75 Fun & Interesting Facts About South Dakota, USA

South Dakota is practically synonymous with Mount Rushmore, it’s most famous attractions. But what else is South Dakota known for?

Find out below with these up-to-date, surprising, and fun facts about South Dakota, USA!

General South Dakota Facts

  • South Dakota is part of the North Central and Midwest regions of the United States. Most of the state lies within the Great Plains.
  • South Dakota encompasses a total area of 77,116 mi² (199,729 km²), which is the same size as Kyrgyzstan and nearly the same as Senegal.
  • South Dakota is the 17th largest state, sitting between Nebraska and Washington state in regard to its size.
  • South Dakota’s population is just under 900,000 people, making it the 5th least populous state. Only Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota have fewer people.
  • By coincidence, its population density is also the 5th lowest in the US, with 11.7 people per mi2 (4.5 per km2).
  • The capital city of South Dakota is Pierre. With a population of 14,000, it is the second smallest US state capital, after Montpelier, Vermont.
Capitol building of South Dakota in Pierre
The South Dakota Capitol in Pierre
  • There are eight cities in South Dakota larger than Pierre. The largest is Sioux Falls (population 192,500), which is the 131st largest city in the US. It is the only South Dakota city with more than 100,000 people.
  • South Dakota has the 4th highest percentage of Native Americans in any state, at 10% (only Alaska (20%), Oklahoma (13%) and New Mexico (10.7%) are higher. In total, South Dakota has nine reservations and about 60,000 indigenous people.
  • These reservations are home to the Sioux Nation, which consists of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes combined.
  • These tribes lend their name to the state. The name Dakota means “ally” in the Dakota language.
  • SD is the abbreviation of South Dakota.
  • People who live in the state are called South Dakotans.
Buildings of Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Sioux Falls is the state’s largest city
  • South Dakota is known by the nickname “The Mount Rushmore State”, after its most famous attraction, the carvings of four presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore.
  • Other nicknames have included Sunshine State, Coyote State, Artesian State (because it had many Artesian wells), Blizzard State, The Land of Plenty, and The Land of Infinite Variety, reflecting its varied economic activities, scenery, weather, and people.
  • The state’s tourism slogans have included “Great Faces, Great Places”, “Your American Journey”, and “My Great Place.”
  • The official state motto is “Under God the People Rule”.
  • South Dakota’s state beverage is milk (the same can be said about 21 other US states).
The state flag of South Dakota
South Dakota state flag
  • South Dakota’s state flag features its state seal on a blazing sun against a backdrop of sky blue. The official state nickname is featured below the state seal- “The Mount Rushmore State” and the state’s name appears above the seal.
  • The state seal represents South Dakota’s natural resources, commerce and industry. At the top of the inner circle is the state motto is featured. A steam ship navigates a river through industrial and agricultural land in the foreground. The state seal’s outer circle bears the words “State of South Dakota”, “Great Seal”, and the year South Dakota became a state, “1889”.

Random Interesting Facts About South Dakota

  • The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is South Dakota’s most iconic attraction. The faces of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt are carved into the mountain, representing the birth of the nation, the growth of the nation, the preservation of the nation, and the development of the nation, respectively.
  • The 60-foot (18-meter) sculptures of their heads were carved from 1927 to 1941. Today, they attract 2 million visitors per year to the Black Hills National Forest in the southwest of the state.
Distant view of Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial has been under construction for over 70 years.
  • Near Mt. Rushmore but lesser known, Crazy Horse Memorial is another sculpture that’s being carved into the Black Hills. Crazy Horse was a Native American Sioux chief. When finished, it will be the largest sculpture in the world carved into a mountain, at 563 ft (171.6 m) high and 641 ft (195 m) long, and 2nd tallest of any sculpture in the world after Statue of Unity in India.
  • There are two national parks in South Dakota: Badlands National Park, an arid region of buttes, pinnacles, and spires, and Wind Cave National Park, known for its unusual calcite formations called boxwork and needle-like growths called frostwork.
Dry hills in Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park
  • There are 16 national historic landmarks in South Dakota. These include historic battlefields, mounds, archaeological sites, and more.
  • At the Mammoth Site near Hot Springs, remains of 61 bison have been found in an ancient sinkhole.
  • South Dakota is home to the last intact Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile launching system in the United States. It is preserved as a national historic site.
  • The world’s only Corn Palace can be visited in Mitchell, South Dakota. The Palace is made from over 3,500 bushels of corn.
Rocky peaks in the Black Hills, South Dakota
The Black Hills
  • South Dakota is bisected into two halves by the Missouri River. These two halves are known as the “East River” and “West River”.
  • East River contains the majority of South Dakota’s population, and its fertile soil helps in the agricultural production of a variety of crops, while West River is heavily dependent on defense activities, ranching, and tourism for its economy.
  • South Dakota leads the US in the raising of pheasants and bison.
  • South Dakota produces more sunflowers than any other state, including “The Sunflower State” (Kansas). North Dakota comes in second place.
  • Hydroelectric power is produced by several dams along the Missouri River. However, South Dakota continues to rely on coal and oil-fueled power plants.
  • Homestake Mine in South Dakota was North America’s deepest gold mine until it closed in 2002. Today it is used for dark matter research.
A deep former gold mine in South Dakota called Homestake Mine
Enormous Homestake Mine
  • The highest point of South Dakota is situated in the Black Elk Wilderness Area of the Black Hills at an elevation of 7242 ft (2207 m) above sea level. The lowest point is at Big Stone Lake, with an elevation of 966 ft (294.44 m).
  • The highest temperature on record in South Dakota was on July 15, 2006 at Usta, at 120°F (48.9°C). The lowest was on February 17, 1936 at McIntosh, -58°F (-50°C).
  • South Dakota is home to more than 175 species of butterflies.
  • 400 species of birds are found in South Dakota, including 200 species that are native to the Black Hills and Badlands. It’s no surprise that bird watching is extremely popular in the state.
  • Foods associated with South Dakota include bierocks (a stuffed pastry originating in Russia), wojapi (Native American fruit preserves), pheasant meat, walleye fish, Indian Tacos (a taco made with Native American fry bread), dudge, chislic (cubed meat, originating in Turkey), kolache (a Czech/Slovakian import) and kuchen (a German cake).
A meat filled pastry called a bierock
South Dakota is one of the few states where you can find Russian bierocks.
  • Hubert Humphrey, the former vice-president of the US (1965 to 1969) was born in Wallace, South Dakota.
  • George McGovern of South Dakota was a presidential nominee for the Democratic Party in the 1972 election.
  • The Nobel Prize winning scientist Ernest Lawrence of Canton of South Dakota built the first cyclotron, an atom-smashing machine.
  • Born in Kendall, South Dakota, Alton Ochsner was a famous surgeon who linked smoking to cancer.
  • Several South Dakotans have made a mark in the sports industry, including the likes of pro basketball player and NBA star Mike Miller, four-time WWE Champion Brock Lesnar, and Olympic champion and Hall of Famer Billy Mills.
A mosaic of famous people from South Dakota
Famous South Dakotans Shannon Bolin, Cliff Lyons, Eddie Little Sky, Mike Miller, Brock Lesnar, and Russel Means (clockwise from top-left)
  • Some famous actresses and actors from South Dakota include Angela Aames, Rachael Bella, Shannon Bolin, Gary Owens, Eddie Little Sky, Cliff Lyons, and Russell Means.
  • South Dakota has voted Republican for the last 13 presidential elections.
  • South Dakota has some old laws that will leave you scratching your head in wonder. For instance, it’s against the law for horses to go into fountains unless they’re wearing pants.
  • It’s also technically illegal to fall asleep in a cheese factory in South Dakota.
  • The law has a weird flex on arm wrestling. If you attempt to convince a pacifist to abandon his beliefs by arm wrestling, you’re breaking the law.
  • By law, all hotels are required to have two twin beds in each room. Furthermore, the beds must be two feet apart. It’s also illegal to make love in the space between the twin beds.

