Pierre SD – Pronounced Like A Fishing Pier, Not Like A Frenchman Pierre


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September 1st 2015
Published: October 5th 2015
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Farm Island Recreation Area Campground – Pierre SD
According to MapQuest, the drive from General Sibley Park in Bismarck ND to Farm Island Recreation Area in Pierre SD would be a little over 200 miles and would take about 3 ½ hours. I took I-94 east to its junction with US 83 south and traversed rolling hills covered by seemingly endless grassy plains. The fields of grazing cattle and bales of hay awaiting relocation were enjoyable and relaxing, and the countryside was sprinkled with pockets of trees along streambeds and stock tanks frequented by both thirsty livestock and wild game. I arrived in Pierre without incident.

My first tourist stop in Pierre was the South Dakota State Capitol. There are no guided tours (except by reservation), but an excellent self-guided booklet provides as much or more information than I or the average tourist needs. The motivation for erecting this particular building came after the third election to determine the location of the state capital. In the first election in 1889, Pierre won the right to be the temporary state capital while in a second election in 1890 it was chosen as the permanent capital. Subsequently, three different bills were introduced in the legislature to move the capital from Pierre. In 1904, a bill passed in the legislature to let the people vote yet a third time on the location of the state capital. Pierre won this election as well. After three elections, many citizens believed that a large, permanent building would end any further relocation efforts. This building not only serves as the capitol but serves as a reminder to locals of the importance of the several and tedious campaign fights Pierre endured to secure its status as the Capital of South Dakota.

Constructed between 1905 and 1910, the South Dakota State Capitol is the best example of Neoclassical architecture in South Dakota. The building was constructed for less than $1,000,000 and houses the South Dakota State Legislature and the offices of most state officials, including the Governor of South Dakota. To save money on the project, officials selected the architects’ design for the Montana State Capitol, with some variations, rather than asking for an original design. The building features a copper dome, Corinthian columns and rusticated walls of granite and Bedford limestone. Don’t ask me what that means, I’m just the reporter. Native granite is also the material used for the steps and some of the window trimming. The
Rightfully Grand, Simplistically ElegantRightfully Grand, Simplistically ElegantRightfully Grand, Simplistically Elegant

South Dakota State Capitol - Pierre SD
first level of the capitol uses Marquette Raindrop sandstone for its facing while the other stories are of Bedford limestone.

Inside, the floor in the capitol building is made of terrazzo tile. Legend says the floor was laid by 66 Italian artists, each of whom was given a chance to place his own personal mark in the building, without actually allowing them to sign their names to the floor. Each craftsman is said to have been given a blue stone to place in the floor; however, only 55 of these tiles have been found. It is thought that the remaining stones may have been placed in locations now covered by walls, doors or carpeting. The descendants of those eleven tile setters have recently filed a lawsuit …. No, no – just checking to see who is paying attention!

The capitol is known for its attractive murals and paintings. Under the dome in the rotunda, four large round paintings feature Greek goddesses that symbolize the four major South Dakota interests: Love of Family, Love of State; Agriculture; Wisdom, Industry and Mining; and Livestock. Under each of these paintings is a flag display representing the four governments that have claimed
Can You Find One Of The Blue Stones?Can You Find One Of The Blue Stones?Can You Find One Of The Blue Stones?

South Dakota State Capitol - Pierre SD
ownership of South Dakota over the years – France, Spain, Dakota Territory and the United States. Four contemporary sculptures; symbolizing Wisdom, Vision, Courage, and Integrity; adorn the rotunda and complement the original artwork of the interior.

In front of the marble staircase leading upstairs, display cases house the First Lady Gown Collection. Dolls model miniature replicas of the gowns worn by each first lady to the state inaugural ball. Along with the doll, a picture of each governor's family and other mementos are displayed. On the second floor, a marble staircase leads into the rotunda. The dome of the rotunda is 96 feet high. The bottom ring is designed to resemble a string of ribbons joined together, which is meant to symbolize the eternal nature of government. The interior of the dome is decorated with sixteen images of the Tree of Life. The dome also displays acanthus leaves to represent wisdom and a pasque flower – the state flower. The third floor houses the House of Representatives and the Senate. Galleries for both, from which the public can observe the legislative process, are located on the fourth floor.

In anticipation of South Dakota's state centennial celebration, the building was renovated between 1977 and 1989. The renovation restored much of the building and its décor to its original appearance. The tile floor was also repaired – each of the tile workers who did the repairs is said to have been given a heart-shaped stone with which to mark the new floor, much as had been the original workers. The ceilings, wall designs, color schemes, window treatments, and carpeted areas throughout the building were part of the project. The work restored everything in the capitol back to the building’s original colors and luster. In 2013, a $2.7 million restoration of the building’s stained glass began with the project to be completed for South Dakota's 125th Anniversary celebrations. Of course, the Capitol is a must see attraction.

As I was walking around the exterior of the Capitol and taking some photographs, I happened upon the Soldiers and Sailors World War Memorial across the street from the Capitol. In 1929, the Chicago and North Western Railroad Company made an offer of land to the State of South Dakota for a veterans’ memorial. The State accepted the land in 1931 with the sole purpose of erecting a Soldiers Memorial Building to house
An Overview Of The Numerous Memorials Along The Shore Of Capitol LakeAn Overview Of The Numerous Memorials Along The Shore Of Capitol LakeAn Overview Of The Numerous Memorials Along The Shore Of Capitol Lake

South Dakota State Capitol Grounds - Pierre SD
the South Dakota State Historical Society. The building is the only memorial of its kind in South Dakota and currently houses the South Dakota Department of Military in one wing and South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs in the other. I immediately encountered a very helpful employee who directed me to the second floor and the Hall of Honor – South Dakotans who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Very nice.

Resuming my circumnavigation of the Capitol, I found the Fighting Stallions Memorial. The sculpture honors the eight South Dakota residents, including Governor George S. Mickelson, that died in an airplane crash on April 19, 1993. Continuing on the walking path around Capitol Lake, a manmade artesian lake constructed in 1913, I found the Flaming Fountain Memorial – a perpetually burning flame fed by natural gas that was installed to honor all of South Dakota’s veterans. Across the lake, I spotted the World War II memorial. This unique memorial features six bronze statues representing every branch of the service, all saluting the American flag. I’m not sure if the next five memorials practiced economy of space, economy of funds or both. The Korean War and Vietnam War memorials are nicely merged to honor North
How Many Might I Have Known?How Many Might I Have Known?How Many Might I Have Known?

South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial – South Dakota State Capitol Grounds - Pierre SD
Dakotans who died in those conflicts and the First Responder memorials pay homage to EMS personnel, law enforcement personnel and firefighters in a well-done amalgamation.

I suppose some might suggest that I wait until I visit Deadwood SD for this discourse, but it’s my blog so change the station if you don’t like the song! There’s a country music duo called Big & Rich that was aspiring in the mid 2000s and were playing the Buffalo Bar in Deadwood. They ran into a fella named Niles Harris, a Deadwood native, who was working as a bartender at the Buffalo Bar. Harris gave Big Kenny his now-famous top hat and befriended them. They saw evidence of Harris’ affiliation with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and somehow learned of a battle that happened on the 8th of November in 1965 in which he was wounded and 48 of his comrades were killed. A medic, Lawrence Joel, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for risking his own life that day and, despite being severely wounded, for rendering aid to so many of his wounded comrades in the midst of the battle. Big & Rich went on to write a song about the
“Thank You, Ma’am; Just Doin’ My Job”“Thank You, Ma’am; Just Doin’ My Job”“Thank You, Ma’am; Just Doin’ My Job”

South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial – South Dakota State Capitol Grounds - Pierre SD
battle to honor the participants as well as all who had served in Vietnam.

Lawrence Joel was the first living black man since the Spanish-American War to receive the Medal of Honor: Lawrence Joel Medal of Honor Ceremony (1:18) The song: Big & Rich - 8th Of November (6:02) Big & Rich went on to make a video about the evolution of their friendship with Niles Harris, the evolution of the song and a trip they took with Harris back to the scene of the battle in Vietnam where they and Harris buried his combat boots, his sole remaining memento of Vietnam, in a B-52 bomb crater that is still 40 feet deep: Big & Rich - 8th of November Documentary: A True Story of Pain & Honor (50:17) Kris Kristofferson offers a prelude to the song and the documentary in which he recognizes Joel and his heroism. The documentary also shows a modern Vietnam, has some interesting cultural information about Vietnam and has interviews with the commanders of the North Vietnamese forces that were in charge on the 8th of November. Enjoy all, part or none – or change the station!

My final stop for the day was at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center, also in Pierre. The center is a part of the South Dakota State Historical Society which was first organized as the Old Settlers Association of Dakota Territory in 1862. Originally housed in the state capitol, the Society moved to the newly completed and aforementioned Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Building in 1932. As part of the South Dakota centennial celebration in 1989, the Cultural Heritage Center was built to showcase the state's history and to serve as the new headquarters for the Society.

There are three major sections of the attraction – Oyate Tawicoh’an: The Ways of the People, Proving Up and Changing Times. Oyate Tawicoh’an focuses on the Sioux way of life, their kinships and how those values acted as direction for daily living. Proving Up examines the experiences of the immigrant population and how they interacted with the Native population. Changing Times surveys the challenges of the climate, the economy and new agricultural technology in the development of South Dakota in the twentieth century. Put another way, I might label the three areas pre-Anglo life, transition to Anglo life and Anglo life.

I must congratulate the visionaries who developed the museum in this interesting format. Little space is dedicated to non-people topics – dinosaur bones, geologic formations, native flora and fauna, etc. This is a people museum which,
The Oahe Dam Has Made The Cheyenne River Quite Wide At This PointThe Oahe Dam Has Made The Cheyenne River Quite Wide At This PointThe Oahe Dam Has Made The Cheyenne River Quite Wide At This Point

Scenic Drive From Pierre SD – West, North, East, South And West
I suppose, is why the institution has the words cultural and heritage in its name. All of the artifacts are nicely displayed and well documented. Many subjects are seldom seen, such as the logistics of a bison hunt, the life of a fur trapper, an overland ride on a stagecoach. Some subjects are painful to divulge – such as the prohibition of Native rituals, language, dress and customs; the rise of the Ku Klux Klan; and governmental corruption in Native treaty administration and in the state capital selection process – but the museum tackles them head-on. For those who want to get to know the people of South Dakota, this attraction is a must see.

I took a Saturday to set out for a drive through the countryside north of Pierre that has a couple of attractions that roused my interest. I began by heading west on US 14 before turning north on SD 63. I took a short break when I stopped to take a picture of the bridge crossing the Cheyenne River. I continued north until I reached US 212 where I turned east and drove past Eagle Butte. In Gettysburg SD, I made a stop at the Dakota Sunset Museum. I expected this attraction to be a local museum with a community focus – I wasn’t disappointed. This spacious facility (many local museums are extremely cramped) has lots of interesting artifacts that have a connection to a local family. Many of the artifacts have no documentation but help tell a story about the community. I enjoyed my stop, but cannot recommend the attraction except as an “if you happen to passin’ through for some other reason.”

I continued my day trip eastward and stopped in Faulkton SD to take a ride on the 1925 Carousel that resides in City Park. I found the small, one-city-block-square park without any problem, but couldn’t find the carousel. I would have called, but I didn’t think the horses would be very helpful! Quite disappointed, I resumed my journey by turning south on SD 45. When I reached US 14, I turned west and returned to Pierre. Although my entire route had not been designated as scenic by Rand-McNally, there are portions that, indeed, are more scenic that some of the “scenic” routes I have taken based on Rand-McNally’s interpretation. Overall, it was a good day; however, a carousel ride would have made it outstanding!

Another day I opted to see the countryside by heading southeast on SD 34 to Fort Thompson and then south on SD 50 to Chamberlain – a route that is a Rand-McNally designated scenic route. I then headed west on I-90 with thoughts of continuing to Murdo SD to visit the South Dakota's Original 1880 Town. In 53 miles of Interstate travel, I saw 106 billboards hawking the attraction which raised a huge caution flag. That, coupled with the mid-90 temperatures, caused me to exit at US 83 and head north to Pierre.

I had a fantastic time in Pierre. Pierre, with a population of 13,646, is probably the smallest state capital in the United States. For comparison for most of my readers, Belvidere IL has a population of 25,585 and Silver City NM has a population of 10,273. There is no Red Lobster or Best Buy but there is a ‹drum roll, please› Walmart. There is not a lot of nightlife, but every restaurant or pub I visited resulted in a conversation with a local. You won’t find a lot of go cart tracks, amusement parks, high end shopping or wine cellars, but you will find real people. The people are proud of their community, as they should be, and it shows.


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South Dakota State Capitol - Pierre SD


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