South Dakota Tribes

South Dakota was inhabited at least 11,000 years ago
South Dakota was named for the Dakota Sioux tribe who lived in this region. By the time the first Europeans arrived in the area, the indian tribes living in South Dakota included the Arikaras, Mandans, Crow, Cheyenne, and the Pawnee. Eventually, the Dakota and Lakota Sioux people moved into the area from Wisconsin and other more eastern areas.

Prehistoric cultures in South Dakota

11,000 years ago – Paleo-Indians

Archaeologists have found evidence that a band of Paleo-Indians hunted and killed two mammoths around 11,000 years ago in a swampy area that would eventually become the Badlands area of South Dakota.

Clovis people

The Clovis People are the first South Dakotans we know of. It is believed the Clovis people were centered in New Mexico. We know from artifacts that they made arrowheads for hunting, but we know very little else about these people.

Folsom people

There is also evidence of another group of people, hundreds of years later, living in South Dakota. By this time, the land had changed and the swamps were now wide plains which supported large herds of giant buffalo (bison).

The Folsom people hunted the bison and also lived on wild onions and prairie turnips. They made beautiful arrowheads that they used for hunting. Again, we do not know what happened to these people or why their culture died out.

Plains Archaic

After several more centuries passed, the climate became warmer and drier. A new people, called the Plains Archaic people, migrated to the area.

By this time, the giant buffalo had died out and were replaced by smaller bison which these new people hunted along with deer and rabbits.

The Archaic people also learned how to store food for times of drought, and lived in small groups because the land could not support large settlements.

This group also left the first written records in South Dakota in the form of images carved into the walls of caves. These symbols and pictures are called petroglyphs.

1,000 BC – 1700 A.D. Woodland people

By about three thousand years ago, another group of people came to live and hunt in the area. This group, called the Woodland people, lived in larger groups. They were much more successful in hunting the American bison that lived on the land.

The Woodland people also traded with groups living further to the east, and honored their dead by building burial mounds. They lived in houses built of sod and grew corn, pumpkins, sunflowers, squash, tobacco and beans.

Other Tribes that Once Lived in South Dakota

Not much is known about the tribes that lived in South Dakota prior to the 1500s.

While there is some debate among archaeologists and historians, it is generally felt that during the 1500s and 1600s, the Arikara and Mandans dominated the area that is now South Dakota.

Ancestors of the Apache, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Arapaho and Comanche tribes inhabited parts of western South Dakota during the course of their southward migrations. The Crow tribe also lived in western South Dakota.

Central South Dakota at that time was the homeland of the Arikaras, Mandans, (now known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, along withthe Hidatsa)and, for a time, the Northern Cheyenne.

Eastern South Dakota was occupied by the Lakota, Omaha, Ponca, and perhaps Iowa and Oto tribes. By the 1700s, the Northern Cheyenne moved west, followed by the Lakota.

The Mandans moved wholly into North Dakota, and eventually so did the Arikara. The Poncas and Omahas moved south into Nebraska, displaced by bands of eastern Sioux, the Dakota and Nakota peoples, moving into South Dakota from Minnesota.

By the mid-1800s, the Sioux peoples occupied virtually the entire state.

South Dakota Post Contact Timeline

1804– Lewis and Clark reach South Dakota.

1812 – South Dakota is included within the borders when the Missouri Territory is organized.

1842 – Crazy Horse was born in South Dakota.

1861 – The Dakota Territory was created. All land remaining from the Minnesota border to the Rocky Mountains is included in the Dakota Territory.

1883 – The US Supreme Court ruled that the Dakota Territory court had no jurisdiction in a case in which a member of the Lakota nation killed a fellow member on tribal land.

The decision overturned a death sentence and effectively gave exclusive jurisdiction for crimes to tribes. In 1885 US Congress passed the Major Crimes Act taking away the tribes’ authority to prosecute serious crimes such as murder, manslaughter and rape.

1889 – A bill for statehood passes making South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Washington States of the Union.

1889 – The Great Sioux Reservation of the Dakotas was dismembered into 6 parts.

1889-1890 – Sioux warrior Kicking Bear became the leading spokesman for the new Indian religion, the “Ghost Dance,” which promised a return to ancient ways for a people disheartened by reservation life.

Kicking Bear continued to resist the U.S. Army for several weeks after many of his fellow Sioux were killed in the Massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.

1890 – The Wounded Knee Massacre was the last major conflict of the Indian wars. It took place at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota after Colonel James W. Forsyth of the 7th Cavalry tried to disarm Chief Big Foot and his followers.

The seventy-year-old Sioux chief, Big Foot, was killed by the 7th U.S. Cavalry during the massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.

Three days later his body was found frozen where he had been killed. The Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 is the site where the 7th Cavalry killed nearly 300 Lakota men, women and children.

A monument near the town of Wounded Knee marks the site.

The 7th Calvary present at Wounded Knee included the remnants of Custer’s old unit.

1890 – Dec 15, Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull and 11 other tribal members were killed in Grand River, S.D., during a fracas with US troops.

In an attempt to arrest Sitting Bull at his Standing Rock, South Dakota, cabin, shooting broke out and Lt. Bullhead, a member of the Indian Police on the reservation, shot the great Sioux leader. Sitting Bull’s son was also killed in this incident.

1927 – Work on Mount Rushmore in the Sioux people’s most sacred mountain began and was completed in 1941.

1948 – Jun 3, Korczak Ziolkowski (1908-1982), a self-taught sculptor, began blasting a figure of Crazy Horse into rock in the Black Hills of South Dakota under an invitation by the Lakota Sioux.

Ziolkowski had worked under Gutzon Borglum at the Mount Rushmore site. The face of Crazy Horse, at the site known as Thunder Mountain, was completed and dedicated in 1998.

South Dakota tribes Today

(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the Cheyenne River Reservation

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe of the Crow Creek Reservation

Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of South Dakota

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of the Lower Brule Reservation

Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation

Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Indian Reservation

Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation (Santee Dakota)

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Hunkpapa Dakota – in both North Dakota and South Dakota)

Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota

(Not recognized by the Federal Government)




Notable South Dakota Natives

Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (Sitting Bull), Hunkpapa chief and leader of the Lakota in fighting against the US Army to remain off the reservations in the 19th century

Phizí (Gall), Hunkpapa war chief, one of the commanders in the Battle of Little Bighorn

Tȟatȟóka Íŋyaŋke (Running Antelope), Hunkpapa chief and advisor to Sitting Bull

Oou Kas Mah Qwet (meaning Thunder Bear), or Robert “Tree” Cody in English, flutist. He is also an enrolled member of the Maricopa tribe.

Genealogy:Sources of records on US Indian tribes South Dakota American Indian Boarding Schools South Dakota Tribal Colleges


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Mt. Rushmore vs. Crazy Horse Memorial

In South Dakota’s Black Hills, two men carved their dreams into the granite. Mt. Rushmore honors four presidents, while Crazy Horse celebrates a Sioux warrior.