After the West Was Won: Homesteaders and Town-Builders in by Paula M. Nelson

By Paula M. Nelson

Western South Dakota 1900-1917

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9 By the late 1880s, a number of groups in South Dakota had begun to eye the large Indian reservation west of the Missouri River and to lobby for its opening to white settlement. Because much of the farmland east of the river was taken up, businessmen and real-estate promoters feared a decline in the economy. Black Hills residents, who were isolated from the centers of commerce and political power in the eastern part of the state, hoped that the creation of farms and towns in the grasslands west of the river would bring them into the mainstream of South Dakota life.

In small bands the Lakota and their relatives, the Dakota, moved west. The Dakota found comfortable territory in southwestern Minnesota and eastern Dakota. The Lakota pushed on to the unknown lands beyond. As they drifted, their economy gradually shifted toward the buffalo culture of the plains. Once they crossed the Missouri River, the bison became their staple food as well as their source of tools, clothing, and tipi hides. The women gathered wild plants to supplement the tribe's diet. The tribal economy also depended on trade with other tribes and goods seized in warfare.

The open-range cattle industry, they believed, would not attract the large numbers of people South Dakota needed to sustain a booming economy. While local interests campaigned for their own benefit, eastern humanitarians urged a new solution to the "Indian problem" that they believed would aid assimilation of the tribes into American life. The reformers influenced Congress to pass the Dawes Act, which granted individual Indians in the West quarter sections of land from reservation holdings. After the allotment process was completed, the federal government would open any remaining lands to white settlement.

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