Minuteman Missile
Historic Resource Study
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Section II — Life on the South Dakota Plains: Before, During, and After Minuteman

Chapter 1:
Life and Landscape Before Minuteman (to the 1960s) (continued)

Euro-American Land Speculation, Settlement, and Immigration

Settlement of the area increased after the federal government established the military post at Fort Randall on the upper Missouri River in 1856. Threats from Teton Sioux who were responding to encroachments on their native land to travelers on the Oregon Trail prompted a government decision to send troops to the area. General William Harney led a force of approximately one thousand soldiers to the territory with orders to address the issue in western South Dakota territory. During this time, the government began negotiations with the Yankton Sioux for the territory between the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers. The Yankton Sioux eventually agreed to leave this area in 1858 and move to a reservation, marking the formal beginning of white settlement of South Dakota. [141]

Congress established the Dakota territorial government in 1861, encompassing the future states of North and South Dakota. The Civil War, harsh climate, and troubled negotiations with the local Sioux populations hindered settlement until the 1870s, however. In 1860, for example, just 500 settlers had made the southeastern section of the territory their home. By the 1870s conditions had improved—the war had ended, the drought and grasshopper invasion had ceased to threaten crops, the Sioux had been confined to reservations, and the railroads had arrived. [142]

The Homestead Act of 1862 and completion of the Dakota Southern Railroad between Sioux City, Iowa, and Yankton, South Dakota, in 1873 played a major role in encouraging the region's settlement. Eager to boost immigration to the region, the railroads distributed pamphlets that promoted South Dakota's agricultural promise and favorable climate. Though not always accurate, these pamphlets encouraged thousands to move, and the increased rate of settlement is reflected in U.S. census data, which records ten thousand settlers in South Dakota by 1870. [143] Early settlers were primarily of Norwegian, Irish, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, and British descent. Between 1869 and 1874, Czechs and German-Soviets, as well as Hutterite, Mennonite, and eastern European Jewish religious groups, immigrated to the territory and established communities. [144]

Euro-American settlement of the South Dakota Territory stalled during the financial panic that gripped the nation from 1873 to 1877. A shaky economy, highlighted by the 1873 stock market crash, combined with a resurgence of the grasshopper plague, effectively halted large-scale settlement until 1878. [145]

The Black Hills gold rush provided the only source of continued settlement activity during this period. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills during the summer of 1874 created enormous pressure from settlers to gain entry to the Black Hills, which were still held by the Sioux. Prospectors could not be deterred from entering the area surreptitiously, and the United States government found itself forced to begin negotiations with the Sioux for access to the area. The rush peaked in 1877, and in the same year the government ratified a treaty with the Sioux that ceded the Black Hills west of the 103rd meridian and additional lands formed by the forks of the Cheyenne River. The Sioux also granted right-of-way for three wagon trails in the Black Hills. [146] To date this treaty remains controversial in the region.

The Black Hills gold rush resulted in the beginning of Euro-American settlement in the western portion of South Dakota. Rapid City was established in 1874 and quickly became the "eastern gateway" to the Black Hills region. Other communities such as Deadwood and Lead also developed during this period. New civil divisions developed after the ratification of the treaty with the Sioux in 1877, including Custer, Lawrence, and Pennington Counties. Almost a century later, Pennington County would become the home of several Minuteman installations, including the Delta-09 Launch Facility (LF).

Western South Dakota's gold rush began to wane in 1877 as surface gold deposits became exhausted. Homesteaders would not arrive on South Dakota's Western Plains in large numbers again until the 1890s. [147] However, settlement in the eastern section of the state began to increase rapidly. The Great Dakota Boom saw the influx of thousands of new settlers. The population in the eastern half of the state more than tripled between 1880 and 1885, rising from eighty-two thousand to two hundred and forty-nine thousand. [148] By 1889 South Dakota gained recognition as a state.

Western Plains Settlement and Agricultural History

The settlement of South Dakota's Western Plains is inextricably tied to agriculture. Early agricultural history of the region focused on raising livestock and ranching. Pennington County, created in 1877 during the Black Hills gold rush, and Jackson County, established in 1883, are located in what developed as prime ranching territory starting in the 1880s and in what became missile country during the twentieth century. Ranchers began driving their Texas Longhorns through the Black Hills as soon as the treaty with the Sioux opening this area was finalized. Large open range ranching operations dominated the landscape prior to the mid-1880s. [149] During this period, ranchers, often financed with out-of-state capital, found tracts of unfenced, unsettled land that could support large operations. By 1884 between seven hundred thousand and eight hundred thousand cattle roamed South Dakota's Western Plains, most of which were destined for markets in the East. [150]

The environmental and political forces at work in the late 1880s resulted in a shift to moderate and small-scale livestock production. [151] The climate on the Western Plains left large open range ranching operations susceptible to severe weather patterns. For example, the winter of 1886-1887 brought devastating storms that decimated the cattle herds and put many of the large ranches out of business. Homesteaders also pressured the ranchers by erecting fences around their claims. The new fences impeded ranching operations, which depended on large tracts of open range to feed their cattle. This issue caused strained relations between the homesteaders and the ranchers and further complicated the ranchers' situation as they tried to recover from heavy livestock losses.

