.S. state of Wyoming. Sheep Mountain forms a 5-mile (8 km) long ridge in the Gros Ventre Range and is easily seen from Jackson Hole. The town of Jackson, Wyoming is 13 miles (21 km) southwest of the peak. The southern end of Sheep Mountain is above the tree line and consists of rocky cliffs that are referred to as the "Sleeping Indian" due to their appearance as viewed from Jackson Hole. Sheep Mountain is in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of Bridger-Teton National Forest. At the northern end of Sheep Mountain is the location of the Gros Ventre landslide.

In 1996, a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane carrying an automobile and equipment outbound from Jackson Hole crashed into Sheep Mountain, killing a U.S. Secret Service agent and eight Air Force personnel. The cargo plane was transporting equipment to another destination after U.S. President Bill Clinton and his family had vacationed in Jackson Hole the previous week.

Teton National Forest

Teton National Forest was first established by the General Land Office on February 22, 1897 as the Teton Forest Reserve with 892,440 acres (3,611.6 km2). A commission was established in 1896 to plan for a system of national forest reserves, recommending an expansion of the territory protected by the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve. President Grover Cleveland's 1897 proclamation established a protected area encompassing the northern end of Jackson Hole, extending from the south boundary of the Yellowstone Forest Reserve south to the area of the Gros Ventre River, and from the Idaho border in the west to the area of the Continental Divide in the east. Much of this area would eventually be incorporated into Grand Teton National Park. In 1902 the southern porion of the Yellowstone reserve was added, while the Teton Reserve was greatly expanded to the south and east while excluding the southern portion of Jackson Hole around the town of Jackson.On January 29, 1903 it was combined with the Yellowstone Forest Reserve, but it was reinstated as a separate unit on July 1, 1908 with 19,911,200 acres (80,578 km2). In 1973 Teton National Forest was administratively combined with Bridger National Forest, creating Bridger-Teton National Forest. In descending order of land area, Teton National Forest is located in parts of Teton, Sublette, Park, Fremont, and Lincoln counties. It is now administrated as part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest from its headquarters in Jackson, but there are local ranger district offices in Jackson and Moran. The forest contains both the Gros Ventre Wilderness and the Teton Wilderness, both officially designated by the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Theresa Lamebull

Theresa Elizabeth (Chandler) White Weasel Walker Lamebull (April 19, 1896 – August 10, 2007) was reputedly a supercentenarian believed to have been the oldest living member of the Gros Ventre Tribe of Montana and possibly the oldest Native American ever recorded. Her Indian name was "Kills At Night" (BeeKanHay).

Lamebull's family hadn't known exactly how old she was until some time around 2005 when they found a baptismal certificate which may be hers. A priest translated the Latin on the certificate as saying she was a year old when she was baptised in 1897.Lamebull was a fluent speaker of the Gros Ventre language, spoken by only a handful of other people. She taught the language at Fort Belknap College, and helped develop a dictionary using the Phraselator when she was 109. She was likely Montana's longest-lived teacher since statehood.

The Hays Education Resource Center on the Fort Belknap Reservation was named the 'Kills At Night Center' in her honor and at the naming ceremony Terry Brockie, an A'aninin (Gros Ventres) language teacher sang her a traditional song in the A'aninin language.

She died in August 2007 at the claimed age of 111. A funeral Mass was held at St. Paul's Catholic Gymnasium in Hays, Montana, and she was buried at Mission Cemetery.

Union Pass

Union Pass is a high mountain pass in the Wind River Range in Fremont County of western Wyoming in the United States. The pass is located on the Continental Divide between the Gros Ventre mountains on the west and the Wind River Range on the east. A triple divide exists nearby, where water may flow to the Mississippi River, Columbia River, or Colorado River. The pass was historically used by Native Americans and early mountain men including the Astor Expedition in 1811 on its way west. On the return trip, fearing hostile Indian activity near Union Pass, the Astorians chose a southern route and discovered South Pass.

The pass was named by U.S. Army Captain William F. Raynolds in 1860. Raynolds was in charge of the Raynolds Expedition which was exploring the Yellowstone region immediately prior to the Civil War. After mountain man and guide Jim Bridger led the expedition over the pass, Raynolds gave the pass its current name.The Wyoming state highway map lists the following trails of the Union Pass area:

Indian trails

John Colter (1807)

General Phil Sheridan, President Arthur (1833)

fur trappers, Captain Bonneville, Captain Raynolds

Bridger, Hayden (1860)




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