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The territory that would become South Dakota was added to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The first permanent American settlement was established at Fort Pierre by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. White settlement of the territory in the 1800s led to clashes with the Sioux, as some of the lands had been granted to the tribe by an earlier treaty. Nevertheless, the territory was incorporated into the union on November 2, 1889, along with North Dakota. 

Due to a controversy over which state would be admitted to the union first, President Benjamin Harrison shuffled the bills and signed one at random, with the order going unrecorded, though North Dakota is traditionally listed first. Today, a major part of South Dakota’s economy is fueled by tourism–visitors flock to the state to see Mt. Rushmore, which features 60-foot-tall sculptures of the faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. Famous South Dakotans include newscaster Tom Brokaw, senator and vice president Hubert Humphrey and model-actress Cheryl Ladd.

Date of Statehood: November 2, 1889

Capital: Pierre

Population: 814,180 (2010)

Size: 77,116 square miles

Nickname(s): Mount Rushmore State

Motto: Under God, the People Rule

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Tree: Black Hills Spruce

Flower: Pasque

Bird: Chinese Ring-necked Pheasant

Interesting Facts

  • In 1874, a military expedition into the Lakota-owned Black Hills led by General George Armstrong Custer confirmed the existence of gold. Although the mission violated the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which had guaranteed the Sioux rights to their sacred territory and established the Great Sioux Reservation, the area was flooded by thousands of miners, triggering the Black Hills War of 1876.
  • The original design for Mount Rushmore National Memorial included Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt from head to waist, but Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who had begun work on the monument in 1927, died before the work was completed, in 1941, and Congress cut off funding as the nation became faced with World War II.
  • A memorial to the Lakota leader Crazy Horse in South Dakota’s Black Hills is designed to be the largest statue in the world when it is completed. Dedicated by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear on June 3, 1948, the mountain carving will extend 563 feet high and 641 feet long. In June 1998, Crazy Horse’s 87-foot head was completed.
  • On February 27, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied a trading post at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in protest over corruption within the Oglala Lakota’s Tribal Council and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Siege at Wounded Knee, as it became known, lasted 71 days and resulted in the deaths of two Indians following the daily gunfire between AIM members and federal officers.
  • Agriculture is South Dakota’s top industry, generating one-third of the state’s overall economic activity. Although its main crops are corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, South Dakota leads the nation in the production of bison and pheasants. 
  • Badlands National Park covers 244,000 acres and contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds.

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