South Dakota History

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South Dakota Historical Timeline

The following important events in the history of South Dakota affected political boundaries, record keeping, and family movements.

    1743: French explorers, the LaVerendrye brothers, claimed area for France

    1750: Sioux tribes moved to Dakota

    1794: Jean Baptiste Trudeau established a fur trading company

    1803:  The United States acquired the region from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Between 1803 and 1858, the area was the domain of the Dakota Sioux Indians and fur traders from St. Louis.

    1804: TheLewis and Clark Expedition arrived in South Dakota

    1817: Joseph LaFramboise started a trading post at Fort Pierre, the oldest continuous white settlement in South Dakota

    1820-1840:  U.S. military expeditions were sent to the area in the 1820s, and Army posts were established in the 1850s. At various times, the area was part of the territories of Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska.

    1823: TheArikara Indians attacked the fur trading party: 12 traders were killed and 11 were wounded (click here for more information about the Arikara Indians)

    1858Yankton Sioux Indians ceded their claim to southeastern Dakota to the United States. Permanent white settlements were established at Yankton and Vermillion. For several years, settlement was confined to the area between the Big Sioux and the Missouri rivers.

    1861:  Congress created Dakota Territory, which included all of present-day North and South Dakota, Montana, and northern Wyoming (everything from the Minnesota border to the Rocky Mountains). The first counties were established in southeastern Dakota in 1862. The creation of Montana Territory in 1864 and Wyoming Territory in 1868 reduced Dakota Territory to the area included in the two Dakotas of today. (March 2,)

    1863: The first homestead filed in the Dakota Territory

1866: (December 21,) Fetterman massacre.  Capt. William J. Fetterman of the U.S. Army haad boasted he could whip the whole Sioux Indian nation with eighty men, led that exact number into an ambush by Sioux Indians, along the Bozeman Trail.    

1868: A treaty was signed with the Sioux. This continued the Great Sioux Reservation which included the Black Hills.

    1874: Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills which led to the opening of that area to white settlement in 1876. About 20,000 people came to South Dakota, but many left after a few months or years. The peak year of the gold rush was 1877.

    1876: TheHomestake Gold Mine opened. Sioux war occurred and General Custer and the 7th Calvary were defeated. (Later known as "Custer's Last Stand")

    1877:Land closed to settlement by President U. S. Grant. Dawes Act passed. Reservations to be broken into 160 acre allotments for Indian farms.

    1878-1887:  The building of railroads in the region stimulated the great Dakota land boom, bringing settlers to most of the area east of the Missouri River.

    1879: Land re-opened for settlement by white people.

    1888: A major blizzard strikes, 35 people die

    1889:  South Dakota was separated from North Dakota and became admitted into the Union as the 40th state with its present boundaries. (November 2,)

    1890:Wounded Knee Massacre occurred - 7th Cavalry killed more than 250 Lakota men, women, and children; Sitting Bull killed at Little Eagle; Indian wars ended.

    1892-1904:Rosebud Reservation in Gregory Co. became open to homesteaders

    1895:Excess land in in the Yankton Reservation thrown open to homesteaders. Land sold for up to $3.75 an acre.

    1900:"Free Homes Bill" becomes law. Surplus lands given to settlers.

    1900-1910:  As railroads reached the western part of the state, the last land boom brought thousands of homesteaders.

    1904:Pierrebecomes the capitol of South Dakota.

    1907: Surplus lands in Tripp County opened for homesteads.

    1908: Surplus lands on Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Reservations opened for settlement.

    1912: Surplus lands in Bennett, Mellette, and Washabaugh Counties opened for     homesteads.

    1927: Gutzon Borglam began work onMount Rushmore National Monument

    1930's: Severe drought and dust caused agriculture problems

    1939: Badlands designated National Monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt

    1941: Mount Rushmore National Monument completed

    1944: Congress passed Pick-Sloan Plan for construction of four dams: Fort Randall, Oahe, Gavin's Point and Big Bend

    1948: Korcak Ziolkowski began work on Crazy Horse Mountain

    1949: Blizzard struck South Dakota; railroad from Pierre to Rapid City was blocked for several weeks and it required air drops of hay to overcome that

    1952:Major flood caused damage all through the state, inundated most of Pierre

    1960: Ben Reifel elected as first American Indian to serve in Congress

    1962: Oahe Dam completed, started generating electricity

    1963: Cold War escalated and ICBM missiles were placed around the state

    1972: Flooding in Rapid City area killed over 200 people

    1973: Riots by supporters of American Indian Movement occurred at Wounded Knee II and Custom Court House

    1980: Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad shut several thousand miles of track which affected more than half of state's total railroad mileage; U.S. Congress approved payment to Sioux Indians of $122 millions for compensation of lands seized in 1877

    1987: Lottery began; fire destroyed block in historic downtown area of Deadwood

    1988: Severe drought conditions caused crop failure and lack of feed for cattle; lightning caused large forest fire in Black Hills destroying 16,000 acres

    1990's: ICBM missiles removed

(Just as a note, this timeline is not all inclusive; it does include many of the important events that took place in the area that is now South Dakota.)

Additional Online Resources

Chronology of South Dakota History (South Dakota State Historical Society)

South Dakota State History Online (South Dakota State Historical Society)

Online Exhibits of the South Dakota State Historical Society

South Dakota History(Infoplease)

History for Kids(South Dakota State Library)

USGenNet: South Dakota

(scroll down and see "On This Site" for the many resources available on this site)

Additional Library Resources

An especially helpful source for studying the history of South Dakota is Herbert S. Schell, History of South Dakota, 2nd ed. (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1968; Family History Library book 978.3 H2s).

Also, try a place searchin the Family History Library Catalog with the following search terms:

South Dakota - History

South Dakota, [County] - History

South Dakota, [County], [City] - History

Here are a list of possible search terms that might be listed behind the subject "South Dakota - History" on the state, county, and some even on the city/town level):

        • History - Bibliography
        • History - Civil War, 1861-1865
        • History - Collected Works
        • History - Indexes
        • History - Inventories, Registers, Catalogs
        • History - Periodicals
        • History - Societies
        • History - Societies – Periodicals
        • History - Sources