Additionally, as homesteaders arrived in greater numbers, the large ranchers found themselves increasingly out of favor politically, as public opinion tended to favor the permanent settlement that came with homesteading. By this time the surviving large ranches had been relegated to leasing lands from Native American reservations that had not yet been opened for settlement. The 1890s saw a boom in the smaller ranching outfits and these outfits joined the growing number of homesteaders seeking success on South Dakota's Western Plains.

By the turn of the twentieth century, settlers were distributed across the state. From the end of the nineteenth century to 1915, the state experienced the second Dakota Boom, which focused on the Western Plains area. Several factors helped to spark the renewed interest in settlement. The opening of additional Native American lands for settlement starting in the 1890s drew homesteaders to the Western Plains. The opening of these lands also sounded the death knell of the large range cattle operations, as the reservation lands formed the last stretch of open land in western South Dakota. [152] The government distributed lands on the newly opened reservations through a two-pronged system. Sections were either distributed among potential claimants through a lottery system or, in the case of Pennington County, through the more traditional route of the claims office. The claims office processed applications by homesteaders desiring to settle sections of land and attempted to impose some order on the homesteaders rush for land. [153]

The completion of the Chicago and Northwestern and the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroads west of the Missouri River in the first decade of the twentieth century opened the area for further settlement. The railroads facilitated trade and brought a wave of new settlers. Towns appeared along the rail lines almost overnight, as prospective homesteaders made their way west. Rail connections linked Pierre and Chamberlain on the Missouri River with Rapid City and Lemmon with Mobridge in the northwest by 1907.

Located in Pennington County, Wall was one of the towns that appeared along the route of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Established in 1907, Wall received its name from the eight-mile-long outcropping that forms the Badlands, commonly referred to as "the wall" by cattlemen. [154] Wall would later become famous as the home of the tourist mecca Wall Drug. It is the closest community to the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron that included Delta-01 and Delta-09.

The second boom was also largely motivated by proponents of the dry-farming movement who asserted that the western South Dakota plains could be successfully farmed with drought-resistant plants using new techniques, including deep plowing and cultivating fallow. Availability of water in an area that receives less than nineteen inches of rainfall every year had been the most persistent concern for homesteaders in this region. Proponents of dry farming hoped to improve the area's agricultural economy and encourage a more permanent, stable settlement than the ephemeral ranching that previously dominated the region. Followers of the movement came to western South Dakota to practice the new farming method, but because dry farming is a labor-intensive method, they faced more difficulties than they had anticipated. [155]

Starting in 1907 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted a series of farming experiments designed to improve agriculture in western South Dakota. The beginning of the program focused on testing dry-farming techniques in semi-arid climates. In 1912 the USDA's Newell Station began receiving water from the Belle Fourche Irrigation Project. The USDA investigated the merits of irrigation in the region to determine which type of agriculture was best suited for the region. [156] Their irrigation and dry-farming experiments established that dry farming was preferable to irrigation in western South Dakota, largely because irrigation could not be counted on to save crops in times of severe drought. In addition to the comparative study of dry farming versus irrigation, data was collected to determine which trees might produce the best shelterbelts; the best crop rotation and tilling methods; methods of cultivation to reduce erosion; which fertilizers were most effective; and successful livestock raising techniques. [157]

Although the studies conducted by the USDA showed that dry farming held the promise to improve agriculture west of the Missouri River, most farmers did not adopt the labor-intensive, dry-farming system. A growing number of homesteaders on the Western Plains turned instead to cattle, sheep, or horse ranching in combination with a system of diversified farming. [158]

The challenge of homesteading on the Western Plains of South Dakota extended beyond the normal concern about availability of water. The regularity with which droughts and severe weather affected the ability of homesteaders to produce even a subsistence crop caused many farms to fail, and homesteaders to permanently leave the area. The drought of 1910-1911 stopped the early twentieth-century homesteading boom. Homesteaders were hit hard as crops failed when the rains did not come. Those who survived the drought resigned themselves to the wild variations in climate that was simply a fact of life on the western South Dakota plains. [159]

Drought prompted many farmers across the state to attempt to further diversify their production. In particular, dairy farming became important to the homesteaders, and cooperative creameries were established, extending as far west as Rapid City. The government aided in educating farmers about drought-resistant crops and diversified agriculture by creating the South Dakota Agricultural Extension Service in 1915. In 1917 the state legislature provided further aid to farmers. For example, it passed a rural credit law authorizing the state to provide loans to farmers and created a state office to promote the state's agricultural products. [160]

World War I fostered a bubble in agricultural prices as demand for food in the European markets increased. Livestock producers in western South Dakota reaped huge profits as meat and grain prices tripled. However, the boom was followed by an equally dramatic bust as farm prices dipped after the end of the war, creating a depression in western South Dakota's farm economy during the 1920s. Indeed, it has often been said that the Great Depression of the 1930s in fact began a decade earlier for the country's farmers and ranchers.

