June 13, 2019 – Pierre, SD
Sometimes a trip to Walmart turns into an unexpected adventure.
Once we headed east out of the Badlands, we made a two-day stop at Chamberlain, South Dakota.
Chamberlain is the spot where I-90 crosses the Missouri River. It has long been a favorite spot of ours, as the rest area at the top of the bluff affords a sweeping view of the prairie interacting with the river as it rolls towards St. Louis. Both in 1804 and 1806, Lewis and Clark passed through here with their Corps of Discovery. My cousin George Drouillard made three additional passages through here after his trips with the Corps.
Its not difficult to take the bridges out with your mind and imagine the early nineteenth century expedition gliding past this vista.
A recent addition to the rest area is a statue of a native American woman called Dignity. This 50-foot tall installation was brought to this site in one piece in 2016. The work is intended to honor the Lakota people who are native to this area. Many people think this is Sacajawea, which it isn’t. She joined and left the Corps of Discovery in North Dakota and was not with them at this point.
Our day off from traveling turned out to be much more than we thought it would. Needing to make a Walmart run, we decided to backtrack up the Missouri to the state capital, Pierre. In the process, we discovered we had been pronouncing the town’s name incorrectly all these years. Maybe it’s my French-Canadian heritage, but I had been saying ‘pee-air’ since studying state capitals in school. The easiest way to remember how to pronounce it is to drop the ‘re’ off the end and think of a fishing pier.
Our day trip took us along the back roads through the Lakota reservation along the river. We saw the tribal headquarters, perched high above the Big Bend of the Missouri.
This huge horseshoe in the river is nearly unchanged from when Drouillard and John Shields explored the neck of land between it in 1804. Captain William Clark described it in his journal as follows:
We Sent a man to step off the Distance across the gouge. He made it 2000 yds. The distance around is 30 miles.
Before crossing the river into Pierre, we stopped at Fischers Lilly Park in the adjoining town of Fort Pierre.
Here the Bad River flows into the Missouri. At this spot Lewis and Clark met with the Teton Sioux tribe over a six-day period. Language barriers led to an armed conflict, but Chief Black Buffalo diffused the situation and allowed the Corps to pass through. Note that this spot was the first place the U.S. flag flew over South Dakota.
From the southern river bank, the unassuming capitol building can be seen above the trees.
The inside of the seat of government in South Dakota is anything but unassuming. It is absolutely gorgeous.
We spent a fair amount of time walking through the building, peering into the House and Senate chambers, as well as this impressive rotunda.
While we were there, they were setting up to unveil three new statues to add to the Trail of Governors on the city’s streets. Similar to the statues of U.S. presidents in Rapid City, this installation in Pierre honors the state’s leaders since it was admitted into the Union in the late 1800’s. I was granted permission to take this photo, as long as I didn’t post it until after the ceremony on June 15.
Speaking of statues, there is a memorial on the capital grounds honoring eight South Dakotans who perished in a plane crash in 1993.
One of them was Governor George Mickelson. You may recognize his name from the multi-use trail that runs the length of the Black Hills. The group was on an economic development mission to save the largest agricultural processing employer in South Dakota at that time.
The granite memorial is topped by the sculpture Fighting Stallions, which was originally done in mahogany in 1935 by Korczak Ziolkowski. He is better known for his work on the Crazy Horse monument near Custer. The original wooden carving is in the museum at Crazy Horse. Note that the entire sculpture is supported by the one stallions tail.
While we walked around the memorial reading the stories of these eight, this curious bunny kept watch over us but did not seem to be frightened by our presence. We felt as at ease as this little one in this beautiful place along the Missouri.
The next day, we departed Chamberlain for points east…ultimately ending up in our summer locale at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. This wraps up our exploration of the western U.S. for this year…or does it? To find out more about that, you will have to tune in next Saturday morning. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!