South Dakota State History
South Dakota is one of the states located in the northern part of the central section of the United States. It is considered to be partially a Midwest state. It’s eastern region does have “Midwest state” qualities, including fertile soil and flat lands. However, the Great Plains are partially located in the western part of the state.
South Dakota is mainly known for its agricultural industries. From the Missouri River’s eastern bank onward is mainly made up of fertile farmlands. Range land is on the other side of the river, which definitely defines the two halves of the state. The state grows a lot of produce, and many of its commercial and manufacturing industries are based on the production and distribution of that produce.
Although Sioux Falls is the biggest city in South Dakota, its capital city is Pierre. It is a state that has its basis in farming, but gambling, tourism, and related industries came to the state in the 1990s, leading to more visitors coming to the state each year. Many of them are attracted to the Badlands, Black Hills, and other natural wonders in the state.
It is known that the French were the first to explore South Dakota, back in 1743. The eastern glacial drift river portion of South Dakota and the western Black Hills each serve to create a topographical divide or transitional space between the Rocky Mountains and the prairies. The Sioux and the Arikara called those regions home until 1825. At that time, the Arikara were driven to the west by tribal upheavals. The Sioux, however, were not driven out of the region. In fact, many of today’s South Dakota residents can trace their ancestry back to the Sioux.
For the latter part of the 1700s, the Spanish controlled what is now South Dakota. However, the United States gained control of it in 1803, as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Soon after that, traders and trappers began establishing themselves in the South Dakota region. They used the Missouri River to transport goods from Fort Pierre, which was then considered to be in Missouri Territory. Permanent U.S. settlements in South Dakota weren’t really established until around 1850. The area east of the Missouri River was considered to be part of several territories before it became part of South Dakota. In order, they were: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota .
In 1854, the part of what is now South Dakota that lies to the west of the Missouri River was classified as part of Nebraska Territory.
During the latter part of 1856 and the early part of 1857, the Minnesota-based Dakota Land Company was given a charter to setup a settlement near Brookings, in Medary. AN Iowa company called Western Town Company got a charter to establish a Sioux River settlement at around the same time. Houses, a store, and a sawmill were soon established at Sioux Falls.
The entire southeastern part of South America, as well as most of the banks of the major rivers in the area all had settlements by about 1860. Some of those major rivers were: Missouri River, Big Sioux River, Vermillion River, James River, Red River
Dakota Territory was established by a Congressional bill, which was signed on March 2, 1861. That territory later turned into the states of South Dakota and North Dakota. At the time, creating the territory established a separation from the new state of Minnesota, and from Nebraska Territory. Dakota Territory had 11 post offices by the fall of 1861. Three of them were located at Sioux Falls, Vermillion, and Yankton. In April of 1862, counties were established in the territory. Those starting counties were Minnehaha, Brookings, Lincoln, and Deuel. Ft. Dakota was later established at Sioux Falls, after requests were made for military protection.
The population of South Dakota quickly grew over the next 20 years or so. Part of that was due to the 1862 Homestead act, which led to many settlers moving to the area. Grasshoppers, an economic depression, and drought each caused delays in expansion in South Dakota. However, those delays were offset by the coming of the railroad, the opening of land offices, and new changes in crops grown in the area. Then, in 1874, there was a Black Hills gold discovery. It was the largest gold discovery in the Western half of the world, until fairly recent history. An agreement between the Sioux and the settlers had kept settlement from occurring in that area, but gold discovery led to many settlers moving into the area anyway.
There were several reservations in the state, including the Yankton Reservation, which was the first one created. It was started in 1858, in Douglas County. Five years later, a small reservation was started in the vicinity of Fort Thompson. Santee Sioux and members of the Winnebago tribe were moved to that reservation from Minnesota. That reservation was later given the name “Crow Creek Reservation.”
The gold mining region of South Dakota was officially opened shortly after the Battle of Little Big Horn was fought in Montana. In the 1860s, quartzite was mined near Big Sioux River, which was located in Minnehaha County. That lasted through the end of the 1880s. Pink quartzite quarries are still functioning in the state today. At the time that mines first opened in the area, the miners didn’t just increase the population. Their movement to the state also led to better construction of sturdy public buildings and more general expansion.
In 1885, South Dakota was at its expansion peak. During that time, Sioux Falls became known as a hub where easterners who wanted divorces could come to get those divorces legally. Many easterners who came to the area also brought with them elements of eastern culture, including hotels, plays, concerts, and operas. Mining prosperity and growing settlements near the eastern river region led to increasing pressure for the southern part of Dakota Territory (the area under the 46th parallel) to become a state. In 1889, Congressional approval led to the territory being split into the two states of South Dakota and North Dakota.
There was constant tension between white settlers and the Sioux Indians in South Dakota. In 1890, that all came to a head at the battle of Wounded Knee. Most of the white settlers around that time were Scandinavian and Eastern European. Foreigners made up about one-third of South Dakota’s population around that time.
South Dakota farmers and pioneers had a rough time. Literary works, such as those by Laura Ingalls Wilder, reflect those troubled times. Building homes and carving out settlements and farms on the unforgiving prairie was never easy, especially when friendly neighbors were few and far between.
South Dakota today is still heavily reliant on its wood, lumber, livestock, and food industries. Although, it also has a significant service, tourism, and manufacturing presence. There is also a major medical center located in Sioux Falls.
- Doane Robinson’s encyclopedia of South Dakota (search.ancestry.com)
- History of Dakota Territory (search.ancestry.com)
- History of the Minnesota Valley, including the Explorers and pioneers of Minnesota (search.ancestry.com)
- Northwest History and Men of Progress (search.ancestry.com)
- History of the great Northwest and its men of progress (search.ancestry.com)
- A history of the Baptists in the western states east of the Mississippi (search.ancestry.com)
- South Dakota History Books at Amazon.com (amazon.com)