The State of South Dakota


Name: Dakota is a Sioux word meaning “friends” or “allies.”
Nicknames: Coyote State, Mount Rushmore State
Capital: Pierre
Size: 77,121 sq. mi. (199744 sq km)
Population: 858,469 (2015 est)
Statehood: South Dakota became the 40th state on November 2, 1889.
Electoral votes: 3 (2016)
U.S. representatives: 1 (until 2016)
State tree: Black Hills spruce
State flower: American pasqueflower
State animal: coyote
Highest point: Harney Peak, 7,242 ft. (2,207 m)

South Dakota map


South Dakota is one of the fertile Midwest states. South Dakota is often called the Land of Infinite Variety because of its landscape, which includes wide rivers, deep canyons, rolling plains, the Black Hills, and the Badlands.

The Missouri River divides South Dakota roughly into eastern and western halves. The river's dams provide energy and water for irrigation. East of the Missouri River, ancient glaciers carved the land into low hills and small lakes. The soil in this area is the most fertile in the state. To the west of the Missouri River is the Great Plains region, an area of canyons, gorges, buttes (flat-topped hills standing alone), and plains.

The Black Hills, which rise from the middle of the prairie to form peaks, canyons, and unusual rock formations, are located in the southwest. South Dakota's best forests and mineral deposits, especially of gold, are found in the Black Hills. Some of the most famous badlands (or regions of unique rock formations carved by wind and water) are located southeast of the Black Hills. South Dakota has few forested areas, except in the Black Hills.

South Dakota's climate can be unpredictable. Summers are usually hot and dry, and winters are cold and snowy. Rich, fertile soil and minerals such as gold and petroleum are South Dakota's most abundant resources.

Facts and Firsts

  • Belle Fourche is the geographical center of the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.
  • The highest mountain in the United States east of the Rockies is Harney Peak, which stands 7,242 feet above sea level in the Black Hills.
  • The third-longest known cave in the world is Jewel Cave, which is named after the sparkling calcite crystals that run throughout it.
  • The most endangered land mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret, has been reintroduced to the wild in the Sage Creek wilderness area.
  • South Dakota is home to only one kind of venomous snake, the prairie rattlesnake.
  • South Dakota is home to the largest bison herd in the United States. The herd is privately owned by Triple-U Enterprises near the city of Pierre.


During the 1700s, bison provided food, clothing, and shelter to Sioux, or Dakota, tribes who roamed South Dakota following the herds. The first white persons to claim the Dakota territory were French explorers from Canada. For a few years, however, the area was under Spanish rule, and then was returned to the French, who sold present-day North and South Dakota to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Settlers from the East, attracted by the fur trade established by the French, came to South Dakota and established the first permanent settlement in the region in 1817. In the 1850s, settlers moved into eastern South Dakota and began to farm. Wars with Native Americans, particularly Red Cloud's War (named for Sioux chief Red Cloud), slowed settlement in the 1860s.

In 1874 and 1876, the discovery of gold in western South Dakota set off a gold rush. The town of Deadwood quickly became an important center for prospecting. Life there was wild and dangerous, and Deadwood was home to such legendary people as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

The rush of new prospectors and settlers threatened some Native Americans. Leaders, such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, and their followers attacked white settlements. In 1877, the U.S. government took possession of the Black Hills and forced many Sioux to live on reservations, where they had to give up their former lifestyle of following the bison herds. Some Sioux started a new religion known as the Ghost Dance, which was intended to restore their old way of life. The U.S. government misinterpreted the Ghost Dance as a further threat to white settlers. In 1890, federal troops killed 300 Sioux in a massacre known as Wounded Knee.

The rush of farmers and speculators continued during the 1880s. To meet the growing demand by miners and townspeople for meat, cattle ranchers moved into the open land west of the Missouri River. During the next 40 years, South Dakota experienced times of great prosperity followed by economic depressions caused by droughts, grasshopper plagues, dust storms, or low food prices.

To decrease its dependence on farming, South Dakota undertook efforts to broaden its economy. During the 1950s, the state built hydroelectric dams along the Missouri River to provide irrigation and energy for new industries. These dams created new lakes that began to attract thousands of tourists to South Dakota every year.

Tourism ranked second only to agriculture in importance to the state's economy. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court directed the U.S. government to pay the Sioux more than $100 million for the theft of their land in the Black Hills in 1877. The Sioux refused to accept the money and continue today to fight for the return of their former land.


Despite its industrial growth, South Dakota continues to be the leading agricultural state. Its economy is more dependent on farming than that of any other state. About nine-tenths of South Dakota's land is farmland. Half of this area, especially in western South Dakota, is pastureland, used to graze cattle, hogs, lambs, and sheep.

South Dakota is a leading beef cattle producer. Crop farms in the north, south, and east grow corn, soybeans, wheat, flaxseed, hay, oats, and rye. Many factories throughout South Dakota process these farm products for sale around the world.

South Dakota continues to develop its mineral resources. The Homestake Gold Mine near the city of Lead produced large amounts of gold from its opening in 1876 until its closure in 2001; the state is still a leading producer of gold.

Petroleum was discovered in the 1950s and is second in importance among South Dakota's mineral products. Industries begun in recent decades produce items including computers and computer components, medical instruments, lumber, and transportation and construction equipment. Tourism has also grown considerably, and millions of people visit South Dakota's lakes and the Black Hills, where they can see Mount Rushmore, the gigantic mountain carving of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Residents have begun work nearby on an even larger statue of Sioux leader Crazy Horse.

Born in South Dakota

  • Sparky Anderson, baseball manager
  • Gertrude Bonnin (Zitkala-Sa), Sioux writer
  • Tom Brokaw, television newscaster
  • Crazy Horse (Tashunka Witko), Oglala chief
  • Mary Hart, television host
  • Hubert H. Humphrey, U.S. vice president
  • Cheryl Ladd, actress
  • Ernest Orlando Lawrence, physicist
  • George McGovern, politician
  • Sitting Bull (Tatanka Yotanka), chief of Hunkpappa Sioux
  • Mamie Van Doren, actress