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Unit 4


A Changing Land


Lesson 3
New Settlers Move West


     Hundreds of people from the United States now began to go west. They went across the Great Plains to Oregon. Most did not cross South Dakota. They went through Indian hunting lands to the south. These people planned to settle in the Far West. They brought wagons and livestock. They drove away the wildlife. Hunting became harder for the Indian tribes of the Great Plains. Buffalo were scarce. Indians sometimes took oxen, mules, and horses from the migrating settlers. They fought with the people going west. Fear and anger grew on both sides.

Wagon Train
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Winchester Rifle
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Eight Indian nations met with the United States to talk about the problem. They met at Fort Laramie in what is now Wyoming. Lakota and Cheyenne leaders were there. These two tribes were allies. The year was 1851. The Indians said they would stop fighting with white settlers. The Indians promised not to fight each other. They would let the United States build roads across their lands. The United States promised to keep whites from settling on Indian lands. It promised to give the Indians food and tools. Neither side kept the agreement.

War Club
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

General William Harney
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     The year 1854 brought new trouble. Settlers said that a Minniconjou Lakota man had stolen a cow. Lakota warriors killed thirty soldiers when the troops went to arrest the Lakota man. The army struck back a year later in Nebraska. General William S. Harney led an attack on a Lakota camp. The soldiers killed eighty-six Brulé people. Harney and his troops later marched to Fort Pierre.


     The general and his men were not impressed with what they saw in what is now South Dakota. They marched through heavy rain. Their wagons and horses bogged down in thick, gooey mud. Why would anyone want to live here, they wondered. In summer, the land looked like a great American desert. Nor were they impressed with Fort Pierre. The buildings at the old trading post had fallen apart. They were not designed for an army. The men spent a winter of misery. The next spring, General Harney moved south. He built Fort Randall near what is now the town of Yankton. The army was in South Dakota to stay.

Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     One of the soldiers did like what he saw in South Dakota. John B. S. Todd quit the army to start a trading post near Fort Randall (learn more about Todd in Unit 5). Todd quickly learned that he could make more money by selling land. But first the Yankton Nakotas had to open their land to white settlement. Yankton chief Struck-by-the-Ree went along with Todd’s idea. Struck-by-the-Ree, Todd, and fourteen Yankton leaders went to Washington, D. C.

     There they negotiated a land treaty. The Yanktons would live on just a portion of their lands. Only they could settle that portion. It was to be reserved just for them. Such land is called a reservation. The rest of the Yankton lands were then opened to American settlers. The government agreed to pay the tribe for the land. It would pay over one and a half million dollars in food and supplies over fifty years.

     White settlers moved into the newly opened lands. Todd brought people to the town of Yankton. Another land agent brought people to the town of Sioux Falls. Soon people started the towns of Vermillion, Elk Point, and Bon Homme. The settlers wanted the area to become a state. First it had to be a territory. The president created Dakota Territory in 1861. Yankton was the capital. The president made William Jayne of Illinois the first governor. He came to Yankton on a steamboat. He worked in the capitol, which was nothing more than a log cabin. He had a census taken to see how many people lived in the new territory. The first legislature met. It was known as the Pony Congress.

Yankton Land Company
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Dakota Territory Map
Dakota Territory Map

     Dakota Territory grew slowly. The Civil War started in the East. Few people ventured west. It seemed too dangerous after a group of Santees killed five settlers. The Santees, or Dakotas, traded much of their land to the United States for money and supplies. They lived on a reservation in Minnesota. But white settlers moved onto their lands without asking. Then the United States fell behind in its payments because of the war. The Dakotas grew hungry and desperate.

     Some Dakotas began to raid white settlements in southern Minnesota and Iowa. This set off a panic in Dakota Territory. Then two settlers were killed in a hay field near Sioux Falls. The settlers gathered together at Yankton, where they built a fort. Everyone left Sioux Falls. It was empty. In the end, the raiders lost their land in Minnesota. They had to move to the Missouri River and live with the Lakotas there.

capital (n.), the city or town which is the official seat of government

capitol (n.), the building where government officials meet to do business

census (n.), an official count of the people living in a town, territory, state, or country

desperate (adj.), without hope

impressed (v.), greatly pleased