Indian WebQuest Home

Siouan Language Group

Monacan Tribe

Language Group and Location

The Monacan Indians belonged to the Siouan (sue' un) language group. The Siouan language was spoken in the Piedmont region of Virginia, which is between the Fall Line and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Some Siouan Words/Phrases that the Monacan Indians used:

The Sioux had no written language, so the words are often spelled many different ways.

friend = ko-LAH
Hello friend = HOW ko-LAH
good = wash-TEH
dancing = wah-CHEE-pee
bad = SHE-cha


They ate black bear, deer, and fish that the men hunted and caught. The women farmed and gathered nuts, berries and other food. They grew corn, beans, squash and other crops.


The Monacan Indians lived in villages surrounded by a palisade. A palisade is a high fence made of wood poles. Their homes were dome-shaped structures of bark and reed mats.

A palisade


The Monacans wore clothes made of animal skins. They decorated them with beads and feathers. The women wove cord into an apron-like garment which they wore.


The Monacan culture was very similar to that of the Powhatans. They combined farming, hunting, fishing and gathering for their food and materials. The women made household items out of wood, bone, animal skins and other locally available resources.

Monacans mined copper which they wore in necklaces. Copper beads were a sign of wealth and high status.

They traded with other Indian tribes. They traded copper, which was highly valued, furs, and dyes for items such as shell beads. Monacans made baskets with animal and flower designs. They used the thread they made from milkweed (a plant) to make a strong cord to make the baskets. In addition, they made pottery using the coil method to create beautiful and durable pottery.

There are few written records about the Monacans. They were not interested in dealing with the English, unlike the Powhatans. A number of English explorers visited Monacan towns and described them, but none remained to learn the Monacan languages, and thus the historical record of these people is poor in contrast to Powhatan history.

The Monacan tribe used steam to help cure some kinds of sickness. They built special huts covered with clay to hold in the steam. They would heat coals very hot and then pour water on the coals to make steam. We call this a "sauna." They greased their bodies with bear oil. Early visitors thought they were a healthy and handsome people.

The Monacan tribe, like many Siouan speaking tribes, buried the bones of people who had died in earth-covered mounds. The bones of many people were buried together. The Cherokees and the Powhatans did not do this.


The Siouan-speaking Monacans were enemies of both the Algonquian-speaking Powhatans and the Iroquoian- speaking Cherokees. War between the Monacans and the Powhatans was common. Chief Powhatan warned Captain John Smith that the Monacans were unfriendly and invaded his country. Chief Powhatan was probably forced to get his copper from tribes in North Carolina since the Monacans cut off the trade route to the Powhatans.

The Legend of The Monacan Indians and the Natural Bridge

According to legend the Monacan Indians discovered the Natural Bridge while under attack by Algonquin tribes. When the Monacans reached the chasm of Cedar Creek without a visible way to cross over, they knelt down and prayed for the Great Spirit to protect them. When they arose from praying the 215 foot tall bridge had appeared. Women and children crossed to safety. With renewed strength and courage, the men followed but not until after they met and defeated the Algonquins.

Natural Bridge, Virginia

Back to Webquest

Works Cited

"The Monacan Indian Nation: About Us"
(6 February 2004)

"Virginia's Indians: The Monacans"
(6 February 2004)