Black Elk Peak sunrise

South Dakota TImeline

Sunrise at Black Elk Peak, Custer State Park

From the Native Americans that first called this land home to the proud residents of today, South Dakota has a rich and storied history. Read on for historic moments -- and how you can learn more today.

Native woman in full regalia
Lewis & Clark Trail sign
Missouri River - Oahe West Shore Trails


From 1700 to 1750, the tribes of the Sioux Nation clash with the Arikara, Mandan and Omaha for control of eastern Dakota. By the late 1700s, the Sioux Nation dominates the northern Plains. Places like the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center in Chamberlain and other museums in South Dakota provide fascinating looks into the state's rich Native American culture.


The Verendrye brothers, the first Europeans to see the Black Hills, bury an inscribed lead plate near present-day Fort Pierre, claiming the land for France. The plate is now displayed at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.


Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explore present-day South Dakota's stretch of the Missouri River. The explorers and the Yankton and Teton Sioux have their first historic meetings here. Today, state highways 1804 and 1806 commemorate the expedition's trip up the Missouri River in 1804 to the Pacific Ocean and the return journey in 1806. Learn more about following the Lewis & Clark Trail here.

Sponsored Content

Dancing at the Fort Sisseton Festival


The Yellowstone, the first steamboat on the Missouri River, paddles to Fort Tecumseh (at present-day Fort Pierre). Trade flourishes along the river. The first permanent white settlement in South Dakota is established here.


Yankton is named capital of newly organized Dakota Territory. The territory includes present-day South and North Dakota and much of Wyoming and Montana. There's a replica of the Territorial Capitol in Yankton's Riverside Park.


The U.S. Army establishes Fort Wadsworth on the Dakota prairie. The fort is built to provide protection to the new settlers in the region. Now known as Fort Sisseton, the army post stands as one of the nation's best-preserved military forts. Check it out anytime or hit the Fort Sisseton Historical Festival every June for a lively historical experience.

Sponsored Content

Quartzite cliffs and water at Palisades State Park
Wild Bill gravestone bust in Deadwood
Girl in rural dress in a field


An expedition led by Lt. Col. George A. Custer discovers gold in the Black Hills. By 1876, gold fever spreads throughout the Hills. Deadwood, one of the West's most famous mining camps, draws characters like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny. They're buried in historic Deadwood's Mount Moriah Cemetery. Learn more about Deadwood -- the entire town is a National Historic Landmark -- by clicking here.


With a posse hot on his trail, Jesse James spurs his horse across Devil's Gulch near present-day Garretson. The gulch is about 20 feet wide and 50 feet deep. Jesse takes the leap as members of the posse watch in disbelief, and the notorious outlaw rides away. See the gulch for yourself at Palisades State Park.


Pioneering farmers begin the rush for land known as the "Great Dakota Boom." The next year, the now-famous pioneering family of Charles Ingalls settles in De Smet, the "Little Town on the Prairie." Later, the town serves as the setting for five of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. Click here to see all the rad ways you can experience the history of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family.

Family and ranger in Wind Cave


South Dakota achieves statehood. Pierre becomes the temporary capital, but several cities vie for the permanent post. The issue isn't settled for nearly 20 years.


The 7th Cavalry kills more than 250 Lakota men, women and children in what comes to be known as the Wounded Knee Massacre. A solitary stone monument near the town of Wounded Knee marks the site of this tragedy. Learn more about this and other important moments in Native American history here


Wind Cave National Park is established by President Theodore Roosevelt, making it the first cave in the country to be designated a national park. The sixth-largest cave in the world contains more than 150 miles of passages and features the world's largest concentration of rare boxwork formations. Above ground, Wind Cave is home to 33,970 acres of prairie and forest land that act as a natural sanctuary for elk, buffalo, deer, and other wildlife. Learn more about this great place here

Cowboy on horse rounding up buffalo in Custer State Park
Exterior of Battleship USS South Dakota Memorial


Custer State Park obtains 36 head of buffalo from the James "Scotty" Philip estate. Phillip's earlier efforts are credited with saving the buffalo from extinction. Today, the town of Phillip is named after him. Today Custer State Park is home to more than 1,400 buffalo. Each year, spectators flock from around the world to watch wranglers & buffalo in action during the Buffalo Roundup


Sculptor Gutzon Borglum begins work on Mount Rushmore National Memorial. He intends to carve the four presidents to their waists but dies in 1941 before the work is finished.


