History of South Dakota
There are traces of human presence in the territory of present-day South Dakota dating back at least several thousand years. The first inhabitants were the Paleoindian hunter-gatherers. Semi-nomadic Mound Builders lived there in the period between 500 AD and 800 AD and in 1325 the area was the site of the Crow Creek Massacre between several Indian groups, with several hundreds of victims. In the early 16th century, the Missouri Valley was inhabited by the Arikara.
The first Europeans in the region came with the LaVerendrye expedition, in 1743. They claimed the area for France, intending to make it a part of greater Louisiana. South Dakota was sold to the United States in 1803, still as a part of the Louisiana Territory. The regions of the Territory were not yet explored thoroughly by the Americans, which is why the famous Louis and Clark expedition was organized. At that time, the Sioux have mostly replaced the Arikara in South Dakota. The settlement of the lands began in 1817, after the first fort was established. Many lands, especially in the eastern parts of the state, still belonged to the Yankton Sioux, but they eventually ceded them to the United States. Sioux Falls was founded in 1856 and Yankton in 1859. The Dakota Territory was founded in 1861 and it initially comprised of North Dakota, South Dakota, parts of Wyoming and Montana. With the construction of the railroad, the population in the Dakota Territory grew quickly, especially with the influx from the eastern United States and western and northern Europe.
Parts of the land to the west of the Missouri River were promised to the Lakota tribes, but when the gold was discovered in the Black Hills, explorers started entering illegally. The tensions rose between explorers and miners and the Sioux, eventually leading to a war. The Sioux lost the war and the great Sioux Reservation was divided into five smaller reservations where the Lakota were sent to live.
The Dakota Territory was split into South Dakota and North Dakota and the two states were admitted to the Union in 1889. One of them had to be the first, and both states wanted it, and since there was no way of admitting them simultaneously president Harrison shuffled the papers and so actual order of admission remained unknown.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was the site of the last major conflict between the US and the Sioux. It was the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, in which approximately 150 Sioux men, women and children were killed. The US troops suffered 31 casualties.
The Dust Bowl in the 1930s hit South Dakota very hard. This period of severe economic damage, caused by poor agricultural techniques, very hot and dry weather and prolonged droughts produced severe dust storms that ruined much of the cultivated land in several states of the Great Plains region. Many farmers were forced to leave their lands and this, in combination with foreclosures and the effects of the Great Depression, caused a severe drop in South Dakota’s population.
The state’s economy started to recover in the 1940s, with World War II and the increased demand of agricultural products for the nation at war. After the war, several large dams were built on the Missouri River, which guaranteed not only flood control and hydroelectric power, but also increased the recreational opportunities in South Dakota, which was good for tourism.
Geography of South Dakota
South Dakota is located in the north-central US, part of the Midwest region and also of the Great Plains region. However, even though it belongs to the Midwest region, the state has the typical Western geography and economy.
Three main regions in South Dakota are eastern South Dakota, western South Dakota and Black Hills. The first two regions are divided by the Missouri River, which is why they are often called East River and West River respectively.
Eastern South Dakota is generally lower and has more precipitation, which is why most of the farms in the state are located there. This region is also the most densely populated one.
Western South Dakota is much dryer and more rugged, with hills, ravines, plains and buttes. Badlands, an area (and a national park) with buttes and pinnacles combined with grass prairie, is located in the southwestern portion of the state.
The Black Hills also lay in the southwest of the state. This small and isolated mountain range extends into Wyoming as well and hosts the Black Hills National Forest.
The largest river in South Dakota is the Missouri River. Other rivers include the James, Big Sioux, Cheyenne and White River. As for the lakes, there are many natural ones in East River region, and there are also several large man-made reservoirs on the Missouri River.
South Dakota has a continental climate, with four distinct seasons. Winters are cold and dry while the summers are long, hot and semi-humid. The state is prone to hot and severe dry spells during summer and this season is also known for frequent and severe thunderstorms. The state is also prone to tornadoes.
In addition to Sioux Falls and Pierre, large cities and towns in South Dakota include Rapid City, Aberdeen, Watertown, Brookings, Mitchell, Yankton, Huron and Vermillion.
South Dakota Population
In 2011 the population of South Dakota was 824,082, making it the fifth-least populated U.S. state. In 2010, the racial makeup in the state was 84.7% non-Hispanic White, 8.5% American Indian, 2.7% Hispanic or Latino, 1.2% Black or African American, 0.9% Asian, 1.8% two or more races and 0.1% some other race.
In the past, South Dakota has received a strong influx of immigrants from Northern and Central Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries. Today, the largest reported ancestry groups in the state are German, Norwegian, Irish, Native American and English.
South Dakota has a large Native American population, most notably the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Indians. The state has five counties that lie completely within Indian reservations. The conditions of living and the general standard in most of the reservations are quite poor, with the population lacking even the most basic commodities, such as plumbing, appliances and telephone.
As for the religion, the largest denominations (per number of adherents) in South Dakota are the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the united Methodist Church. Most of the population identifies as Protestant (Lutheran Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian) and Roman Catholic.
South Dakota Economy
Traditionally, South Dakota was always a predominantly agricultural state. Today, its economy is much more diverse, although it still relies greatly on agricultural products, especially corn, cattle, hogs, soybean and wheat. Meat-packing and ethanol production are also important industries in the state.
The service industry, which includes health care, financial services and retail, is the major contributor to the state’s current economy. Another significant sector is tourism. South Dakota has a lot of attractions that draw tourists from all across United States, especially in the Black Hills region. Deadwood, located in the region, was named after the dead trees in its gulch and it is today famous for its historic district, which is a national historic landmark.
Mount Rushmore is another major tourist destination and one of the symbols not only of South Dakota but of the entire United States. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved in the rock of the Mount Rushmore near Keystone in the Black Hills region. It was made by Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum and it represents four US presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The Memorial has approximately three million visitors each year. Wind Cave National Park, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial also attract many visitors in South Dakota. Another important tourist event is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally with more than 400,000 visitors each year.
One of the largest employers in the state is the Ellsworth Air Force Base, located near Rapid City, while the government spending accounts for more than ten percent of the GSP in South Dakota.
South Dakota Government and Legislation
The separation of power in South Dakota is basically the same as in any other U.S. state and consists of executive, legislative and judicial branches. The executive branch is represented by the state governor, currently the Republican Dennis Daugaard. The state governor may serve no more than two consecutive four-year terms.
The state legislature consists of the South Dakota Senate with 35 members and the South Dakota House of Representatives, with 70 members. The state is divided into 35 legislative districts, meaning each district gets to elect two representatives and one senator.
South Dakota is one of the seven U.S. states with only one representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives. As for the U.S. Senate, South Dakota has two senatorial seats.
The judicial branch consists of the courts of different levels, the highest one being the South Dakota Supreme Court.
South Dakota has the lowest per capita total state tax in the United States. There are no personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, intangible personal property taxes or inheritance taxes. The state sales tax, which is 4%, does not apply for sales to Indian reservations or members of the Native American population.
Politically, South Dakota is predominately Republican and had not voted Democrat in presidential elections since 1964. Some of the current political problems and issues in South Dakota include very low education spending, attempts to ban abortion in the entire state and issues surrounding the costs of the state lottery.
Education in South Dakota
South Dakota has 168 school districts with 703 public schools. South Dakota has the highest number of schools per capita in the entire United States. The high school graduation rate is 89.9% and 21.5% of the population has a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree. One of the major problems with the educational system in the state are low salaries of public school teachers, which, with $36,674, are well below the national average of $52,308.
The state has six public universities, controlled by the South Dakota Board of Regents: South Dakota State University, which is the largest, the University of South Dakota, which is the oldest, Dakota State University, Black Hills State University, Northern State University and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The state also has a number of private universities, the largest one being Augustana College in Sioux Falls.
South Dakota was for a long time the only state without the NCAA Division I sports team. However, South Dakota State University and University of South Dakota recently moved their teams from Division II to Division I. The rest of the universities have teams either in Division II or in Division III.
South Dakota Transportation
South Dakota has 679 miles of interstate highways and 83,609 miles of other highways and roads (including streets in towns and cities). The state is bisected by two major interstate highways: I-90 runs east-west in the southern part of South Dakota and 29 runs north-south in the eastern portion of the state. There are also two shorter interstate highways: I-190 and I-229. Other major roads include U.S. Routes 12, 14, 16, 18, 201, 81, 83, 85 and 281.
The state has several scenic byways: the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway and the Native American Scenic Byways are the national ones, and others include Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, Badlands Loop Scenic Byway and Wildlife Loop Road Scenic Byway.
The major railroad carriers in the state are BNSF Railway and Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad. South Dakota is one of the few U.S. state not serviced by Amtrak.
The largest airports in South Dakota are Sioux Falls Regional Airport and Rapid City Regional Airport, serviced by Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Airlines.