South Dakota History

The history of South Dakota, which stretches back millions of years, has shaped this interesting and diverse state. Glacier-carved lakes, the stark landscape of the badlands, rising granite peaks, river bluffs, and acres of prairies are evidence of the march of time. The state also shows evidence of a much more recent history. Native Americans, frontier settlers, the Wild West, World War II, the Cold War, and other events and people in more recent history left their mark. When travelers explore the cities, attractions, state parks, and other interesting sites, they'll have many chances to connect with South Dakota history.

South Dakota ranks sixteenth in size among all US states and is home to just under a million people. It has been a state since 1889, entering the union at the same time as its neighbor North Dakota. One of the little-known facts about South Dakota is that it contains more miles of shoreline than the state of Florida. The Missouri River meanders through the middle of the state, and glacier-carved lakes are common in the northwestern region.

All around the state, historic places provide a glimpse into the distant past and learn facts about South Dakota. Travelers can look for dinosaurs in South Dakota at places such as the Museum of Geology and Archaeological Research Center in Rapid City, Badlands National Park, and the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. Paleontologists from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City unearthed a tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, and today, Stan is on display at their gallery in the Black Hills Museum of Natural History. A replica of Stan also stands at the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science in Sioux Falls, another interesting place for visitors to explore the history of South Dakota.

In the northwestern corner of the state, sandstone cliffs in and around Cave Hills still have the symbols that were carved into them more than 5,000 years ago. The Prehistoric Indian Village in Mitchell dates back more than a thousand years. Visitors can experience this facet of South Dakota history at the Thomsen Center Archeodome, where ongoing excavation and research occurs.

Many other sites across the state reflect more modern Native American history. Several of the tribes who make their home in South Dakota share their heritage, past and present, through tours, museums, cultural centers, tribal casinos, and powwows. Most of the Native Americans who live in the state are members of the Dakota, Lakota, or Nakota tribes, who are collectively known as the Sioux.

Two travelers figured prominently into the history of South Dakota: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The Corps of Discovery passed through present-day South Dakota in 1804 and returned in 1806, aided along the way by Native Americans. They were sent by President Thomas Jefferson, who is now ones of the faces carved in the stone of Mount Rushmore. Today's explorers can follow the journey along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail that winds along the Missouri River, relax along Lewis and Clark Lake in one of the state parks, visit museums, and stop into the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center in Yankton.

South Dakota history was also shaped by the pioneers who trekked west, those who settled on the prairies, and the characters who put the wild in Wild West. Travelers can explore the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, the real-life inspiration for Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie, test their luck in Deadwood just like Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, watch the buffalo in Custer State Park, or spend time in one of the guest ranches, learning the ways of the West and an endless array of facts about South Dakota to highlight this fascinating state.

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