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The name of the Arikara means or signifys "horns," or "elk," and having reference to their ancient manner of wearing the hair with two pieces of bone standing up, one on each side of the crest; -ra is the plural suffix.

After parting from the Skidi in what is now Nebraska, the Arikara gradually pushed north to the Missouri River and on up that stream. In 1770 when French traders opened relations with them they were a little below Cheyenne River. Lesser and Weltfish (1932) suggest that they may have been the Harahey or Arahey of whom Coronado was told rather than the Pawnee. Lewis and Clark found them, reduced considerably in numbers, between Grand and Cannonball Rivers. In 1823 they attacked the boats of an American trader, killing 13 men and wounding others, and in consequence of this trouble they abandoned their country and went to live with the Skidi on Loup River. Two years later they returned to the Missouri, and by 1851 they had pushed as far north as Heart River. Meantime wars with the Dakota and the smallpox had reduced them so much that they were glad to open friendly relations with two other tribes, similarly reduced, the Hidatsa and Mandan. In 1862 they moved to Fort Berthold. In 1880 the Fort Berthold Reservation was created for the three tribes, and the Arikara have ever since lived upon it, though they are now allotted land in severalty, and on the approval of the allotments, July 10, 1900, they became citizens of the United States.