Hubby was born and raised in the second smallest state capital in the United States: Pierre, South Dakota. It currently has a little over 14,000 people living there which makes it a cozy little town on the banks of the Missouri River. Founded in 1867, it was chosen to be the new state’s capital in 1889 because of its central location. Railroads and the river provided the commerce it needed to grow.
Across the river is the oldest white-settled location in Dakota Territory. In 1832, the American Fur Company established Fort Pierre Chateau, located just upriver from today’s Fort Pierre, and traded for buffalo robes, furs, guns, shot, powder, tobacco, blankets, cloth, sugar, salt, coffee, and beads. In 1855, the Army bought the fort and moved it to the current Fort Pierre site. After two years, it was disassembled and moved to Fort Randall to the east. In 1913, some kids playing on a hill overlooking town unearthed a lead tablet that was engraved with French words saying Placed by the Chevalier Verendrye, Louis La Londette, and A. Miotte 30 March 1743. Historians know the Vérendrye brothers were the first Europeans to cross the northern Great Plains and see the Rocky Mountains in 1742 to 1743. Little is known of the path of their journey other than this lead plate. It’s on display at the history museum in Pierre.
Near town, on the Missouri River bluffs, are the remains of a prehistoric village and nearby is a turtle effigy on a butte that overlooks the river. A line of stones lead to the hilltop where the stone outline of a turtle overlooks the river. The story with it is that an Arikara scout tried a lone raid on a Dakota camp but was discovered by a guard who shot him with an arrow. He tried to escape but the wound crippled his leg. He struggled to flee as fast as he could, repeatedly falling to the ground. Eventually he was overtaken and killed, but not before displaying tremendous courage. The Dakota men were amazed at his bravery and found it fitting to place a memorial that retraced his route, placing a stone over each bloody spot along his course and a turtle effigy over the place where he’d died to honor his deed.
I worked on the Fort Pierre Chateau archeological site a couple of summers as a volunteer. Nothing too exciting was found, mostly nails, deteriorated logs that gave the position of the walls, horseshoes, beads, lots of ceramic pipe shards, pieces of broken dishes, and such. Over the course of several digs, they’ve located the four corners of the 1830s fort. It’s preserved as a historic site.
Speaking of historical sites, when Hubby and I drive through town, it always invokes a feeling of nostalgia. For over forty years, I’ve been going there with him, so I have a lot of memories in town too. We spent a lot of time with his parents there and boating on the river, eating ice cream and watching the legislature in action. It’s a special place.
We went to the cemetery and checked on his folks’ graves. We talked to them like they were there. Whether you believe that was crazy or not, I felt like I got them caught up on the family news and let them know that we missed them. I felt better after saying it.
We met several of Hubby’s classmates for lunch which is always a fun time. The conversation flowed across and around the table as fast as we could get the words out. The one consistent topic of conversation is how much they didn’t know each other in school, but they do now. All the cliques are gone and what’s left is a group of people who have some common history. That’s enough to create friendships that last way longer than high school.
We also visited Hubby’s classmate who owns a little neighborhood store where they specialize in amazing meat cuts. They buy from the ranchers, so it comes straight from the ranch to your table. Delicious meat! We bought a cooler full of it and brought it home. The classmate has Stage 4 cancer, meaning the opportunity to buy good meat may be ending. We hope not, and I say prayers that it won’t be.
Hubby and I stopped at Wall Drug on the way home. It’s one of the biggest tourist traps anywhere around. They have an awesome bookstore and jewelry store. If you hit it right, they have good sales at the end of the season. We were a little early because the sales weren’t going yet. Didn’t matter; we bought several books anyway.
If you love history, this state is full of it.