South Dakota History

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South Dakota Historical Timeline
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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: The Lewis 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: The Arikara Indians attacked the fur trading party: 12 traders were killed and 11 were wounded (click here for more information about the Arikara Indians)
  • 1858: Yankton 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 had boasted he could whip the whole Sioux Indian nation with eighty men.  He 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: Homestake 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 the Yankton Reservation thrown open to homesteaders. Land sold for up to $3.75 an acre.
  • 1898: Over 300,000 men were involved in the Spanish-American War which was fought mainly in Cuba and the Philippines.
  • 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: Pierre becomes the capital 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
  • 1917–1918: More than 26 million men from the United States ages 18 through 45 registered with the Selective Service. World War I over 4.7 million American men and women served during the war.
  • 1927: Gutzon Borglam began work on Mount Rushmore National Monument
  • 1930's: Severe drought and dust caused agriculture problems
  • 1930's: The Great Depression closed many factories and mills. Many small farms were abandoned, and many families moved to cities.
  • 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
  • 1940–1945: Over 50.6 million men ages 18 to 65 registered with the Selective Service. Over 16.3 million American men and women served in the armed forces during World War II.
  • 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
  • 1950–1953: Over 5.7 million American men and women served in the Korean War.
  • 1950's–1960's The building of interstate highways made it easier for people to move long distances.
  • 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
  • 1964–1972: Over 8.7 million American men and women served in the Vietnam War.
  • 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

Historical Content[edit | edit source]

Histories are great sources of genealogical information. Many contain biographical information about individuals who lived in the area, including:

  • Parents' names
  • Maiden names of women
  • Place of birth, death, or marriage
  • Occupation
  • Migration
  • Military service
  • Descendants

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain accounts of families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of pioneers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search. Local histories are extensively collected by the Family History Library, public and university libraries, and state and local historical societies. The United States Research "History" page cites nationwide bibliographies of local histories which include histories of South Dakota.

  • A Bibliography of American County Histories [1] [2]
  • United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress [3][4]

State Histories Useful to Genealogists[edit | edit source]

Good genealogists strive to understand the life and times of their ancestors. In this sense, any history is useful. But certain kinds of state, county, and local histories, especially older histories published between 1845 and 1945, often include biographical sketches of prominent individuals. The sketches usually tend toward the laudatory, but may include some genealogical details. If these histories are indexed or alphabetical, check for an ancestor's name. Some examples for the State of South Dakota:

  • History of South Dakota is an especially helpful source for studying the history of South Dakota. [5]

United States History[edit | edit source]

The following are only a few of the many sources that are available:

  • The Almanac of American History, [6][7]This provides brief historical essays and chronological descriptions of thousands of key events in United States history.
  • Dictionary of American History, Revised ed [8] [9]This includes historical sketches on various topics in U.S. history, such as wars, people, laws, and organizations. A snippet view is available at Google books.
  • Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium [10][11][12]This includes a history, some maps, tables, and other historical information.

To find more books and articles about South Dakota 's history use the Internet Google search for phases like "South Dakota history." FamilySearch Catalog Surnames Search lists many more histories under topics like:


Here is 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

Websites[edit | edit source]

Wiki articles describing online collections are found at:

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. Filby, P. William. A Bibliography of American County Histories. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1985. (FHL book 973 H23bi)
  2. Worldcat
  3. Kaminkow, Marion J. United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress. 5 vols. Baltimore: Magna Charta Book, 1975-76. (FHL book 973 A3ka.)
  4. Worldcat
  5. Herbert S. Schell, History of South Dakota, 2nd ed. (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1968; Family History Library book 978.3 H2s).
  6. Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. The Almanac of American History. Greenwich, Conn.: Bison Books, 1983. (FHL book 973 H2alm)
  7. Worldcat
  8. Dictionary of American History, Revised ed., 8 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976. (FHL book 973 H2ad.)
  9. Worldcat
  10. Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium. Springfield, Mass.: G C Merriam, 1971. (FHL book 973 H2v)
  11. Limited view at Google Books
  12. Worldcat
  13. Writings on American History By American Historical Association, Library of Congress, United States National Historical Publications Commission, Published by KTO Press, 1921 FHL book 973 H23w
  14. Worldcat