Iconic Images of South Dakota
This article is from the April 2023 edition of SDPB Magazine. See past issues HERE.
This month SDPB features the premiere of a new series, Iconic America: Our Symbols and Stories with David Rubenstein, which highlights history by examining national symbols. Follow Rubenstein as he visits Fenway Park, the Hollywood Sign, the Gadsden Flag, the American Cowboy, the Statue of Liberty, the American Bald Eagle, Stone Mountain, and the Golden Gate Bridge. There, he will meet with experts and dive into the rich history behind these destinations.
South Dakota has some iconic images of its own. Some are more well known, while others are hiding but offering bounds of history and intrigue. Let's look at some together:
The State Capitol Building: Located in the state capital of Pierre, this building is home to the offices of those in the legislature and most state officials, the Governor included. It was built from 1905-1910 by O.H. Olson and opened in 1910. It sits on 20 acres of land with a renaissance-revival architectural style. In 1989, this building underwent a 22-year renovation.
Wounded Knee Massacre Monument: This monument is located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The
memorial is located on the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, where nearly 300 Lakota people were killed. In 1965, the 870 acres where the event occurred was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark and features a memorial panel and small cemetery.
The Sioux Horse Effigy: This sculpture is a dance stick that is one of two known in the world. This 3-foot-long
wood sculpture is made with authentic horsehair. There are holes throughout to symbolize bullet holes with red paint symbolizing blood – indicating the horse died in battle. It was carved around 1875, most likely by a Sioux Warrior, to honor his own horse that might have been killed in action. Missionary Mary C. Collins collected this piece. It has toured museums in Paris, New York, and Kansas City.
The Verendrye Plate: The Verendrye Plate is a lead
tablet found in 1913 on a hilltop on the west side of the Missouri River at Fort Pierre. The plate was left on the hilltop in 1743 by the Verendrye brothers, French-Canadian explorers looking for a water route to the Pacific Ocean. It is the first known written evidence of a visit by Europeans to South Dakota.
The Ghost Dance shirt: Those who followed the Ghost Dance Movement believed this religious dance would
bring about the arrival of a Messiah, the departure of settlers, and the return of the buffalo. These shirts were believed by those who wore them to be so protective that even bullets couldn't penetrate them. One of the many who died during Wounded Knee Massacre wore this shirt. Find it in Pierre at the South Dakota State Cultural Heritage Center.
Spirit Mound: This prominent hill, located near Vermillion, has been described as the home of "evil spirits," or "little people," by the Plains Indians who thrived in this area. Told of this story, members of the Lewis and Clark expedition climbed the hill in 1804 and documented it in their diaries. The site is now protected as the Spirit Mound Historic Prairie and is one of the few places where you can walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church "Cathedral on the Prairie": Completed in 1921, Monsignor Anthony Helmbrecht hoped one day this prairie church in Hoven, SD might be a bishop's home, and while many have visited, not one has ever resided there. In the Jubilee Year of 2001, Bishop Robert Carlson declared it a destination for Catholic pilgrims. It is said you can see the church from miles with twin spires that rise 140 feet on otherwise flat land. This building houses a 1127 pipe organ and holds 21 stained glass windows.
Mount Rushmore: Located in the Black Hills and completed in 1941, Mount Rushmore is a massive sculpture carved into granite. The artists responsible for it are Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln. It is about 60 feet tall and features the busts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, ad Abraham Lincoln. Construction started in October of 1927 and finished 14 years later.
Crazy Horse: Crazy Horse Memorial is a monument still under construction since 1948. This monument will eventually depict Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, pointing to his tribal land while riding a horse. Commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, it was to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. If it is completed as originally designed, it will be the largest statue worldwide, aside from the Statue of Unity in India. Crazy Horse is in the Black Hills of Custer Country on privately held land.
