Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pierre, South Dakota

River view on the Native American Scenic Byway
Today was a short drive to get to Pierre, South Dakota (pronounced Pier). We were lucky to find a beautiful South Dakota State Park near the Oahe Dam for our 4 night stay. This park was built by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Oahe Dam project. Our spacious back in site has a view of the river and beach. We have front row seats to the dam releases that keep the fishing boats moving quickly.

The Bad River entering the Missouri, meeting place with the Teton Sioux.
The explorers had a meeting with members of the Teton (Brule) Sioux in what is now Fort Pierre where the Bad River enters the Missouri.  They were apprehensive about the meeting as others had spoken to them of the tribes aggressive behavior in preventing others from passing through their territory. The Sioux had a reputation among the fur trappers and traders that worked the area as being very difficult to deal with. Jefferson had charged the captains with spreading the word of the US government's jurisdiction of the region, while developing friendly relationships. The message was not well received.
The Sioux demanded an exclusive trade agreement with the new government and wanted payment in the form of the entire contents of one of the pirogues to allow the Expedition passage up the Missouri River through Sioux land. The Captains attempted to impress the chiefs by showing them the keelboat with its mounted guns. They also shared whiskey with the tribe- a decision that did not help an already explosive situation. The meeting ended with an armed standoff as Sioux warriors attempted to seize the vessel and Corps members resisted.
The next 4 days were spent camped near the Sioux village. There were celebrations and shared meals but the atmosphere remained tense. The explorers were on guard day and night fearing an attack.

"All prepared on board for any thing which might hapen, we kept a Strong guard all night in the boat. No Sleep"

The fact that Lewis and Clark negotiated passage through Sioux territory giving up only tobacco, clothing and trinkets was an incredible feat. Word spread to neighboring tribes about their persistence. This event gave the expedition leaders credibility in future discussions with tribal leaders.
Unfortunately they had not succeeded in President Jefferson's request of peaceful contact. Their contentious meeting with the Sioux must have caused them some concern for the return trip.

field of bison
The rolling landscape of South Dakota's Great Plains is where much of the movie Dances with Wolves was filmed. We took long drives on rural roads passing bison and antelope and fields of sunflowers.
The Native American Scenic Byway lead us along the Missouri River through tribal lands with breathtaking water views.

Antelope along the byway.
Pierre is home to the Cultural Center of South Dakota. The museum is an unusual structure built into the side of a hill and covered with earth. It impressively simple design brings to mind a prairie sod house. It is operated by the South Dakota Historical Society and has exhibits featuring the lives of Native American Plains dwellers, miners during the gold rush, the hardships endured by homesteaders and the building of the Missouri River Dams. Here we found the original Verendrye tablet on display. 

Verendrye lead plate

Verendrye Monument
The Veryndrye brothers were French explorers that attempted to find a water route to the Pacific in 1742. The brothers were unsuccessful but they did leave evidence of their presence. They buried a lead plate on a bluff overlooking the river that was inscribed with the date and the name of Louis XV, to claim the land for France. The plate was found in 1913 by children playing on the hill. The spot is marked with a slab of granite inscribed: "Here on March 30, 1743 the Verendryes buried a lead tablet to claim this region for France. This tablet found on February 16, 1913 is the first written record of the visit of white men to South Dakota."

South Dakota Cultural Center
900 Governors Dr
Pierre, South Dakota

Verendrye Monument
Veryndrye Drive
Fort Pierre, South Dakota


  1. Very interesting about the tablet, Bonnie. Loved Dances with Wolves. 😊

    1. We enjoyed the story of the tablet too. Apparently it was nearly sold for scrap when a historian saw it and did some investigation.