Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Pierre (pronounced "pier") is located in central South Dakota on the eastern bank of the Missouri River. Its sister city, Fort Pierre, is across the river on the western bank. Incorporated in 1883, Pierre is both the state capital of South Dakota (since 1889) and the seat of Hughes County. The boundary dividing mountain and central time zones follows the Missouri River, placing Pierre and Fort Pierre in different time zones.

The area around Pierre was originally a major fortified center of the Arikara Indians. In 1804 Lewis and Clark held council with three Teton Sioux chiefs at the mouth of the Teton (Bad) River near the future site of Pierre. In 1832 the American Fur Company established Fort Pierre at the site. The fort was a major trading post for the middle Missouri River region until 1855, when it was sold to the U.S. Army. During the Black Hills gold rush (1876– 85) Pierre was a transportation and freighting outpost for miners and supplies. The city boomed with the arrival of the railroad in 1880, becoming an important commercial center for the local farm and ranch economy. Pierre has continued to grow in population, increasing from 3,235 in 1890 to 13,876 in 2000.

Today Pierre's economy centers on state and county government, agriculture (primarily grains and beef cattle), tourism, and recreation (fishing and hunting). State government is the city's most important economic activity. Products manufactured in Pierre include electrical and irrigation equipment. Printing is also a major economic activity.

Located six miles north-northwest of Pierre is the Oahe Dam, the eighth largest dam in the world by volume. The dam is a major flood-control and power production unit on the Missouri River; the power plant has a total peaking capacity of 826,000 kilowatts. Behind the 245-foot-high dam is Lake Oahe. Its waters stretch 231 miles upstream and cover 374,000 acres of land.

The city is served by the Pierre Regional Airport, the Dakota, Minnesota, and Eastern Railroad, and U.S. Highways 14 and 83. Pierre is home to the Indian Learning Center, a boarding school for Native Americans in grades one through eight. The region is also served by Capital University Center, which provides access to programs from three state universities. Major tourism and recreation attractions in Pierre and the surrounding area include the Cultural Heritage Center, the South Dakota Discovery Center and Aquarium, the state capitol, the Fighting Stallions Memorial, the Verendrye Museum (in Fort Pierre), the Oahe Dam and Visitors Center, the Farm Island State Recreation Area, and the Fort Pierre National Grassland.

Edward Patrick Hogan South Dakota State University

Hogan, Edward Patrick, and Erin Hogan Fouberg. The Geography of South Dakota. Sioux Falls SD: Center for Western Studies, 1998.

Schell, Herbert S. The History of South Dakota. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968.

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