Corn Palace: Visited by up to 500,000 people a year, the Corn Palace is the only one of its kind. It serves as a community venue for sporting events, concerts, and more. This place is so unique because the murals and "crop art" covering the palace are made from real corn and grains, with a new design every year. The 19th century was a time of at least thirty-four corn palaces across the Midwest. The original purpose of crop palaces, or grain palaces, was to market and promote their products. Mitchell, SD, is the home of the only corn palace remaining.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead: Located on land once homesteaded by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family, visitors can travel back in time and experience pioneer living and heritage in De Smet, South Dakota. Partake in wagon rides, schoolhouse tours, crafts, demonstrations, and the works just like Laura did all those years ago. Guests can camp and learn in the same place where the family settled there in 1879.
Badlands: This national park is 242,756 acres, or 379 square miles, of pinnacles and eroded buttes. It is also home to the US's largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie. It is co-managed by the National Park Service and the Oglala Lakota tribe. In 1939 it was established as a National Monument, and in 1978, it was then appointed a National park. The park is divided into two units: the North is the designated wilderness area and is the site where one of the most endangered mammals in the world, the black-footed ferret, was reintroduced to the wild. The South Unit, or Stronghold district, is the site of Ghost Dances, bomb and gunnery ranges, and the Red Shirt Table (highest point in the park at 3340 ft).
National Music Museum: America's Shrine to Music & Center for Study of the History of Musical Instruments is found in Vermillion, SD, on the campus of USD, home of the Coyotes. Established in 1973, this museum homes many collections, including more than 15,000 instruments from around the world and across many different cultures and periods. The building which houses the museum was originally USD's library and includes The Concert Hall, ideal for performing and recording music with original instruments spanning historical times.
Dignity Statue: Known also as Dignity of Earth & Sky, this 50-foot, stainless steel sculpture is located near Chamberlain. South Dakota artist Dale Claude Lamphere was assisted by painter Brook Loobey and sculptors Tome Trople, Jim Maher, Andy Roltgen, and Grant Standard. There was also help from Albertson Engineering to ensure the sculpture was structurally sound enough to endure the high winds it would receive on the bluff it stands on. The statue depicts an indigenous woman wearing a Plains-style and receiving a star quilt with more than 100 blue diamond shapes moving with the wind. Lamphere confirms it is meant to honor Lakota and Dakota culture.
Sertoma Butterfly House: Since 2002, when it started as a butterfly conservatory, the Butterfly House & Aquarium has transformed into what it is today; over 800 free-flying butterflies and the Dakotas' only insectarium. It has become a Sioux Falls staple over the past few decades and is one of the only butterfly houses nationwide that is open year-round. We have a group of aquarium hobbyists to thank for the aquarium when they suggested in 2010 that the gift shop be turned into what is now the only public saltwater aquarium in the Dakotas.
Reptile Gardens: In 2014, the Guinness Book of World Records declared Reptile Gardens the world's largest reptile zoo and was re-certified in the 2018 edition. Founded by 21-year-old reptile enthusiast Earl Brock, this reptile habitat officially opened in June of 1937. Despite some hardships, while Brock served with the Army, Reptile Gardens persevered and remained a family-owned business after Brock passed in 1993. Over the years, it has evolved from a small display of snakes to a botanical garden, indoor jungle with a sky dome, tortoise yard, and much more.
Spearfish Canyon: Dating older than the Grand Canyon itself, these limestone palisades in a gorge carved by a creek are a top naturally occurring attraction of South Dakota. This attraction was only accessible by horseback once due to its narrow, 1000-foot walls. There you can see various plants that attract animals like mountain goats, porcupines, and more. Rock climbing, biking, and fishing are a few of the many things visitors can do. This attraction is visible from Highway 14A on the way to the Black Hills.
This list is just the beginning of South Dakota's beautiful places. To see more places around the country, tune into the new series Iconic America: Our Symbols and Stories with David Rubenstein starting April 26th 9pm central (8 MT).