South Dakota Emigration and Immigration
During the first half of the nineteenth century, various Sioux (also called Dakota) tribes lived in the area that became South Dakota. These included the Santee, Teton, Yankton, and Yanktonnais tribes. The Dakota Sioux Indians comprise about five percent of the state's present population.
Most of the present inhabitants are descendants of pioneers who came to South Dakota before 1920. Pre-statehood settlers of South Dakota generally came from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Many of the pre-1860 settlers were of Norwegian descent. Some came to southeastern South Dakota by covered wagon across northern Iowa or southern Minnesota. Others came by railway to St. Joseph, Missouri, then by steamboat up the Missouri River.
The first major influx of settlers began in 1863, after passage of the first Homestead Act. Homesteaders in the late 1860s and early 1870s came from the eastern and mid-western states. Many others came from Europe, including groups of Swedes, Danes, Czechs, and Germans from Russia. The Black Hills gold rush of 1875-1877 also attracted thousands of people.
The great Dakota land boom in northeastern and central South Dakota began in 1877 and reached its peak by 1887, two years before statehood. This boom, coinciding with the construction of railways into the region, brought many additional settlers. Immigrants of many ethnic backgrounds, especially English, Scandinavian, and Dutch, continued to come from nearby states of the upper Mississippi valley. Small groups also came directly from overseas, including Welsh immigrants and additional Germans from Russia.
New lands became available in the western part of the state in the early 1900s, but a severe drought in 1910 and 1911 brought a temporary halt to homesteading and caused significant emigration from the state.
Most European settlers in South Dakota came through the port of New York or other east coast ports. The Family History Library and the National Archives have passenger lists or indexes for American ports for the years 1820 to 1943, and for Canadian ports for 1865 to 1900. The library also has records of the Canadian border crossings of 1895 to 1954. More detailed information on immigration sources is in the United States Research Outline.
Histories and compiled biographies of major ethnic groups such as the Czechs and the Russian Germans are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under SOUTH DAKOTA - MINORITIES. American Indian records are generally listed under SOUTH DAKOTA - NATIVE RACES (see the "Native Races" section of this outline).
The photo above shows men working on a South Dakota railroad around 1910. The photo is courtesy of http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/c/r/a/Wallace-M-Crawford/PHOTO/0006photo.html.