History of Pierre
The first man to claim the land at the area of present-day Pierre was French explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, in 1743. However, the first white men in the area were actually his sons, the LaVerendrye brothers, who left an inscribed lead plate on a bluff above the Missouri River, at the location of present-day Fort Pierre. The land was inhabited by the Arikara tribes. When the Sioux arrived from Minnesota to the area, they challenged the land claim and a long series of conflicts between two native peoples ended in 1794 when the Sioux managed to expel the Arikara from central South Dakota.
The land that will later become South Dakota was included in the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803. In 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived to the river bank at the site of the present-day Pierre and met with the chiefs and other important members of the native tribes in the area. At first it seemed that the meeting would end up in bloodshed but after two groups shared a meal and a peace pipe, the expedition continued their journey upstream on the Missouri, but not before raising the American flag. Upon their return to St. Louis, they said that the area was rich in beavers and buffalos and that it was a shame there was no trading post there. Naturally, their report attracted many people to the central South Dakota.
The first trading post was established in 1817 across the river from present-day Pierre. The trading post was replaced in 1831, by Pierre Chouteau, Jr., who named the new fort after himself. In 1855, the fort was purchased by the Army and soon abandoned, but people continued living in the area and new settlers continued to arrive.
The Dakota Territory was established in 1861 and the railroad soon reached South Dakota, leading to a new population boost to all the towns and settlements, including Fort Pierre. Pierre was established across the river, as a ferry landing at the railroad terminal. South Dakota was admitted to the USA in 1889 and Pierre was chosen as the state capital in 1890. However, the initial boom turned into bust, partially due to severe droughts. The area lost a lot of population but it eventually recovered by the late 1890s. The capitol building was completed in 1908 and started working in 1910.
Pierre entered a new period of difficulties during the 1930s not only because of the Great Depression but also because of severe problems caused by drought and dust. Fortunately, many new jobs were provided for the citizens of Pierre through various government agencies.
The Oahe Dam, the largest dam on the Missouri and one of the largest in the world, was constructed near Pierre in 1944. The dam is still very important for the city, especially in terms of flood protection, not to mention electricity, irrigation and recreation possibilities it provides.
Geography and Climate
Pierre is situated on several bluffs overlooking the Missouri River in central South Dakota. It is located just a few miles away from Lake Oahe, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. The city lies just two miles from the actual geographic center of the United States.
The city has a humid continental climate, with brief springs and autumns, hot summers and long and cold winters.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Pierre has 13,646 inhabitants, of which 85.1% are Whites, 10.9% are Native Americans, 1.9% are Hispanics or Latinos, 0.6% are Asians, 0.5% are African Americans, 0.5% are of some other race and 2.4% are from two or more races.
In 2000, the median household income in Pierre was $42,962 and the per capita income was $20,462.
The economy of Pierre is based on government, agriculture and recreational activities on the Missouri River reservoirs. The city is a major trading center in the region of central South Dakota. The largest employer in the city is the state government and the largest private employer is the St. Mary’s Hospital. Tourism is also a significant source of revenue for Pierre, especially due to the lakes created through the Missouri River Development Plan.
The most important agricultural products in Pierre area include wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, flax, soybeans, alfalfa, cattle, chickens, buffalo, horses, eggs and dairy.
Attractions and Events
Some of the most important institutions and sites of interest in Pierre include State Capitol, built in 1910 with a Victorian glass top and a glowing fountain that serves as a war memorial, the Cultural Heritage Center that offers exhibitions, educational programs and research activities, Verendrye Museum in Fort Pierre, Discovery Center and Aquarium and South Dakota National Guard Museum.
The Oahe Dam is a major tourist attraction in the greater city area. This dam is the second-largest rolled-earth dam in the world and it includes the Powerhouse, the Oahe Visitor Center and Oahe Chapel.
Some of the regular events in the city include South Dakota Arts Showcase, Native American Day, Annual Governor’s Hunt, Cup Walleye Tournament and Riverfest Festival.
Pierre offers a lot for recreation enthusiasts, especially those interested in hiking, biking, camping and wildlife observation. The city area has 11 parks, 11 tennis courts, two beaches, a skatepark and various sports courts and fields, while the nearby Lake oahe offers exceptional opportunities for fishing, swimming, boating, diving and snorkeling.
Pierre does not have any actual colleges or universities but it does have the Capital University Center, which offers university degrees through a number of universities, including South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota and Northern State University.
Pierre is one of the five state capitals without an interstate highway. The closest one is I-90, which passes some 35 miles south of the city.
Pierre Regional Airport is served by Great Lakes Airlines with flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver.