South Dakota State Study

South DakotaSouth Dakota was inhabited by the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikera, Sioux, and Chippewa tribes.  The area was explored by French trappers in the 1700’s, but not settled until long after Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.

Gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874 and American settlers moved in, creating the first permanent American settlements and displacing the Sioux, opening up hostilities again.  By 1898 the population in the Dakotas was sufficient to create two new states at the same time, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The 1930’s droughts and economic depression were devastating to South Dakota.  Dust storms plagued the land and people exited the state in massive numbers.  With World War II and massive dam building projects the economy recovered and land that used to be subject to drought could now be irrigated.  Power and recreation were also provided with the dams.

Today South Dakota is still largely agricultural and rural.  In the last couple of decades though the state has begun to diversify into financial services, research labs, and tourism.

This is downtown Rapid City. Photo by Kevin Gabbert, released to the public domain, Wikimedia.

Fabulous Facts

  • South Dakota is sometimes called the Mt.Rushmore state for obvious reasons.

    This is Mount Rushmore, carved in the 1930’s to honor America’s greatest presidents. Photo by US federal government, public domain.
  • The Black Hills of South Dakota are called “black” because from a distance the dark spruces covering their slopes and rising above the prairie look black.
  • Deadwood is an old mining town in South Dakota where Wild Bill Hickok was killed.  His murderer was caught and hanged from a tree.
  • South Dakotas motto is Under God the People Rule.
  • South Dakota is one of the least densely populated states in the US, coming in at 5th from last.
  • The Missouri River bisects the state almost exactly in half.  The two halves are known by locals as “East River” and “West River”.  Besides the geographical division the two halves are different culturally as well.

South Dakota Map Exploration

Label and color a South Dakota Map using a student atlas as a guide.  Don’t forget major landmarks like the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore.



Additional Layers

  • The state is named after the Lakota and Dakota Sioux, though they only lived in the extreme eastern edge of the state until the 19th century, their primary territory being in Montana and Wyoming.  Learn more about the Sioux.
  • The Wounded Knee Massacre happened in South Dakota in 1890.  Find out more.
  • South Dakota is mostly a temperate grassland.  Find out more about this biome and the sorts of animals and plants that grow there.

    Native wildflowers on the South Dakota prairie. Photo by USDA, public domain.
  • The US government had signed the Treaty of Laramie in 1868 granting the Sioux exclusive rights to the land of the Black Hills and extensive hunting rights in Montana, the Dakotas, and Wyoming.  But when gold was found in 1874 American settlers moved in illegally.  In fact Custer’s expedition which found the gold in the first place had been illegal.  Learn more.
  • Mt Rushmore cost only about 1 million dollars to carve out of the side of a mountain.  How much do you think it is worth now?  If you owned the land it sits on would you sell it?  Learn more about the history of Mt. Rushmore.
  • Many state mottoes center on God, sometimes called Providence.  Why do think they do?  What does it mean to rule under God?  According to South Dakota what is the chain of authority in society?  Do you agree with this?

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