Friday, July 26, 2019

Invading South Dakota

Mount Rushmore

Those who love history are gravitationally drawn to South Dakota.  History has been literally carved into the face of the natural splendor of South Dakota  Here visitors flock to the magnificent site of Mount Rushmore that honors four great American Presidents.  They can also explore the Wild West town of Deadwood where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered in 1876 while playing a game of cards.  They can even visit Mitchell South Dakota's Corn Palace and also learn about South Dakota's native son George McGovern who was a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II before he became a famous dove during the Vietnam War.  McGovern, a Fighting Celt of Irish ancestry, opposed the Vietnam War and Nixon in 1972.  He was a History professor before he turned to politics.

Commander K. with George & Eleanor McGovern
Mitchell, SD

McGovern was among many South Dakotans who have served their country.  The history of fighting in South Dakota precedes the arrival of Europeans on the North American plain.  There was considerable conflict in the state between European settlers and Native Americans.  The town of Deadwood with its combination of gold, guns and greed was notable for its violence.  Wild Bill Hickok was murdered on August 2, 1876 while playing cards in a Deadwood saloon.  Today Deadwood, celebrated in film and television, offers casino gambling and tours of the ghosts who supposedly inhabit what was once a red light district.

Commander K. and Wild Bill Hickok
Deadwood, SD

We had this to say about fighting in the South Dakota in our book America Invaded (

"South Dakota, the home of Mount Rushmore, is named after Native American tribes. Before the arrival of Europeans in what is now South Dakota, the area had already seen different Native American peoples
competing for control of territory, as Sioux migrated westward and came into contact with peoples like the Arikara.

It was the French who were the first Europeans to venture into the area. Contact began in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and in 1743, the Vérendrye brothers set o from Lake Manitoba on a journey intended to take them as far as the Paci c. En route, they buried a lead plaque near what is now Fort Pierre. Today Pierre, named after the French fur trader Pierre Chouteau, is the state capital.

Soon after that, though, the French were temporarily out of the picture. They handed over their claims to the area to Spain under a deal made in 1762, though a lot of the locals didn’t find out about it until 1764. In some locations, power wasn’t handed over until 1770.

The Spanish had (among others) two major problems. Firstly, exploring and exploiting the territory Spain claimed to control; and secondly, preventing Britain from exploring and exploiting the territory Spain claimed to control. In 1793, what is often known as the Missouri Company was formed in St. Louis to explore areas, including parts of what is now South Dakota. In autumn 1794, an expedition under Jean-Baptiste Truteau established Ponca House on the Missouri. And in the spring of 1795, a more ambitious expedition set off under Antoine Simon Lecuyer. However, the Poncas were not happy about it, and Lecuyer didn’t entirely distinguish himself. And worse (from the Spanish point of view) was to come. News arrived that the British and Canadians were expanding their links with the Mandan people.

Somewhat confusingly, at this point the Missouri Company in Spanish St. Louis sent an expedition led by Scotsman James Mackay and Welshman John Thomas Evans to counter the growing British influence. Well, business is business.

This latest expedition built Fort Charles near present-day Sioux City; and a team under Evans made it as far as the mouth of the White River before being forced by local opposition to withdraw. In the summer of 1796, Evans finally made it as far as the territory of the Mandan and temporarily expelled the Canadian traders. But elsewhere, Mackay was withdrawing to St. Louis and the Missouri Company was going bankrupt. In the end, Evans too retreated to St. Louis.

There wasn’t much future for the Spanish colonial authorities in the region. In 1800, Spain handed over Louisiana to France again, and in 1803, the young United States bought it in the Louisiana Purchase. It would be the United States, not France or Spain or Britain, that would, as an invading power, take full control of the area.
Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery
Iowa Rest Stop

At this point, we come to, yes, Lewis and Clark again. Their expedition set out  from St. Louis in 1804, and they passed through what is now South Dakota both en route to the Paci c and on their return journey as well. They had various encounters with the local peoples of the area, and they held a meeting with the Teton Sioux near what is now Fort Pierre, trying to ensure that the United States would have more influence in the area than Britain.

In the period after Lewis and Clark’s historic expedition, American traders and trappers began to explore and exploit the area. Among others interested in the territory were William Henry Ashley and Andrew Henry, who established the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. And after the arrival of the traders and trappers, the US Army showed up. By 1856, they had established Fort Randall. Demands for the area to be opened up to American settlement grew and, in the end, the Yankton Sioux decided that selling millions of acres in eastern South Dakota and moving to a reservation was better than trying to stop, by force, the overwhelming military might of the expanding United States. In 1858, Struck-by-the-Ree and other leaders signed the deal. In 1859, it was implemented.

But war would come to the region. In 1862, the Sioux Uprising erupted in Minnesota, and as it was crushed there, fighting spread westward. the main focus of this phase of fighting was in North Dakota, but South Dakota also saw battles.
George Armstrong Custer

In 1874, an expedition led by George Armstrong Custer entered the Black Hills. It found gold, and miners raced into the area in search of riches, despite the fact that the western half of South Dakota was a Sioux reservation. Soon the US government was putting pressure on the Lakota to sell their land. When the Lakota refused, the US Army advanced. Most of the fighting, including Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn in Montana, took place elsewhere; but in September 1876, Brigadier General George Crook destroyed an Oglala village at Slim Buttes and then brushed aside an assault led by Crazy Horse. In the end, Native American resistance could not sustain itself against greater American military power. By 1877, the fighting was over as the Native American war bands surrendered, scattered, or fled.

Wild Bill Hickock gravesite
Deadwood Cemetery

But even this was not the end of Native American resistance to the invaders. In 1890, about 3,000 Ghost Dancers, consisting of Lakota, Oglala, and Sicangu, gathered in a place called the Stronghold. Sitting Bull was killed during an attempt to arrest him because it was feared he was about to join them. In December of that year, a group of Lakota under Chief Big Foot, the majority of whom were women and children, were stopped by the US Army and ordered to camp at Wounded Knee Creek. They complied, and forces from the 7th Cavalry surrounded them. When soldiers attempted to search for weapons and disarm the Lakota, fighting broke out, and the US forces turned their devastating Hotchkiss machine guns on the Lakota, massacring 153 of them. More violent actions occurred, including at White Clay Creek; and by the time it was all over, armed, organized Native American resistance in South Dakota was effectively at an end.

However, South Dakota was to see one more attack from abroad. During the Japanese balloon-bombing campaign of World War II, at least eight balloons reached South Dakota, including one that landed near Buffalo.

And the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by Oglala Lakota would show that ghosts from the past live on in the present."

For much more on invasions of the other 49 states please!

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