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Dakota Life Preview: Greetings from Onida

Brent Duerre

Dakota Life begins its 2023-2024 season in Hill City, South Dakota. Here is a preview of some of the stories you will find in the episode that premieres October 12th, at 8 p.m. (7 mountain) on SDPB TV-1, Facebook and YouTube. Plus, a look back at some of the past stories we have brought you on Dakota Life.


When the first European explorers crossed the middle of the North American continent they were met with an awesome expanse of grassland. Because they had never seen anything like it, they didn’t have a word for it. The French described it as a meadow. The English were apparently more awed; they adopted the romance of the French language and called it the "prairie."

Before those Europeans arrived, this land was a sea of grass and is estimated to have contained approximately one person per 5000 acres. Native peoples lived off the land, sustaining their families through hunting the vast herds of bison, antelope, deer and elk that roamed this awesome expanse.

In 1862, the US Government passed the Homestead Act, opening the lands of the west, including present-day South Dakota, to settlement from the east. Settlers flowed into the area, establishing, first, homesteads, then counties and towns. In the middle of what was to become South Dakota, a county was established, named after noted civil war officer and painter, Alfred Sully.

The west boundary line of Sully County is defined by the meanderings of the Missouri River, which flows southward along its edge. The terrain slopes to the south and east, but the west portion of the county slopes westward into the river valley. The county seat was founded in 1880 by settlers originally from Oneida, New York.

Nestled in the heart of South Dakota, Onida is a showcase of rural American charm. With a population of around 700, this tight knit community is known for its warm hospitality, fascinating history, and breathtaking natural beauty.

For history enthusiasts, Onida is a hidden gem. The area is rich in Native American history. the Onida Historical Society Museum provides a fascinating insight into the region's past, showcasing artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of Onida and its pioneers.

Despite its small size, Onida boasts a vibrant local community with a strong sense of pride, hosting various events throughout each year, bringing residents and visitors together. Today, the town boasts four active churches .The Onida Rodeo, held annually, attracts rodeo enthusiasts from all over the state. Attendees can witness barrel racing, bull riding, and other rodeo events, alongside live music, food, and traditional cowboy activities.

The traditional small town work ethic is still strong in Onida and surrounding towns, and that work ethic pays off year after year come state tournament time. Onida is home to Sully Buttes Chargers. Chances are you are familiar with that name if you have followed nearly any of the South Dakota High School Class B sports tournaments over the years. The Chargers are the made up of athletes from Agar, Blunt and Onida and the district has always boasted a rich tradition of sports. Joe Mendell, a charter member of the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame set school records in the 1920’s and On May 21,1926, he accomplished what no other South Dakota athlete has done: He singlehandedly won the state track meet. He entered four events and won them all as Onida edged Sioux Falls Washington 20-19 for the one-class state title.

Former Summit League women’s player of the year and University of South Dakota Basketball standout Chloe Lamb is from Onida, as are two world renown PGA golfers. The Byrum Brothers, Tom and Curt, both pros who have left their South Dakota mark on the sport. Originally from Onida, both have excelled in PGA tournaments and championships. Known for their exceptional skills, precision, and competitiveness, the Byrum Brothers have gained a loyal following within the golfing community.

South Dakota’s landscape has seen continuous change for millions of years. The Pick Sloan plan, approved by congress in 1944, would create major changes for the Missouri River and the people who lived along it. The construction of dams such as the Oahe, and Fort Randall flooded out significant parts of many Native American reservations, including those at Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Fort Berthold, Crow Creek, and Lower Brule, leading one source to call the program the single most destructive act ever perpetrated on any tribe by the United States. The intended beneficial uses of the reservoirs created by Pick Sloan include things like flood control, irrigation, and power generation, along with preservation and enhancement of fish and wildlife, and creation of new recreation opportunities.

One of the biggest annual events in the Onida area takes place each August when thousands of people gather for the Sully County Fair. Planning the event kicks off in February with a local chili cookoff fundraiser for what local folks call the fair the Biggest Little County Fair in the world. Besides the rodeo, exhibits, carnival rides and all the other typical county fair events, the fair serves as an unofficial reunion for area residents as well as those who have moved away, but return each year to help celebrate Onida.

Don't miss Greetings from Onida, Thursday, October 12th at 8 p.m. (7 mountain) on SDPB TV-1, Facebook and YouTube. You can catch up on past seasons of Dakota Life HERE.