Last time around, we had just begun our exploration of Sioux Falls, S.D., named after the Sioux Native American Tribe, who were the first inhabitants of the area, and the Big Sioux River that runs through it. With a population close to 160,000 people, it is the largest city in the state.
Although Blacks in Sioux Falls and South Dakota today constitute only about 4 percent and 1 percent respectively, their roots here run deep. Even before Sioux Falls officially became a city in 1889, there was an Afrocentric presence, including that of Nat Love, a former slave from Tennessee who some have called “the most famous Black cowboy of them all.”
Love made a name for himself in several states as a tough, astute and savvy horseman and sharpshooter who survived many a plains conflict, including against and with the Native Americans and Mexican vaqueros. His remarkable skills eventually earned him the nickname “Deadwood Dick,” a nod to the town of Deadwood City, where he won several high stakes cattle roping and sharpshooting competitions in 1876.
The 25th U.S. Infantry of the Buffalo Soldiers were moved here from Texas in 1880, assigned to stations in Fort Randall, Fort Hale and Fort Meade, all of which were in what was then called the Dakota Territory.
In Yankton, about 80 miles from Sioux Falls, Blacks had established their own thriving community. One historical document written in 1889 notes, “Yankton has a mixed population of five thousand inhabitants about 60 of whom are Afro-Americans, who are more or less in a prosperous condition. The schools, churches and hotels are thrown open to all regardless to color, and the result is, the feeling that exists between the two races is friendly in the extreme.” In it, several townsfolk—both men and women—are positively noted for real estate holdings, business entities, entrepreneurial efforts, leadership and other qualities.
Other Black accomplishments and leaders continued to emerge over the years, and their presence is still felt today. Much of this area’s history is displayed at the South Dakota African American History Museum. Although not officially a museum, rather multiple display cases featured inside of Washington Pavillion, one of Sioux Falls’ historic sites, it does possess a wealth of artifacts, photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia that tell the story of our history around the state.
One of the most interesting attractions in town is the USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial. Commissioned in 1942, it was the lead ship of the South Dakota class of battleships, the second ship in the Navy named after the state and the most decorated battleship of World War II—with 13 battle stars—having fought from 1942 to 1945 in every major naval battle in the Pacific.
Although the ship has long since been dismantled, the memorial here features an outline of the original ship to scale, encompassing numerous components that would have been on the original vessel. Inside the museum, you’ll find a wide array of artifacts, memorabilia, exhibits and more that detail the historic journey, the lives and service of those who fought aboard, those who lost their lives in the process and those who have worked diligently since to keep the memories and history alive. Additionally, a great deal of effort was made to incorporate numerous items, floor boards and more from the original ship.
At Prairie Star Gallery-Timeless Indigenous Art, visitors can learn about and take home a variety of one-of-a-kind, handmade, authentic artwork made by over 500 artisans from Native American tribes, including the Lakota, Blackfeet, Dakota, Navajo, Ojibwa, Potawatomie, Assiniboine and others. Here you will find everything from jewelry to clothing, woodwind instruments, drums, incense, paper and cards, paintings, sculptures, wood carvings, music and a great deal more.
Located on the campus of Augustana College is the Center for Western Studies, designed as repository on the American West. Their holdings include over 500 substantive collections and 36,000 volumes, with permanent exhibits covering a variety of themes, including that of the traditional lifestyle of the Sioux Indians on the Northern Plains and the lifestyle led by most of the 3 million Swedes and Norwegians who came to the states between 1800 and the early 1900s, plus several rotating exhibits.
Washington Pavilion is regarded as the region’s premier cultural, educational and entertainment. Formerly Washington High School, it is now home to several cultural entities centers, including the Husby Performing Arts Center, Kirby Science Discovery Center, the Wells Fargo CineDome Theater, the Visual Arts Center and the South Dakota African American History Museum.
The Husby Performing Arts Center houses two theaters presenting everything from Broadway musicals to the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, regional promoters and national touring acts, and nationally and internationally recognized music, dance and theater performances. The Kirby Science Discovery Center features over 100 interactive, hands-on exhibits for kids primarily up to about age12, while the Visual Arts Center encompasses six spacious galleries displaying the works of leading regional, national and international artists.
We’ve got one more taste—yes, I do mean dining!—and several fun and fascinating outdoor attractions in our last go-round in Sioux Falls coming up.
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at email@example.com.
- Center for Western Studies: 605-274-0700, www.augie.edu/CWS
- Prairie Star Gallery-Timeless Indigenous Art: 605-338-9300, www.prairiestar.com
- Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau: 800-333-2072, 605-275-6060, www.VisitSiouxFalls.com
- South Dakota African American History Museum: 605-367-6000
- USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial: 605-367-7141, www.usssouthdakota.com
- Washington Pavilion: 605-367-6000, www.washingtonpavilion.org