History of American Towns:Sioux Falls, South Dakota
In order to get to the South Dakota Black Hills from Minnesota one is likely to drive Interstate 90 through Sioux Falls, which is fairly close to the Minnesota border. It is also near the Iowa border and from Iowa one might take interstate 29, which crosses with 90 in Sioux Falls. Many of us just go on through because we want to get on to see the Black Hills. I believe I have gone through Sioux Falls several times in my life and paid it little attention.
Since one premise of this series about town history is to explore how towns got their names, I wish I had taken some time to stop and explore. In the case of Sioux Falls the town was named for the falls of the river that that flows through it. But where did the river get its name? Well it seems that the Sioux Indians had been the early inhabitants of the area. The states of North and South Dakota “...were inhabited by the Dakota Indians...” who were part of the Sioux. The Dakotas became a territory in 1861 and named for the local Indians, according to the book How We Named Our States by Pauline Arnold and Percival White.
So, you might ask, how did the City get named? Wikipedia references the Lewis and Clark expedition describing the river as the “Soues River.” Most likely the Soues River became the Big Sioux River. In addition to the Dakota Indians a number of other tribes were in the area over the years. Burial mounds, which appear to date back as far as 500B.C. have been found on the bluffs, according to Wikipedia. The Dakota Indians were hunters who traded with the white fur traders. The area was a rendezvous spot for traders and Indians. The place was one of natural beauty with the river and waterfalls. For later settlers it was a source of waterpower.
In 1856 the first immigrants to the area were from nearby Iowa and Minnesota and they stopped by the falls. Growth in the Dakotas was slow until the gold rush of 1874 when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, according to Arnold and White. Two land companies, the Dakota Company of St. Paul the Western Town Company of Dubuque, Iowa claimed land of 320 acres each. To protect themselves from hostilities from local Indians they worked together
In 1862 the town site was abandoned and pillaged after two settlers were killed due to the Dakota War in nearby Minnesota, according to Wikipedia. In 1865 Fort Dakota was established where downtown Sioux Falls is now. People started to come back and the population grew. The Village of Sioux Falls became incorporated with the territory in 1876 and in 1883 a city charter was granted.
After the railroad came in there was a boom period in the1880’s and the population grew to about 10,000 by 1890. In the early 1890’s a national depression and a grasshopper plague ended the boom. In 1909 things improved with the John Morrell meat packing plant being located there.
The river and the waterfall have made Sioux Falls, S.D. an attractive place because of its natural beauty and the source of power. Its history has had ups and downs but it is worth stopping for a while if you are driving through.
Wikipedia articles on Sioux Falls, S.D.
How We Named our States by Pauline Arnold & Percival White
© 2012 Don A. Hoglund
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