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Archive for the tag “South Dakota”

Along the Pathways of Exploration: Fort Pierre, South Dakota

Missouri River vista at Fort Pierre, South Dakota

October 31, 2019

South Dakota may be sparsely populated but the landscape is grand. I passed miles and miles of fertile fields getting here, saw many herds of cattle and free antelope. The photos above and below this paragraph show the wide Missouri River in the central part of the state as taken from a hill above the old trading post of Fort Pierre.

Missouri River vista at Fort Pierre, South Dakota

Clinging to the west bank of the Missouri River, Fort Pierre was founded in 1832 as Fort Pierre Chouteau, a fur-trading post. Pierre Chouteau, Jr. was a prominent fur trader from St. Louis, and his name can be found on towns and streets as far west as Montana. But Chouteau wasn’t the first white man to arrive in this area.

Not even Captains Lewis and Clark can make that claim.

Two French explorers, Francois and Louis-Joseph Verendrye arrived here on March 30, 1743 during an expedition from French-held Quebec. Claiming the region for the King of France, the Verendrye brothers left a lead plate buried in a hill above the river to mark their claim. The Verendryes are thought to be the first Europeans to have crossed the Great Plains to see the Rocky Mountains. In 1803 the United States would purchase this claim from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

170 years later on February 16, 1913, two boys discovered the Verendrye’s lead plate, which had since been forgotten. The historical marker below provides further details. The grand landscape photos shown above were taken from this natural vantage point.

Historical marker at the Verendyre Site

Down the hill from the Verendrye site lies the old town of Fort Pierre. It’s small — only 2,000 inhabitants today — but can still brag that it’s grown exponentially from its days as a fur trading post. Here are some photos around town. Most of these buildings can be found along Deadwood Street:

“Prairie Traders” in Fort Pierre, South Dakota
The Verendrye Museum
A vital drinking establishment serving the Fort Pierre community.
View down Deadwood Street, Fort Pierre, South Dakota

I remained very quiet while taking this next photo of a sleeping dog and a juicy bone. I was careful not to wake the dog nor approach the bone.

Sleeping dog and bone

Fort Pierre is also the county seat of Stanley County, South Dakota. Their courthouse was built in 1976 and looks new and well-kept. The buffalo statue is appropriate for the region.

Stanley County Courthouse South Dakota
Stanley County Courthouse, Fort Pierre, South Dakota

There’s more history to this place than just the Verendryes though. Just two blocks south of the Verendrye Museum is a small city park at the junction of the Bad River and the Missouri. It was at this spot in late September, 1804, 61 years after the Verendryes, that American explorers Captains Lewis and Clark had their famous confrontation with the Teton Sioux.

For details of the confrontation I can recommend Stephen Ambrose’s fine “Undaunted Courage,” page 170, but in short here’s what happened. The Sioux sought a test of wills with the white explorers and demanded additional presents from Lewis and Clark — a tribute of sorts — in order to allow them to continue up the Missouri. The Americans refused. Guns were drawn, bows were strung and aimed, and even the American’s cannon mounted on their keelboat was aimed at the Indians on shore. But no shots were fired. The Sioux backed down, and Lewis and Clark continued on their way.

Junction of the Bad and Missouri Rivers at Fort Pierre, South Dakota

The settlement around old Fort Pierre grew slowly after its founding. By the 1840s the fur trade had declined precipitously. In 1880 the town of Pierre, South Dakota was founded on the east bank of the Missouri across from Fort Pierre. Because the railroad reached the east side of the river before the west, Pierre grew quickly and was eventually designated state capital of South Dakota.

Pierre, South Dakota as seen from the Verendrye marker across the river in Fort Pierre
South Dakota State Capitol Building in Pierre

Although Pierre has the state’s capitol, Fort Pierre has the better history.

All photos taken by the author on October 7th and 8th, 2010.

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

Keep Calm and Look Far


August 16, 2017

Keep calm and look far.  

Such a grand vista. A long, straight, gently undulating highway, traversing seemingly endless beaver ponds and pastures to join the far horizon below a boundlessly pleasant summer sky. 

The American prairie makes us look far.

Gazing ahead you foresee a great drive, maybe in a car or on a bicycle.

But suppose you were all alone and badly injured and had to crawl this road instead of driving it. Would you be able to keep calm, keep your head down, pull yourself elbow over elbow again and again until you’ve met the distant horizon, not knowing how far that might be?

Long ago a man did just that. He was a fur trapper and mountain man. The locals remember him to this day.

