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South Dakota (SD) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: South Dakota is located, unsurprisingly, directly beneath the state of North Dakota. It is split in half by the Missouri River, with the “East River” section being more flat and fertile and the “West River” section being more rugged and hilly.
Counties and Regions: There are 66 counties in South Dakota, with those to the east of the Missouri River being smaller and more numerous. The western counties have a much higher percentage of Native American inhabitants. The general regions of South Dakota are as follows:
- Black Hills (southwestern portion)
- Coteau des Prairies
- East River
- West River
Population: With a little more than 800,000 people, South Dakota is is the bottom five U.S. states by population. It has one of the higher percentages of Native American citizens at above 8 percent.
Major Cities: The only city in South Dakota with more than 100,000 residents is Sioux Falls, which has about 158,000 people. By contrast, Rapid City, the second most populated city, has roughly 67,000. The state capital, Pierre, is home to less than 15,000 people.
Story Behind the Name: In much the same way as North Dakota, South Dakota is named after the Dakota Indian tribe (a subset of the Sioux, one of the largest tribes in the United States).
History and Colonization: Like other areas of the United States, South Dakota was occupied by Native American tribes for thousands of years before the European arrival. It was colonized more slowly than many other places due to its remoteness. France and Spain both laid claim to the region in the eighteenth century, but enforcing it was not a priority for them. Americans gained ownership through the Louisiana Purchase, and slowly began to create settlements there. Still, not many arrived until the spread of the railroads really picked up in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The growing number of white settlements sparked conflict with the native Dakota people. This only intensified when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, an area sacred to the tribe. American prospectors flooded into the region, in violation of treaties that had promised the land to the Dakota Indians. Several Indian Wars followed, topped off by the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee in which hundreds of native civilians were killed. The U.S. government eventually granted much of the land to the prospectors, breaking its agreement with the Dakota. This issue has yet to be completely resolved.
South Dakota’s economy has traditionally relied on agriculture, but the state’s farms took a major hit during the Great Depression with the onset of the Dust Bowl. Many South Dakotans migrated away from the state during this time and the decades that followed. Manufacturing industries, however, revitalized the state’s economy during World War II, along with an increased demand for its agricultural products. Public works projects, such as dams and bridges, provided jobs and increased infrastructure during the 1930s and 1940s.
Despite a growth in industrial businesses, South Dakota remains a primarily rural state. Tourism has grown over the decades, centered around the Black Hills region where the famous Mount Rushmore monument is located. The Dakota tribe has won a lawsuit against the United States government for what occurred in the Black Hills during the nineteenth century, but has refused to accept a financial settlement rather than the return of the land itself, and so the case is ongoing.