Also during the 1920s, a myriad of technological advances offered the homesteader the ability to cultivate larger tracts of land in less time than had previously been possible. Tractors and combines increased the number of acres any one farmer could cultivate and had the unintended effect of encouraging farmers to bring marginal lands under cultivation. Consolidation of lands also reduced the number of homesteads on the Western Plains. [161] The 1930s saw the official end to the homesteading period. With the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, which regulated grazing on public lands through a permitting process, the homestead era had ended.

Wall Drug continued to provide economic activity in the Western Plains town of Wall during the Depression. Ted Hustead purchased the store in 1931, and moved his wife, Dorothy, and son, Bill, from Sioux Falls, Iowa, to Wall. Typical for the Depression, the store had difficulty bringing in customers. Although tourists drove by on their way to Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone, they did not normally stop at Wall Drug until Dorothy Hustead had an idea. Dorothy suggested giving away free ice water and putting signs on the tourist routes advertising the water. The strategy worked brilliantly, and soon tourists were stopping for water and purchasing other items while at the store. By the time Bill Hustead took over management of the store in 1951, Wall Drug had become a success. The Husteads expanded the store over a period of forty years, beginning in 1951, to better serve the growing number of tourists that arrived daily. Roadside advertising on a worldwide scale has further raised the profile of Wall Drug. Today, in the opinion of Ted Hustead, Ted and Dorothy's grandson, Wall Drug "is probably the number one roadside attraction in America." [162]

The success of businesses like Wall Drug stands in stark contrast to the hardships experienced by many, if not most, homesteaders on the Western Plains. Farmers on South Dakota's Western Plains were already reeling from the effects of the drop in prices after the close of World War I when the Depression and the six-year drought, known as the Dust Bowl, hit the plains. The effect of the drought cannot be overestimated. A single storm in May 1934 removed approximately three hundred thousand tons of topsoil from the Great Plains. [163]

Beginning in 1933, the Roosevelt administration and Congress approved several measures to alleviate hardship on the country's farmers. The Resettlement Administration, which became known as the Land Use Program, was established in 1935 to oversee the reclamation of marginal farmland. The program affected South Dakota's Western Plains significantly. The government purchased 850,000 acres of marginal lands from homesteads in the Western Plains of South Dakota. The government then tore down the homestead buildings and reseeded the land with native grasses. In 1954 the National Grasslands were created out of South Dakota's reclaimed agricultural land at Buffalo Gap, Fort Pierre, and Grand River. [164]

During World War II, farmers in South Dakota experienced price fluctuations similar to those seen during World War I. By 1951, however, prices returned to a profitable level. The development of a cattle-feeding industry in the 1950s in the eastern part of the state complemented the cattle raising and grazing on the Western Plains. Livestock raising accounted for seventy-nine percent of South Dakota's agricultural production in 1966. [165]

The evolution of the state's highway system throughout the twentieth century further aided the economy on the Western Plains. During the Depression, United States Highway (USH) 14 formed the major east-west route crossing the state. USH 14, also known as the Black and Yellow Trail, provided tourists with an alternate route to the popular Yellowstone National Park and also provided a means of transporting agricultural products to eastern markets. The highway proved quite popular, and the segment between Rapid City west to the Wyoming state line was upgraded from a two-lane to a four-lane road in 1953.

The passage of the Federal Highway Act in 1956 set the ambitious goal of completing an interstate highway system within fifteen years. The Federal Highway Act had its origins in the Defense Highway Act of 1941 that focused federal funds to a Strategic Network of Highways with defense uses, such as roads to military bases and defense manufacturing plants. Also near the end of World War II the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 called upon states and the Bureau of Public Roads to designate a national system of interstate highways, connecting state capitals, principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers by direct routes. The segment of USH 14 near Rapid City, with its recent upgrade to a four-lane road, was well positioned to become part of the new interstate system and was incorporated into the system shortly after the passage of the Federal Highway Act.

USH 14, later roughly shadowed by Interstate 90, bisected the lands that would soon be dotted with Minuteman missiles. Beginning in 1961, the Air Force constructed 165 Minuteman missile installations on the Western Plains of South Dakota, directed by the 44th Strategic Missile Wing based at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Moving from east to west across the plains, Ellsworth's three squadrons were located near the towns of Wall, Union Center, and Sturgis. The squadron near Wall operated the Launch Control Facility and Launch Facility now comprising Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in Jackson and Pennington Counties. Before detailing these specific facilities, we next turn to the Air Force.

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Last Updated: 19-Nov-2003