This is Bison, South Dakota, population 333.


Here are some of the principal town establishments:  The Bison Bar, County Title office…

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…the Bison Community Center, American Legion Post 255, the Bison Senior Citizens center. Structures (and people) are plain yet sturdy, built to withstand the strong winds and heavy snows of the Northern Plains.

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The Jack and Jill grocery store dominates local commerce. I walked in at 10:00 on a Wednesday morning and noticed a handwritten sign posted on the front door. It said simply:

“We will be closed from 10:45 to 12:30 for the funeral.”

Whose funeral? Someone from the store? A prominent man-about-town? Who?

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The sign didn’t say. Apparently it didn’t have to; if you live in town you would already know. They say that in small towns everyone knows your business. That may be true, but on the other hand everyone misses you when you’re gone.

The Perkins County Courthouse occupies a prominent corner block on Bison’s Main Street.  Perkins County boasts a total population of 2,982.  Donald Trump won 83% of the vote here in 2016. Pretty good for a New Yorker.


Bison High School:  “Home of the Cardinals” — because the “Bison Buffaloes” would invite derision. While school mascot names are fun, the obelisk in front of the school teaches a serious lesson.

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This is a monument to mountain man Hugh Glass, whom I mentioned at the beginning.

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Here’s the text of the monument:

Hugh Glass. Hunter with Ashley’s fur traders, mauled by a grizzly bear while camping at the forks of Grand River north of Bison in 1823. Left for dead, he survived, crawled south between present towns of Bison and Meadow, hiding from Indians by day, to Fort Kiowa 150 miles away.  Dr. John Neihardt tells the tale in “The Song of Hugh Glass.”

Keep calm and look far. Hugh Glass reached his destination after crawling on his elbows for 150 miles. If we must, we can do the same.

These are tumultuous times. Yet like Hugh Glass we cannot stop here to re-suffer the past. America still has great places ahead of us and great achievements to offer mankind if we keep a level head “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” Keep calm and look far — persistence will conquer distance.


(Note: Since visiting Bison I’ve learned that the Jack and Jill grocery store has apparently changed hands and been renamed the Bison Food Store.)

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

September 30, 2014

Today is the last day of September and therefore the final day that can possibly claim any pretense to still being summer, so I’ve pulled together a few photos to honor the occasion.  Mostly photos in this post — the season’s political ads have made me tired me of words.

Sunflower Fields near Pollack, South Dakota:  A lot of South Dakota sunflower fields were ripening in August. The farmer told me that prices were down but yields were up.  Breaking even with last year.  He’s probably already off to Arizona for the winter.

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Canola Fields near St. Andre, Quebec, Canada: Bright yellow canola can turn a plain field into an impressionist landscape.  Nice of them to add the purple flowers along the roadside, though I imagine the more stolid types would call those weeds.  The rocky hills in the background are probably glacial deposits; they form the boundaries of the St. Lawrence River Valley.



One More Bright Yellow Summer Field — Countryside near Leuven, Belgium:  2 photos of canola fields in Belgium plus a nearby farming village.  These were taken in the month of May, but it sure looks like summertime to me.




Iowa — Farmhouses, Baseball, Cornfields, Old Churches, and Loess Hills:  The first two photos are from the Field of Dreams farm/set near Dyersville; the third shows late-summer cornfields outside Sioux City; the fourth is a view of the old St. Donatus church in July; the fifth shows a country road winding through the Loess Hills (yes, hills in Iowa!) along the eastern banks of the Missouri River floodplain.  The Loess Hills are ancient accumulations of wind-borne glacial debris.




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The Hot Summer Sun near Scottsbluff, Nebraska:  Scotts Bluff was an important landmark along the Oregon Trail. It rose so suddenly out of the Nebraska prairie that Oregon-bound wagon trains could see the rock formations for days before reaching them.  These photos to me epitomize the summer heat.  Bugs, dust, sweat, sunburn, biting insects, and rattlesnakes enhanced the experience.  In winter the bluffs are subject to blizzards and covered in snow.



Finally, in the High Country Autumn Comes before September Ends — San Juan Mountains of Colorado:  All these photos were taken in and around Durango and Telluride Colorado in late September, 2012.




IMG_6514There.  Summer is done for another year as the Colorado aspens introduce autumn once again.

The month of October begins tomorrow.  At the stroke of midnight you may buy your mega-bags of Halloween candy at Walmart without suffering social aspersions.  Enjoy.

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