Logo Things to do in South Dakota

South Dakota State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1682—France claims the Louisiana Territory, including South Dakota

1804—Lewis and Clark begin exploration of South Dakota

1861—Congress establishes the Dakota Territory

1868—The Great Sioux Reservation is created

1874—Gold is discovered in Black Hills

1889—South Dakota becomes the 40th state

1972—Flooding kills 238 people and causes $100 million in damage

1973—A group of Indians seize the village of Wounded Knee for 71 days

1993—Flooding destroy crops and towns; South Dakota declared a disaster area by President Bill Clinton

1998—The Crazy Horse Memorial is dedicated

Records show the Arikara people living in what is now South Dakota during the 1500s.  Throughout the early 1700s, Sioux and Cheyenne moved into the area.  By the 1800s, only the Sioux remained; they had forced all other tribes from South Dakota.

René-Robert Cavelier claimed land by the Mississippi River in 1682.  This land called Louisiana, included South Dakota.  In 1743, French-Canadian explorers traveled along the Missouri River.  They became the first known white persons to visit South Dakota.

In 1803, the United States bought Louisiana from France.  The following year Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were sent to explore the Louisiana Territory.  The abundance of animals they found encouraged fur companies to set up trading posts along the Big Sioux, Vermillion, James, and Missouri Rivers.  The most important was built in 1817 at the mouth of the Bad River.

European settlement of South Dakota began in 1858.  The Sioux Indians signed peace treaties and moved onto reservations east of the Missouri River.  In 1861, Congress created the Dakota Territory.  It consisted of what are now North Dakota, South Dakota, and most of Wyoming and Montana.

During the mid-1860s, gold was discovered in Wyoming.  The U.S. Army built military posts, and surveyed land to build a road through Sioux hunting grounds into Wyoming.  The Sioux believed this would ruin their hunting grounds and began a series of raids known as Red Cloud’s War.  In 1868, the Laramie Treaty created the Great Sioux Reservation.  This gave the Sioux all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River.

In 1874, General George Custer led soldiers into the Black Hills.  The discovery of gold brought several prospectors into Indian Territory; they founded the towns of Lead and Deadwood.  This invasion led to several Indian attacks organized by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.  In 1876, a new treaty was signed that gave Black Hills to the U.S. sent most of the Sioux to western South Dakota.  Other battles followed.  One of the last and bloodiest occurred on Dec. 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek.  More than 200 Sioux Indians were massacred and 25 soldiers killed.

Thousands of settlers flocked into South Dakota during the late 1870s.  Railroads soon reached the Missouri River and by 1886 railroads had reached Black Hills.  New towns were established along the railroad tracks by farmers, cattle ranchers, and those in search of gold.  In February 1889, Congress divided the Dakota Territory and established the now present-day boundaries.  On Nov. 2, 1889, South Dakota became the 40th state of the United States.

A severe drought stopped many from moving to South Dakota during the late 1800s.  The drought ended ten years later, but the economy continued to experience huge ups and downs during the early 1900s.  As the federal government opened Indian land for white settlement, the population of South Dakota reached almost 584,000 people in 1910.  The following year, drought again caused many to lose land and leave South Dakota.

As the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, land and crop prices doubled in South Dakota.  The drought ended for a time during the 1920s, but returned in 1930.  South Dakota not only experienced its worst drought in history during this time, but a grasshopper plague and huge dust storms from the dry soil.  The Great Depression (1929-1939) also caused thousands of South Dakotans to lose their jobs and their land.

The federal government strived to help farmers in South Dakota through a program called the New Deal.  It provided jobs in the Black Hills forests and gave money to construct bridges and schools.  During World War II (1939-1945), 67,000 South Dakotans served in the armed forces.  The U.S. Army built bases in Sioux Falls, Pierre, and Rapid City.  This provided new jobs to the state.

By the end of the war, many were unemployed.  Increased use of farm machinery led several to look for work in the city.  Thousands could not find employment and many left the state.  Since that time, state leaders have strived to diversify South Dakota’s economy.  The Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program created four major dams throughout the state to provide electricity, flood control and irrigation.  These dams created the “Great Lakes of South Dakota.”  New interstate highways and lakes made tourism the second largest industry after agriculture.

In 1972, Rapid City’s Canyon Lake Dam broke from heavy rainfall.  The floodwaters killed 238 people and caused $100 million in damage.  During the 1980s, the agriculture industry again experienced depression in the state’s economy.  In 1877, Sioux Indians refused $122.5 million as payment for the Indian land taken by the federal government and are seeking return of their land.  In 1988, gambling was legalized on reservations.  Today, the hotels, casinos and restaurants attract many visitors each year and provide thousands of jobs for Native Americans in South Dakota.