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In 1803, South Dakota was an unmarked portion of wilderness ceded by France to the U.S. for 15 million dollars (about three cents an acre) in the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson, hoping to find the Northwest Passage--a waterway that could serve as a trade route with the Orient by connecting the West with the Pacific Ocean--commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition.
In addition to finding the Northwest Passage and exploring America's new territory, the expedition was asked to discover all they could about the Indians living in the area. Heavily laden with trading goods such as glass beads and cooking kettles, the duo set out with Sacagawea and 30 others on an exploration that passed through South Dakota traversing the muddy Missouri River. Along the way, the two explorers met and traded with Indian tribes and learned about Indian cultures.
Today, the state preserves its past and monuments dedicated to the adventures of the two explorers. Highways 1804 and 1806 snake along the Missouri River roughly following the aquatic highway that transported the Corps of Discovery through South Dakota.
But South Dakota's history isn't limited to the explorers that passed through, it is also deeply rooted in the traditions of the Native American population that originally inhabited the area. Today, over 50,000 Native Americans live in the state, and multiple reservations share South Dakota's terrain with sprawling farmlands. The proud history of the Sioux Nation has permeated the state and can be experienced at museums like the Akta Lakota Museum, while even more ancient history can be found at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village archeological site.
As fascinating as the first inhabitants and the subsequent explorers is the region's natural landscape. The western portion harbors the massive Black Hills and the protruding spires and buttes of the Badlands National Park. Through the center of the state runs the Missouri River and various dams and manmade lakes offering endless spots for fishing and water sports. The eastern portion of the state is characterized by the wide-open prairies that shaped frontier history.
The spirit of adventure has not left the state and along the way inhabitants have sought to challenge the physical landscape and re-shape its facade to reflect their heritage. Chiseled in the walls of the Black Hills is the famous Mt. Rushmore, depicting the faces of four American presidents. And only a few miles away, a tribute to Native American culture is emerging in the form of the Crazy Horse Memorial.
South Dakota offers the visitor an opportunity to reconnect with the history that shaped the West. The historic landmarks, natural wonders, and diverse population make South Dakota a perfect retreat for any visitor.