The Dakotas

Much of the land that makes up present-day North and South Dakota came into the possession of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. At the time, the area was largely occupied by Native American tribes, including the Sioux, Cheyenne and Ojibwa. Soon enough, however, white settlers began moving into the area creating farms and grazing animals over large parts of the Indian lands. In 1861, the U.S. government created the Dakota Territory, which included all of present-day North and South Dakota plus large portions of Montana and Wyoming.

Battles between the new settlers and the resident Indians soon brought U.S. troops and outposts to protect the settlers. Legendary Sioux chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led many war parties against the settlers and U.S. cavalry. The U.S. Army soon overwhelmed the Sioux and most were confined to reservations set up by the U.S. government. Sitting Bull and followers escaped to Canada for a while, but returned in 1881 and surrendered. Although the area was generally pacified, restlessness continued among the Indians. In the late 1880s followers of Indian religious leader Wavoka introduced the "ghost dance," believed to help Native Americans regain their ancestral lands and live in peace. Fearing renewed troubles, the U.S. Army attempted to arrest Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. A gunfight erupted and Sitting Bull and twelve others were killed. Over the next two decades, further land was taken from the Indian Reservations and given to white settlers.

Today, the Dakotas remain largely devoted to agriculture and grazing. Giant farms cover the landscape and tall grain storage elevators are visible on the distant horizon. For a glimpse of what the Dakotas looked like prior to the arrival of white settlers, when large grasslands covered the territory, visitors can drive through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that straddles the border of the two Dakotas.

A quick trip through eastern North Dakota and western South Dakota offered some photo opportunities, including the famous Mt. Rushmore, western grasslands and a few bison (North America's largest land animals). For more photos from South Dakota, check out the Badlands National Park page.