Historical Facts About South Dakota

  • During the time of the dinosaurs, South Dakota was underneath a shallow sea.
  • About 10,000 years ago, humans first occupied present-day South Dakota. Its earliest settlers hunted large animals like bison.
A single bison standing in a field in South Dakota
Herds of buffalo (bison) attracted people to South Dakota
  • By the 1700s, the Native American Sioux dominated the area we presently know as South Dakota.
  • In 1743, the LaVérendrye brothers claimed the area a part of France’s Louisiana Territory.
  • A fur trading company was established in the area in 1794 by Jean Baptiste Trudeau.
  • South Dakota’s land was bought by the US from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
A historical black and white photograph of two Sioux people on horses
Sioux people
  • In 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived in the state and formed the first settlement at Fort Pierre.
  • In 1864, Fort Wadsworth (later Fort Sisseton) was established by the US Army on the Dakota Prairie.
  • In 1874, George Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills by. The mining of the gold violated the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie with the Sioux people.
  • The Black Hills War of 1876 was triggered by the influx of thousands of miners who came in search of their fortune as a part of the gold rush.
  • On November 2, 1889, South and North Dakota became the 39th and 40th states to join the Union. President Harrison shuffled the papers before signing them, so they are considered to have joined at exactly the same time. Pierre was designated the capital of South Dakota.
White calcite deposits on walls of Wind Cave, South Dakota
Unusual features in Wind Cave National Park
  • The first US state to allow voter initiatives was South Dakota in 1898.
  • In 1903, Wind Cave National park became the 9th in the US, and the first cave national park in the world.
  • After several years of other cities trying to gain the capital status, Pierre was designated officially the capital in 1904.
  • In 1927, the Mount Rushmore project began. Gutzon Borglum was the main sculptor. It took 14 years and one million dollars to complete the attraction.
  • In 1948, sculptor Korak Ziolkowski began working on the Crazy Horse Mountain project, which continued today.
Looking down at flowing river from Oahe Dam
Oahe Dam on the Missouri River
  • In 1960, the first Sioux Native American to be elected to serve in US Congress was Ben Reifel of South Dakota.
  • The Oahe Dam was completed on the Missouri River near Pierre in 1962, creating Lake Oahe, the 4th largest reservoir in the US. Many Native Americans were displaced for the dam, as with Big Bend Dam three years earlier.
  • On September 14, 1963, Mary Ann Fischer became the first woman to give birth to the a set of surviving quintuplets in the US, four girls and one boy.
  • In 1972, floods on Rapid Creek killed 238 people in Rapid City.
  • In 1998, there was a dust storm so bad that schools were closed across the state.
View of Rapid City
Rapid City, South Dakota
  • In 2013, the remains of the two girls that disappeared in 1971, Pamella Jackson and Cheryl Miller, were found in their 1960 Studebaker in a creek.
  • In 2016, major protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline began at Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which spans North and South Dakota. The local Native Americans argued it would risk their drinking water and other environmental concerns. Over 800 protestors were arrested.
  • In 2017, the pipeline was completed after President Trump issued a memorandum to allow it.