South Dakota, The Mount Rushmore State

South Dakota, The Mount Rushmore State

by Sandra Merville Hart

South Dakota’s nickname is the Mount Rushmore State.

The state gets its name from a local Native American tribe called Dakota. The area of North Dakota and South Dakota was known as the Dakota Territory before they became states.

The early history of South Dakota

South Dakota was home to the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arikara when the Verendrye brothers claimed the area for France. It became part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

In 1817, Fort Pierre became the first permanent settlement.

The settlers who came to South Dakota in the early 1800s were mostly fur traders.

Fighting with the Sioux

Frequent fights broke out with the Sioux over land disputes. A treaty gave the tribe the land west of the Missouri River. That helped until prospectors arrived in the Black Hills after gold was discovered in the 1870s. This violated the peace treaty.

Many Sioux and Cheyenne men joined Sioux leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana Territory where they won the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Yet five years later, most of the Cheyenne and Sioux were on reservations.

South Dakota becomes a state

Two states enter the Union on November 2, 1889. President Benjamin Harrison shuffled the papers, hiding the state name so he didn’t know which state was signed in first. Since it comes first in the alphabet, North Dakota is the 39th state and South Dakota is the 40th.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

mount-rushmore-902483_960_720Gutzon Borglum designed the heads of four presidents on Mount Rushmore—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

It took about 400 people 14 years to finish the 60-foot faces of all 4 presidents.

Crazy Horse Memorial

crazy-horse-1867666_960_720Crazy Horse never allowed a photograph of him to be taken so sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski developed descriptions of the famous Sioux warrior from his contemporaries at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Work on the huge sculpture began in 1948. Though not yet finished, it is Crazy Horse, carved in granite, mounted on his horse and pointed forward.

Other fun facts about South Dakota

Head to Buffalo Ridge to see 1880 Cowboy Town where mechanical cowboys bring the Wild West for visitors.

Find bronze statues of all our American presidents on Rapid City streets.

When Hawaii and Alaska are included in the calculation, Belle Fourche is the geographic center of our country.

The state capital is Pierre.

The state bird is the ring-necked pheasant.

The state flower is pasque flower.



50 States Our America: Time for Kids, Time Inc. Books, 2017.

Balkan, Gabrielle. The 50 States, Wide Eyed Editions, 2015.

“Battle of the Little Bighorn,”, 2019/01/12

Cheney, Lynne. Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006.

“Crazy Horse,” Crazy Horse Memorial, 2019/01/12

Davis, Kenneth C. Don’t Know Much About The 50 States, HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.

Fast Facts About the 50 States. Children’s Press, 2010.

Keenan, Sheila. Greetings from the 50 States, Scholastic Inc., 2008.


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