People arrived in what is now South Dakota at least 13,000 years ago. Thousands of years later, Native American tribes such as the Cheyenne, Arikara, Ponca, Lakota, and Dakota Sioux lived on the land. Today nine Native American tribes still reside in South Dakota.
The first Europeans in the area were the Vérendrye brothers, who claimed it for France in 1743. In 1803 the land was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase, which included about 827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River. In 1804, famous explorers Lewis and Clark traveled through the newly acquired region on their way to the Pacific Ocean, as they surveyed the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. The Dakota Territory, which originally also included what’s now North Dakota, was made into two states in 1889.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Dakota is a Native American Sioux word that means roughly “friendly” or “allies.”
The state’s nickname comes from Mount Rushmore, an enormous sculpture of the faces of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt carved into the Black Hills. The presidents’ faces are roughly 60 feet tall!
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
The Missouri River runs north to south through the middle of the state. East of the river is the Drift Prairie, an area with lakes, low hills, and fertile farmland. The state’s southeastern corner is called the Dissected Till Plains, filled with streams and hills.
The western two-thirds of the state are the Great Plains, with canyons and flat-topped hills called buttes. It’s also home to the Badlands, one of the richest fossil beds on Earth where explorers have found remains of saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses, and marine animals from an ancient sea.
The Black Hills in the southwest is a range of mountains that includes the 7,242-foot Black Elk Peak, the state’s highest point. This area is sacred to the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Omaha tribes.
Buffalo, deer, antelope, elk, porcupines, jackrabbits, and prairie dogs call South Dakota home. Golden and bald eagles, ring-necked pheasants, and burrowing owls soar above. Tiger salamanders and softshell turtles, whose shells are covered by a flexible skin, swim in rivers and streams.
Common trees include ponderosa pines, weeping willows, and Black Hills spruce (the state tree), and three-foot-tall grasses tower in the plains. Wildflowers bloom across the state, as do thistles, wild roses, daisy-like Indian blanketflowers, and wild geraniums.
South Dakota’s number one industry is agriculture, thanks to its fertile soil. Common crops include corn, wheat, soybeans, and sunflowers, which are grown for their seeds.
Mining is also important in South Dakota. Until 2001 the state was one of the country’s top spots for gold, but today construction materials such as limestone, granite, sand, and gravel are among its most-mined resources.
—Nearly three million people visit Mount Rushmore each year.
—Famous folks who lived in South Dakota include newscaster Tom Brokaw, Sioux Indian chief Crazy Horse, author Laura Ingalls Wilder, Calamity Jane, and Dakota Indian chief Sitting Bull.
—Started in 1948, the Crazy Horse Memorial is still being carved today in the Black Hills. When finished, the statue will be 563 feet high, almost twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty!
—Drive a covered wagon, make a corncob doll, and spend a day living the pioneer life at Laura Ingalls Wilder’s historic homestead in De Smet, South Dakota.