The recorded history of the state began near the middle of the eighteenth
century, shortly after Sioux people abandoned a permanent residence
at the northeastern edge of the prairie near Mille Lacs to settle across
some 84 million acres they had long claimed for hunting and gleaning.
The first resident non-Indian was Pierre Dorion, who came to the lower
James River basin in the early 1780s. Over the ensuing three quarters
of a century, more than 25,000 Sioux of eleven tribes worked at arm's
length in reasonable harmony with immigrant whites, who were mainly
of French and British lineage. The traders represented several firms
in Montreal and St. Louis, but after 1827 most of them worked for St.
Louis magnate Pierre Chouteau, Jr., who dominated trade from the headwaters
of the Wisconsin to those of the Missouri River. Not by chance did he
bequeath his name to an area of the middle Missouri that later became
the location of a state capitalPierre. By managing inventories
for a complicated network of trading places, Chouteau's Fort Pierre
grew into the leading entrepot of his elaborate commercial
Chouteau replaced bullboats, longboats, and rafts on the Missouri River
with a fleet of streamers that transported industrial goods upstream and
sent hides and furs out to international markets. A secondary function
was tourism. Among those who made travel arrangements through Chouteau's
network were George Catlin, Prince Maximilian, Karl Bodmer, Joseph Nicollet,
Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, and John James Audubon.
The lives of Sioux people changed dramatically during the fur-trade
era. As long as their sources of hides and furs held out, the Sioux had
industrial products that made their lives somewhat easier and enhanced
their tribal arts. Indian women married traders and raised bicultural
families. At its worst, the relationship between Indians and whites was
one of guarded suspicion. Most reports portrayed Indians as hospitable,
interesting, and cooperative people. The environment they occupied seemed
mysterious, underdeveloped, and promising.
Inevitably, such impressions attracted non-Indians in search of land
to settle and new locations for business enterprise. Every Sioux tribe
except the Yankton reacted aggressively to the massive white immigration
that took place after mid-century. From the Grattan Affair near Fort Laramie
in 1854 to the death of Sitting Bull and the killings at Wounded Knee
in 1890, there was intermittent combat. The Minnesota Sioux War, Red Cloud's
War, and the Great Sioux War in quick succession changed an intercultural
relationship of guarded suspicion into one of fear or hatred. The Sioux
ceded most of their land in present-day South Dakota to the United States
in the Treaty of Washington, D.C., in 1858, the congressional Agreement
of February 27, 1877, and the Agreement of March 2, 1889. The middle and
western Sioux relinquished their rights to approximately 58,700,000 acres
across the middle Missouri basin and retained few more than 13,100,000
acres within the state.
Newcomers appeared to claim the land as rapidly as their courage allowed.
Soon after Congress established the Territory of Dakota in 1861, whites
settled the "Yankton Delta" or "Triangle" contained by the Missouri and
Big Sioux rivers. These French, Scandinavian, Scottish, Irish, and English
immigrants adapted readily to familiar agrarian conditions on arable land
and marked the approximate boundaries for ethnic enclaves. Early in the
1870s, a body of mining prospectorsformed in Chicago, staged in
Sioux Citymuscled its way into the Black Hills. Prospectors violated
the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, but federal officials declined to enforce
its terms. Sitting Bull's followers fought back successfully until the
demise of George Custer and his Seventh Cavalry in 1876. Through the 1877
Agreement, however, western Sioux tribes gave up the Black Hills, then
their arms and ponies, and then their freedom in exchange for confinement
around six new agencies.
Almost immediately, the Great Dakota Boom got underway. German- speaking
Lutherans, Catholics, Hutterites, and Mennonites appeared, along with
a large component of Czechs and the first of many Germans from Russia
who settled between the Missouri Coteau province and the Black Hills.
There were also some Black and Jewish settlements. By the time the Boom
was over in 1888, the line of agrarian development had approached the
edge of the Missouri River, and Dakotans demanded at least 11 million
acres more. Accordingly, in the year of statehood the Agreement of 1889
opened almost that much land, as it provided for the establishment of
six tribal reservations.
Between 1889 and 1920, the population of South Dakota grew from approximately
325,000 to roughly 687,000comprising thirteen Sioux tribes, at least
twenty-five white ethnic societies, two traditional Indian belief systems,
and more than a dozen Christian denominations. In their struggle for self-reliance,
white South Dakotans formed cooperative organizations and lobbied congressmen
and state officials for help. Their great herds of cattle and flocks of
sheep shrank into small ranch herds and flocks after the state range law
of 1911 made livestock producers responsible for damage to crops. Out
of necessity, western cattlemen improved the quality of smaller foundation
herds from which to market yearlings in East River, where they were finished
on corn and grain and sent to slaughterhouses in Sioux Falls, Sioux City,
After 1889, congressmen set policy as U.S. officials worked on transforming
Indian reservation residents into farmers and ranchers. The eastern Sioux
around Flandreau and Sisseton possessed so few acres and financial resources
that they hardly had a chance. The middle and western Sioux carried from
their 1858 treaty and the 1877 and 1899 agreements a residual of some
13 million acres and approximately $6 million from the sale of land. Their
cash reserves were soon enlarged by annual interest on tribal funds, proceeds
from personal labor and land lease contracts, and communal as well as
individual allotment sales. The nine Sioux tribes started with nearly
500 acres per capita, but most of the land was of marginal value to subsistence
agriculture. Over half a century, approximately 27,000 reservation residents
attempted to succeed in farming under federal supervision. By 1950, they
had used up all but about $200,000 of their cash reserves and pared the
land holdings available for use to slightly more than 6 million acres.
