Our next stop was Pierre, SD (pop 13,646). It is the second smallest capital by population in the United States and a new capital for us to visit.
Our campground was actually across the Missouri River from Pierre in an area called Fort Pierre. Our campground sat high on a bluff and our campsite had beautiful views of the Missouri River and Pierre. We could even see the dome of the capitol building in the distance.
It was definitely a picturesque site and one we will always remember. When Bill went in the campground office to check in, he was handed an armful of tourist information. The Pierre Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center had done an excellent job of providing information on the area including a detailed self guide of the Capitol building, a driving tour of the area, city maps, and lots of historical points of interest. I don’t ever remember a city doing such an excellent job of helping tourists get the most out of their visit. Well done Pierre!!
This area was explored by the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery.
They spent the late summer and early fall of 1804 exploring what is now South Dakota. Their return trip in 1806 also brought them through the state. Can you visualize the immense herds of buffalo, deer, elk and antelope as well as pheasant and grouse they saw as they crossed the plains and grasslands? The state is full of Lewis and Clark historical sites and history, and the Pierre area is no exception. In September 24-28, 1804, Lewis and Clark met with the Teton Sioux. The success of this one meeting could have made or broken the success of the Expedition.
Today there are five Native American tribes living along the Missouri River.
Pierre was founded in 1880 as gold prospectors and homesteaders flooded the Dakota Territory. In that same year the railroad first crossed the Missouri River here and Pierre grew as more people and goods crossed the state. South Dakota achieved statehood in 1889 and Pierre, located in the geographic center of the state became the capital.
Before the establishment of the town of Pierre, the oldest established settlement in South Dakota was Fort Pierre, established in 1832. It was the largest trading post and the site of the first US military post on the upper Missouri.
Of course we had to visit the state capitol building which was built in 1910. It is a smaller version of the capitol in Montana with interior features of elaborate Greek and Roman design. Marble wainscoting and columns with a majestic staircase, terrazzo tile Italian floor, Victorian leaded glass, brass door fixtures and a 90 foot rotunda all come together to create a beautiful capitol building.
Even though currently there are no guided tours due to the pandemic, a friendly volunteer met us as we came through security. He spent time with us pointing out some of the special features.
All of the first ladies inauguration dresses and the current first man’s suit are captured in little boxes.
Outside the Capitol building is a memorial to World War II veterans with six bronze figures representing the military branches.
Throughout downtown Pierre is a Trail of Governors, 25 bronze statues of former South Dakota governors placed beginning in 2012 as a lasting legacy to their service to the state. Six more statues are set to be placed in the next couple years. The placement of the additional statues was hampered by the coronavirus. An informative brochure listed the location of each statue and interesting information about each governor.
One interesting piece of history is that in 1742 a French explorer and his four sons led exploratory expeditions into the northern plains of North America. They sought to extend the range of the French further west with the goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean. When in the area of what is today Fort Pierre, they secretly placed a lead plate bearing the French coat of arms and text in Latin about the King of France. They placed the plate to claim the land for France. The area was marked with a pile of rocks which they told the local Native Americans was merely to mark their passage in order to avoid suspicion. The plate lay undisturbed for 170 years until February, 1913 when a group of teenagers found the Verendryle plate. Down the hill from our campground is a historical marker where the plate was found. Flags of the US, France and South Dakota are flown at the site.
Around the Pierre area are several one room schoolhouses which I always enjoy viewing. The Sansarc School was used from 1910 to 1969.
Pierre’s first schoolhouse was built in 1881 and used as a school for one year with 18 students until a public school could be built.
The Oahe Chapel was built in 1877 and served as both a church and a schoolhouse for the Oahe Mission and the Sioux Indians.
The Oahe Dam, first begun in 1948, was dedicated in 1962 by President John Kennedy and is the 2nd largest rolled earth dam in the world. It is 245 feet high, 9,300 feet long with a width of 3,500 feet. Lake Oahe, South Dakota’s largest lake, was created by the dam and stretches 231miles from Pierre to Bismarck, ND. The Oahe Dam is one of four rolled earth dams along the Missouri River built between the 1940’s and 1960’s. The dams have helped ease flooding along the Missouri River, provided hydroelectric power as well as many recreational opportunities.
We saw a Quartzsite Border marker. From 1891 to 1892, there were 720 quartzite pillars placed ½ mile along the line between North and South. The boundary line was named the “quartzite border” and is the only state boundary designated in this way.
We certainly enjoyed our time in this picturesque, friendly capital city.
Next up: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma