History You Can Touch!

Fort Pierre is the oldest continuously occupied white settlement in South Dakota. From the French Verendrye explorers to Scotty Philip, the man who “single-handedly saved the American buffalo,” you’ll find it right here, in Fort Pierre. It is interesting to note that Fort Pierre is also home to three other major attractions central to the Lewis & Clark story. Taken together, these four sites comprise a chronological representation of relations between the races, from first contact through today and into the future.

Fort Pierre History

They are:

The Verendrye Monument National Historic Landmark, where in 1743 the French-Canadian la Verendrye brothers buried a lead plate establishing France’s purported claim to the entire future Louisiana purchase;

Mouth of the Bad River, where in 1804 President Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery met, counseled, feasted, and exchanged barely restrained hostilities with the “Teton” Lakota;

Fort Pierre Chouteau National Historic Landmark, largest trading post on the upper Great Plains in the 1830’s, currently under excavation, and traditional site of pre-European multi-Tribal trading convocations; and

The Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Center, Congressionally-authorized Tribal Supreme Court, mediation center, Lakota cultural center, artifact repatriation depository, and Tribal genealogical archives.

As you look out from the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River, you can almost imagine what French explorers must have thought about their discovery of this new land. The rugged terrain, a mighty winding river, the raw beauty of an endless land. And lying at your feet is the city of Fort Pierre.

Its central location on a major river was a powerful attraction to early explorers, settlers and traders. Profitable fur trading was established in the late 1700’s and by 1830 Fort Pierre was a bustling trade center and steamboat stop. In 1855 the first military fort in the northwest was established and by the time of the Black Hills Gold Rush, Fort Pierre was the major transportation and distribution hub in the territory.

Rev. Stewart Sheldon, on his May 18, 1880 visit to Fort Pierre:

“. . . a strange mixture of Americans, English, Irish, Swedes, Norwegians, Russians, Poles, French, Canadians, half-breeds, Indians, and what not. . . . Protestants, Catholics, Spiritualists, Moralists, Liberals, Freelovers, Ingersolites, Nothing-arins, and how many others I do not know . . . .Nearly all the people were in hot and eager pursuit after the almighty dollar! Freighters and cowboys and adventurers from nearly all over the world were duly represented, and there was one continued white heat of excitement week days, Sabbath days, and all. The night before I got there two young men, stimulated by whiskey, drew their pistols on each other in a miserable dance house, and one of them fell dead at the feet of his assailant, and in a few hours was buried on the hillside just back of thetown, without hardly more ceremony than if it had been the burial of a dog! It was indeed first-class missionary ground without any mistake.”

From: History of the United Church of Christ in South Dakota 1869-1976, Edward C. Ehrensperger, Editor; 1977 by United Church of Christ in South Dakota.

List of Books with History of Fort Pierre:

  1. Department of History Collections, Vol. L 1902 (SD State Historical Society)
  2. West From Fort Pierre (The Wild World of James (Scotty) Philip) by James M. Robinson
  3. Fort Pierre Chouteau by Harold H. Schuler
  4. Looking for History on Highway 14 by John E. Miller
  5. Roadside Geology of South Dakota by John Paul Gries
  6. South Dakota Leaders From Pierre Chouteau, Jr., to Oscar Howe Edited by Herbert T Hoover and Larry J. Zimmerman
  7. The Fort Pierre-Deadwood Gold Trail by Jan Cerney
  8. Images of America Pierre and Fort Pierre by Jan Cerney
  9. Challenge The South Dakota Story by Robert F. Karolevitz
  10. After the West Was Won (Homesteaders and Town-Builders in Western South Dakota, 1900-1917 by Paula M. Nelson
  11. Sunset to Sunset (A Lifetime with My Brothers, the Dakotas) by Thomas Lawrence Riggs, as told by Margaret Kellogg Howard
  12. Dakota Panorama, Dakota Territory Centennial Commission 1961, Edited by J. Leonard Jennewein and Jane Boorman
  13. Prairie Progress in West Central South Dakota 1968, The Historical Society of Old Stanley County
  14. A Bridge Apart by Harold H. Schuler