South Dakota

It took almost 225 years from its discovery by Europeans for South Dakota to join the United States as a state, and establish its own capital city. Rene-Robert Cavelier sieur de La Salle was the first European to set foot in then, Upper Louisiana. He arrived to find nine Native American tribes in residence, but by the mid-1700s the northern plains and Black Hills were occupied by various tribes of the Sioux. The area that is now South Dakota became part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, however, the population continued to be mostly French fur traders, many of whom married into the Native American tribes, until the mid-1850s. Like so many other states with mountains, gold was discovered by Lt. Colonel George Custer, in the Black Hills in 1874 – the same George Custer that led the disastrous Battle of Little Big Horn. A rush of prospectors and speculators followed, leading to the creation of the Dakota Territory in 1877 to control some of the chaos. Statehood was granted in 1889, but the territory had still to be split into two. Finally in 1904, South Dakota’s capital was established at Pierre. Geographically, South Dakota has two distinct identities. The eastern part, east of the Missouri River, is flat farmland supporting the majority of the population. The western part is the rugged landscape of the Black Hills and the 244,000 acres of Badlands National Park. This is also where Mount Rushmore is located. When carving of the four presidents began in 1927, they were supposed to be shown from the waist up. Funding was cut in 1941, to use the funds for the war effort, with only the heads complete. Visiting here on the Fourth of July is a must, when the mountain lights up with fireworks and celebrations.

South Dakota Scenic Byways