South Dakota started its history as a state with the nation of France. Originally claimed by France, South Dakota became a part of French territory in 1743, thanks to the expeditions of Louis Joseph de La Verendrye. Long before it joined the union, South Dakota was essentially a French trading post.
The center of that trading post was Pierre, the future capital of South Dakota. When South Dakota attained statehood and officially joined the union in 1880, Pierre was and remains its capital today. There was no competition or debate on the city’s status.
Pierre celebrated its 200 settlement anniversary back in 2017 and although it is the capital of a vast territory, Pierre only covers about 13 square miles. Many states chose their capitals based on river trade, and Pierre was no exception, strategically located on the Missouri River.
Where is the Capital of South Dakota Located?
The city of Pierre is located on the eastern edge of the Missouri River, which made it an exceptional trading post from the late 1700s well into the 1900s. Even today, Pierre is the beneficiary of shipping lanes up and down the Missouri River.
To the southwest, right across the river, is Fort Pierre, with Pierre itself nestled comfortably in the northward elbow of the Missouri. Pierre also sits north of a large island known as the La Framboise Island, a land mass resulting from a split in the Missouri as it travels south.
To the north and west, Pierre benefits from the power generated by a hydroelectric dam known as the Oahe Powerhouse. Pierre also benefits from the United States Army Corps of Engineers base just to the west of the dam.
Brief History of Pierre
Paleo Indians originally occupied Pierre and the surrounding countryside. It’s always been an attractive location, especially due to its location along Missouri and its elevation of 1,453. The elevation is an important point because Native Americans preferred territory slightly elevated.
The area wasn’t explored by Europeans until the 1740s when the land nearby the city was claimed by France. Its location made it an excellent choice as a trading post and the area essentially served that function from the late 1700s onward.
However, it didn’t officially become a trading post until the late 1800s. The primary trade coming through Pierre was fur, which was in very high demand during that time frame. In the 1850s, a treaty was signed with the Native Sioux and Pierre became an official settlement in the 1850s.
But it didn’t officially become “Pierre” until 1880, named after the leader of the French expedition that originally discovered and explored it on behalf of France in the 1700s. South Dakota gained its statehood in 1889 and will forever remain the 40th state of the United States.
The dam that provides power to Pierre and the surrounding area was completed in 1944. In fact, the dam actually provides power for the entirety of the north-central United States. Such is the power generation of flowing water.
When Did Pierre Become the Capital of South Dakota?
Pierre officially became the capital of South Dakota in 1890, not long after Pierre gained its name. Pierre almost slipped into obscurity as another failed settlement after they were hammered by a vicious drought not long after the town was officially founded.
A town’s survival in those days was entirely dependent on local farmers’ ability to produce crops. The drought lasted several years and destroyed hundreds of thousands of crops. There wasn’t any kind of technology that could easily transport water from Missouri and distribute it to the crops.
However, the community survived the drought and the rest is history, with the announcement of Pierre’s capital status not long down the road.
Why is Pierre the Capital of South Dakota?
Pierre became the capital thanks to a combination of its early discovery, well before potential competition in the state, its conversion into an important trading post, and its location on the banks of the Missouri River.
All of those things combined to make it the most logical choice available. There was some brief consideration for the town of Mitchell but it was nothing that could outmatch the characteristics favoring Pierre as the new capital of South Dakota.
Construction on the city’s capital building began in 1905 and was officially completed in 1910. It cost a whopping $1 million dollars, which was a lot of money in 1905.
Best Places to visit in Pierre
One of the first places you have to visit in Pierre is the Oahe Dam and powerhouse. The raw power of the Missouri River is simply incredible. The hydroelectric system that generates power for the entire north-central portion of the continent is a phenomenal example of human potential.
It’s an especially good example of harnessing clean, natural energy in a way that far exceeds the capabilities of solar, wind, coal, and other fossil fuels. The only greater energy harnessing power on the planet is nuclear.
The state capital building is another obvious choice. The building is similar in architecture to every other state capitol building in the US but it’s still a sight to behold. The aforementioned La Framboise Island is a scenic island and a highly protected part of the local environment.
It’s a beautiful place to visit and it’s just one, quick ferry ride across a narrow passage of the Missouri. The Cultural Heritage Center is equally impressive, especially when you have the opportunity to learn about Natives who lived in the area for thousands of years.
The Flaming Fountain is another exceptional site to mark down on your list. The monument is dedicated to WWII veterans and it’s a beautiful tribute worth laying eyes on while you visit.
Pierre, South Dakota may be one of the least talked about states in the country but it’s an impressive part of American, French, and Native American history, nonetheless. Located on the Missouri River, it’s also a breathtakingly beautiful region of the country.