The U.S.S. South Dakota is launched. On two separate occasions, the Japanese report sinking the South Dakota, which downed 64 planes during World War II. For security purposes, the ship is renamed "Battleship X." After the ship was decommissioned, Sioux Falls created the Battleship USS South Dakota Memorial.

Car about to enter tunnel on Iron Mountain Road


The Pick-Sloan Flood Control Act is passed, funding four dams on the Missouri River in South Dakota. Today, the dams control flooding, harness the river's energy and provide recreational opportunities. Many anglers swear by the fishing available at the dams.


The first blast takes place on the Crazy Horse Memorial mountain carving in the Black Hills. The memorial is a tribute to Native Americans. Today the family of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski (1908–1982) continues the nonprofit project, the largest in-progress mountain carving in the world.


About 200 armed members of the American Indian Movement occupy Wounded Knee to protest policies towards Native Americans.


South Dakota celebrates its centennial.

Six military statues in Pierre


The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is officially dedicated. Most of the byway features routes selected by visionary senator & governor Norbeck himself, even when engineers said it was impossible. Featuring granite tunnels, pigtail bridges and hairpin curves, the 70-mile byway offers stunning views of wildlife, Custer State Park, and Needles Highway. It's a must-do on any western South Dakota visit. Learn more here. 


The WWII Memorial on the Capitol grounds in Pierre is unveiled. It is the first of its kind in the nation. You can learn more about South Dakota's strong military history across the state.


The Sanford Underground Research Facility, an underground laboratory dedicated to studying dark matter, neutrinos, and more, is officially dedicated in Lead. The campus occupies the former Homestake Gold Mine, which was once the most productive gold mine in the country. It produced more than 39 million ounces of gold from 1876 until its closure in 2002.

Today the research facility has a free visitor centerand the opportunity to blast a golf ball into the "Open Cut," a 1,200-foot-deep gold mining pit. You can also learn more about the area's gold mining history just down the street at the Black Hills Mining Museum.

Black Elk Peak fire tower with snow
Dignity sculpture in daylight
Mural on seed elevator in Faulkton


The state celebrates its quasquicentennial – the 125th anniversary of its statehood.


Dignity: of Earth and Sky is unveiled along Interstate 90 in Chamberlain. The 50-foot-tall statue of a Native American woman holds a quilt featuring 128 stainless steel blue diamond shapes that flutter in the wind. In the day, these pieces change color with the sun. At night, LED lights cause the diamonds to glow. Experience this easy-to-find beauty here.

In this same year, Harney Peak was renamed Black Elk Peak after the legendary Lakota elder. Learn more about the highest peak on the continent east of the Rockies by clicking here


Australian artist Guido van Helten completes his photorealistic mural on a 110-foot grain elevator in Faulkton. Featuring a prairie boy and girl, this mural continues to attract visitors to the small town that's also home to "The Last Wild Buffalo Hunt," an intricate work painted on the side of the Faulk County Museum by Nigerian artists Jonathan Imafidor and Dotun Popoola. Learn more about the art you can see in Faulkton and beyond by clicking here.

Arc of Dreams in Sioux Falls


The Arc of Dreams is dedicated in Sioux Falls. The two-piece sculpture is 280 feet long and, at its highest point, hangs 70 feet over the Big Sioux River, representing the dreamers of the past and present as well as the leap of faith required to follow your own creative vision. See the Arc of Dreams lit every night from sundown to midnight. Learn more here

Start Planning Your Next Trip to South Dakota
Illustrated image of three bison grazing in Custer State Park. The Needles rock formation is visible in the background.
Order Your Free Vacation Guide

Find our Vacation Guide, state map, and other free publications to aid in your travel planning.

Brule, Levitt at the Falls, Sioux Falls
Sign Up for the E-Newsletter

Receive monthly inspiration about places to see, activities to try, and upcoming events.