The majority of the 223 acres per capita remaining were leased to whites
as fractionated holdings of little if any value to most of the Indians.
For the Sioux, the quest for self-reliance as family farmers and ranchers
in a region of marginal productivity had all but failed.
The experience was better for white people only by degrees. They strove
for self-sufficiency on farmsteads that were too small for an arid climate.
During the World War I era, farmers and ranchers grew reliant on credit
assistance, crop insurance, and other benefits from state agencies in
Pierre. These supports collapsed along with many farms, ranches, and private
banks during the agrarian depression of the 1920s, leaving South Dakota
taxpayers with a debt they did not liquidate for nearly three decades.
After several good years, farmers and ranchers leaned heavily on New Deal
programs for survival. A miniature exodus reduced the population from
692,849 in 1930 to 589,920 in 1945, but most South Dakotans remained to
enjoy recovery from wartime demands and federal assistance through the
continuation of New Deal programs.
Since World War II ... [federal officials] have supplied economic means
and administration for small business experiments on reservations along
with a buffet of Great Society programs initiated during the 1960s for
all citizens in need. Meanwhile, there have been ever-increasing benefits
for South Dakota society overall from such federal installations as the
Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
facilities along the Missouri main stem, and National Park Service installations
at Mount Rushmore and the Badlands ... During the centennial year, 42
percent of approximately a billion dollars allocated by the state legislative
budget came from federal coffers.
Since the homestead era, South Dakotans have enlarged tourism as a secondary
industry. It, too, has been subsidized by federal expenditures, beginning
with the creation of recreational facilities and the Federal Highway Act
of 1916. Tourism has improved through the addition of installations under
management by the Army Engineers and National Park Service. Yet, in the
main it has flourished through private initiative in the advertisement
of clean air, open space, magnificent scenery, ethnic experience, western
hospitality, and a place for eastern urbanites to blow off steam.
Various means of federal support that grew out of the New Deal have
allowed South Dakotans the luxury of a political split personality. Conservative
Republican and moderate Democratic politicians have held office in Pierre
on their promise of balanced budgets (as required by the state constitution),
low taxes, and tightfisted fiscal policies. Moderate Republican and liberal
Democratic leaders have enjoyed long tenures in Congress for their abilities
to bring home federal benefits. Party label has not deterred a divided
vote: the Republican majority has elected liberal Democrats George McGovern,
James Abourezk, and Tom Daschle along with moderate Republicans Francis
Case, Karl Mundt, and Benjamin Reifel.
Culpability for the economic dependence that gave birth to this political
behavior lies with natural conditions and with congressmen who planned
farmstead settlement by Indians and whites under outmoded land policies.
South Dakotans have never been happy in a colonial condition, but few
have apologized. Instead, they have learned to treasure a place of responsibility
and value their contributions in national culture. From one era of war
in the Philippines to another in Vietnam, they have contributed far
more than their proportionate shares to national defense and influence
abroad. South Dakotans have maintained a playground for harried urbanites
and curious intellectuals by a commitment to tourism. They have relinquished
land along the Missouri main stem to bring flood control, hydroelectric
production, and wildlife management more beneficial to outsiders than
to themselves. Both Sioux and non-Indian groups have produced foods,
fibers, minerals, and other raw materials as they have been steady consumersbuying
and selling on markets almost entirely under the control of business
magnates outside the state. Struggling always against natural hazards,
they have maintained ethnic diversity in rural enclaves as valuable
to the national culture as to themselves.
Intense interest by outsiders added to desire for cultural expression
has stimulated remarkable creativity in the arts. Heading a long list
of painters who have captured ethnic life and natural conditions in the
state are George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Harvey Dunn, Oscar Howe, James Pollock,
Arthur Amiotte, John Green, and Robert Penn. Leading the authors who have
given special attention to life in South Dakota are Hamlin Garland, Ole
Rolvaag, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frederick Manfred, and Herbert Schell.
Guardians for works of art and composition as well as primary documents
and artifacts have maintained more than a dozen substantial archives and
as many public and private museums. No state group has been more attentive
to the definition and preservation of its natural and cultural legacies
than this. Remarkable accomplishments have come through the use of limited
resources generated by a population that did not exceed 700,000 until
late in the 1980s.