In AD 1170, the Welsh prince Madog ab Owain Gwynedd (son of
Owain, King of Gwynedd) set out from North Wales on a voyage of exploration.
While crossing the Atlantic his fleet became ensnared in the
North Equatorial Current, and his vessels were drawn around the
southern tip of Florida and driven aground in Mobile Bay.
No written records or stone remnants attest to this legendary
journey. Rather, according to some observers, the legacy was a
living one, etched in the faces and culture of North America's
Mandan Indian tribe.
George Catlin, a nineteenth century painter who spent eight
years living among various Indian tribes, was among those who were
impressed by the Mandans' remarkable traits. "A stranger in the
Mandan village is first struck with the different shades of
complexion, and various colours of hair which he sees in a crowd
about him," wrote Catlin, "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, grey and blue
Catlin concluded that he had uncovered the descendants of Prince
Madog's expedition and speculated that the Welshmen had lived among
the Mandans for generations, intermarrying until their two cultures
became virtually indistinguishable. In time, the tribe migrated
north to the Dakotas, where Catlin encountered them.
Some later investigators supported the theory, noting that the
Welsh and Mandan languages were so similar that the Mandans easily
responded to the Welsh tongue. Further, it was observed that unlike
members of other tribes, the Mandan indians grew white-haired with age and
practised a method of fishing unique to Wales.
By the end of the nineteenth century, a smallpox epidemic had
devastated the Mandan tribe, severing the link to their mariner
forbears. But the belief in their Welsh heritage still persists and
is celebrated by a plaque placed alongside Mobile Bay in 1953 by the
Daughters of the American Revolution. "In memory of Prince Madog,"
the inscription reads, "a Welsh explorer who landed on the shores of
Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh