The land of wide prairies with the once huge herds of buffalo is inextricably linked to the cultural heritage of the free Indian tribes of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota-Sioux – also with the sad end of this culture: Wild Bill Hickock was shot from behind while playing poker and Sitting Bull died a scuffle. The approximately 60,000 Indians now live on reservations. What remains of the rough and rarely visited state is an attractive mixture of rivers, hills, cliffs, badlands and the Missouri River. The journey on the most important east-west connection, Interstate 90, leads first from the flat wheat and soybean fields in the east, through the steppe-like prairie and the haunted wasteland of the rocky badlands – one of the tourist highlights of the state. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial with the more than 18 m high stone-carved heads of the four Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln brought it world fame. Another highlight is the imposing hilly landscape of the “Black Hills” – which was revered as sacred territory by the Lakota Sioux.
Location and size
According to a2zdirectory, with an area of 199,731 km² South Dakota is the seventeenth largest US state. The nearly rectangular state measures 610 km in EW alignment and 340 km in NS alignment. Located in the central north, South Dakota is bordered by North Dakota to the north, Minnesota to the east, Iowa to the southeast, Nebraska to the south, Wyoming to the west, and Montana to the northwest. The Dakota Territory was divided into two parts – North and South Dakota – in 1889 and became the 39th and 40th states on November 2, 1889. The state’s highest elevation is Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) in the Black Hills at 7,500 feet. The mountain is named after the medicine man of the Oglala Lakota Indians, Black Elk.
With almost 884,000 residents, the state ranks 46th among all US states. The largest city is Sioux Falls with around 184,000 inhabitants. The capital Pierre is the second smallest US capital with around 14,000 inhabitants. The population of South Dakota is 85.7% White, 8.8% Native American, 1.3% African American, 2.7% Hispanic, and other ethnic groups. Population statistics in 2019 revealed that around 40.7% of all whites are descendants of German immigrants. In second place are white descendants of Scandinavian settlers.
Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD), also known as Joe Foss Field , is the state’s busiest airport. Flight connections exist to Denver, to Los Angeles, to Chicago O-Hare (with United Express), to Minneapolis-St. Paul (with Delta) and to Dallas-Fort Worth.
Sioux Falls is around 450m above sea level and has a typical cold continental climate with moderate rainfall (630mm). The average annual temperature is 7.4 °C. January has the least rainfall on average. Compared to June, the month with the most precipitation, the difference is 86 mm. There is a difference of 32.9 °C between the warmest month of July and the coldest of January.
|Average temperatures in Pierre , South Dakota in °C|
For the Lakota Sioux, the imposing hilly landscape of the “Paha Sapa” was considered a mysterious and sacred land where the “Great Spirit” was worshiped. When gold was discovered during an expedition led by George Armstrong Custer in 1874, the land was trickily taken from the indigenous people. Land speculators and settlers conquered the once sacred sites. In addition to the Mount Rushmore Memorial (further information here ), there are other sights in the approximately 200 km by 105 km park . General area information is available at www.blackhillsbadlands.com and at the Visitor Center at exit 61 of I-90 in Rapid City
In 1876, in a few months in the middle of the Indian region, in a gorge almost 300 m wide and several hundred meters deep, the place that attracted masses of gold diggers, gamblers and knights of fortune. Within weeks, the community, dubbed “Deadwood Gulch” because of the many fallen trees, had a population of more than 5,000. There was no sherriff, nor mayor. When gunslinger James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok is shot in the back, a hastily assembled jury returns the verdict. The killer gets off scot-free. Anarchy reigns in the city for three years. Until a fire in September 1879 destroyed most of the town. Just one day later, the citizens start building a new settlement – this time with houses made of stone and an elected sheriff.
Today, the history of the gold diggers is retold in the town of 1,300 with its beautifully restored old town. You can play in one of the numerous casinos.
Deadwood has also been a frequent theme in film and TV history. So there was a television series called “Deadwood” from 2004 to 2006. Of course, the life of Bill Hickok was also popular as a film theme – including 1995 under the title “Wild Bill” – with Jeff Bridges. The life of the western heroine Calamity Jane was also filmed several times, including in 1953 with Doris Day with the title “Heavy Colts in Tender Hands” (“Calamity Jane” in the original). www.deadwood.com and enjoydeadwood.com
Custer State Park
The 28,730 hectare park is known for its soaring rock towers and the Needles Eye – a spectacular rock window. The landscape here is considered to be one of the most beautiful natural areas in the region. Custer State Park, 13329 US Highway 16A, Custer, SD 57730, www.blackhillsbadlands.com/parks-monuments and gfp.sd.gov/custer-state-park/
Wind Cave National Park
South of Custer State Pak, Wind Cave National Park is home to one of the longest limestone caves in the world. An underground labyrinth of bizarre rocks and shapes. There are guided tours such as the historical candlelight tour or the natural entrance tour. 26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD 57747
Jewel Cave National Monument
The sights in the third longest cave (approx. 325 km long) in the world are considered to be even more diverse than in that of the Wind Cave. Tours allow you to visit some of the most impressive parts via easy trails. 11149 US Hwy. 16, Building B12, Custer, SD 57730
Excavated in 1974, the site is believed to be the largest find of prairie mammoth fossils. 26,000 years ago there was a water sink here in which the carcasses of giant elephants were well preserved. To date, only part of the archaeological site has been explored. 1800 US 18 Bypass, PO Box 692, Hot Springs, SD 57747
South Dakota’s largest city was founded in 1856 and sits on the Big Sioux River, which is also the city’s lifeline. You can watch the river with its waterfalls from several viewing platforms. Sound and light shows take place every evening during the summer, putting the river front and center.
Places of interest include Augustana University’s Center for Western Studies www.augie.edu/western-studies , which focuses on the history and culture of the Plains Indians. Another highlight is the Butterfly House & Aquarium in Sertoma Park, where you can observe 400 species of butterflies and countless fish.
The second smallest American state capital is a green oasis in the middle of the treeless prairie. The central building of the town is the South Dakota State Capitol , completed in 1910 , with a magnificent marble staircase. But the sensation is the view of the lake, where thousands of migratory birds stop in spring and autumn. South Dakota State Capitol, 500 E Capitol Ave boa.sd.gov
The most notable attraction, however, is the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center , built into a cliff overlooking the Missouri River. The roof is overgrown with prairie grass. The theme of the museum is the history of the Sioux tribes and the ethnic roots of the white settlers in the state.
In the immediate vicinity is the fourth largest reservoir in the USA, the Oahe Dam on the Missouri River, 20207 SD Hwy 1804, Pierre, SD 57501
The village of Pine Ridge (almost 3,500 inhabitants) in the southwest – on the border with Nebraska – lies in the middle of the second largest US Indian reservation Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Sioux. With an unemployment rate of 85%, almost 40% of the population here lives below the poverty line. Life expectancy for men here is just over 50 years, for women just under 55. A sad record in the western hemisphere. Most of the Oglala Sioux live from subsistence farming.
On December 29, 1890, nearly 300 Oglala Sioux were massacred by US cavalry soldiers at Wounded Knee (20 miles northeast of Pine Ridge). A memorial stone – 16 km east of the village – commemorates this massacre.
The Red Cloud Heritage Center – on the grounds of the Red Cloud Indian School – features Chief Red Cloud’s grave and a variety of Native American artifacts and contemporary art. Red Cloud Heritage Center, 7 km north of Red Pine Village on Highway 18
In 1973, there was an incident in the town of Wounded Knee with consequences: activists from the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied the place because they wanted to impeach the tribal leader Dick Wilson. Civil war-like conditions broke out on the poor reservation, culminating in a shootout in 1975 that left several dead, including two FBI agents and an AIM operative. In the end, the AIM activist Leonard Peltier was sentenced to life imprisonment as the only accused in an internationally controversial trial. Numerous films have been made on the subject, including Michael Apted’s feature film Thunderheart. Apted also directed the documentary Incident at Oglala, which also deals with these events.
The small town in the middle of the fertile James River Valley is considered the “agricultural capital” of the state. The place is known worldwide because of the Corn Palace, a Moorish-looking hall with domes, minarets and arbors. The strange building was erected in 1921 for the “Corn Belt Exposition” and is redecorated every year by artists: murals with typical depictions of the area are created from corn and grass. The tradition of these works of art goes back to 1892. The place boasts of having the only corn palace in the world. 604 N Main St, Mitchell, SD 57301
The small town has been a magnet for visitors along Highway 90 since 1936. The idea came from pharmacist Ted Hustead, who put up signs advertising free ice water along the highway. As a result, a whole forest of signs was added, which now extends to the entire Highway 90. The formerly small pharmacy Wall Drug is now a shopping and entertainment world that markets everything to do with Wild West and Indians. Wall Drug, 510 Main St. www.walldrug.com. The small town is also the gateway to the Badlands www.wall-badlands.com
Those more interested in the environment and ecology than shopping and entertainment should pay a visit to the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Visitor Center. The grasslands extend to Nebraska.