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Europeans in South Dakota


President Thomas Jefferson
President Thomas Jefferson

In 1803 the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory, including present-day South Dakota, from France. To explore the Louisiana Purchase, as it was called, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to map the area. The Lewis and Clark Expedition explored up the Missouri River through South Dakota on their way to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition cataloged plant and animal life, established relations with native inhabitants, and collected information about their culture. Two years later, they again passed through while returning to St. Louis. As federal representatives, they engaged in diplomacy, composed preliminary population estimates for all Sioux peoples, and mentioned the many fur-bearing animals in their reports.

These reports encouraged fur trading as a large-scale activity in South Dakota. Fur traders and fur trading companies built numerous trading posts, or forts, although they also traded at the rendezvous, an annual trade meeting along the James River near Armadale (present-day Mellette, South Dakota). Along the Missouri River in 1812, Louis Bissonette founded a post on Yankton land. In 1817 Joseph La Framboise built another near the mouth of the Bad River. In 1824 the Congress of the United States required native peoples and trappers to trade at specific locations instead of at the rendezvous, which brought the fur trade under the control of managers in larger fur companies. In 1827 Pierre Chouteau, Jr., of St. Louis became manager of regional trade for the American Fur Company.

By 1838 he had become the most powerful man in the regional fur commerce, and with a fleet of steamboats and a network of traders, he dominated commercial activities until his death in 1865. It was his name that South Dakotans adopted for their state capital, Pierre (pronounced “peer”). Most of the forts were located along the Missouri River, particularly in the vicinity of present-day Pierre. Some forts later became permanent settlements, and the fur trade flourished well into the 1850s. "South Dakota" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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