The Missouri River courses 547 mile through an ancient land now called South Dakota. Along this mighty river’s Dakota shores Mound Builders left traces of their civilization that existed some 800 years after the death of Christ.
For eons this region was home to those who migrated on two legs from faraway lands, and to those that traveled along the Missouri’s ancient riverbanks on all fours. It remained so until the Arikara, who had taken the place of the Mound Builders, greeted the first European explorers. Change continued with the first meeting of these two bodies of immigrants, the native and the new. It came slowly, but it did come in this land called Dakota.
Others called the wilds of South Dakota home in those times. The Sioux, after being driven from northern Minnesota by the Ojibways between 1750 and 1800, drove out many of the Arikara. It was a pattern that had formed with the passing of the Mound Builders. Some of the Arikara remained in South Dakota, along with the invading Sioux. The Mandans and the Hidatsa also called this land theirs.
In time all of these people who were called natives by right of conquest would be conquered by those with stronger rights and more advanced powers for conquest.
In 1742 two brothers of French-Canadian origin explored this wild and uncivilized land. Chevalier de la Verendrye and his brother Louis Joseph claimed the region for France in 1743. It is believed the brothers traveled as far as the foothills of the Rockies. At that time the Mandans, one of the tribes visited by the Verendyres, occupied nine separate but closely affiliated villages. Approximately one hundred years later smallpox would bring major and devastating changes to these Mandans. The pattern of conquest and replacement, or displacement, continued as the fur trade became a principal activity, especially after Spain acquired the Dakota region in 1762.
South Dakota’s first white resident was Pierre Dorion, a fur trader who married a Native American woman in 1775 and settled on the James River. Dorion will become a vital element in the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in another thirty years. Jean B. Trudeau, who built a house near the present Fort Randall Dam, followed Dorion’s establishment in 1794.
Change blew strong on the prairie winds with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, followed by the Lewis and Clark expedition as it forged its way up the Missouri River. Like the Verendryes before them, Lewis and Clark visited the Mandans but by then the villages of the Mandans numbered only two. The population, also, had been reduced. In 1804 it stood at perhaps one-third of what it had been a century earlier.
In 1811 William Price Hunt and his party came up the Missouri on their way to open the Astor fur-trading post at the Columbia River mouth. Hunt’s friendly rival in the area was Manuel Lisa. In 1812 Lisa, a Spanish fur trader from St. Louis, Missouri built Fort Manuel near present-day Kenel. Indians destroyed Lisa’s fort in 1813, but he built a new post near Big Bend.
The first permanent white European settlement in South Dakota was established in 1817 by Joseph La Framboise near what is now Fort Pierre. He started a trading post where the Bad River meets the Missouri. The Columbia Fur Company rebuilt the post as Fort Tecumseh in 1822.
The Native Americans did not take the invasion of their adopted homeland lightly. This was shown in 1823 when Ree Indians attack General William Ashley’s party near Grand River.
The Missouri River provided the first highway into the South Dakota region. Fur trappers pulled keelboats up the river by hand as they moved westward. The migration continued in 1831 when fur traders came to the territory in steamboats, beginning with the arrival of the Yellowstone. This was not the end of the migration into and through the Dakotas. It had hardly begun.