Only Vermont’s State Capital has a smaller population than South Dakota’s; but Pierre, population about 14,000, wins for isolation. The 2 closest big cities to Pierre (pronounced pier), Denver and Minneapolis, are each about 500 miles away. Great Lakes Airlines offers daily service to both. I learned this in the Pierre Area 2013-14 Visitor Guide.
I studied its index. Under “What to Do”, Fishing was first; Walleye (the State Fish) , Northern pike, and Bass were listed i, 2, and 3. Next was Hunting; waterfowl, pheasant, and grouse. Following that was Other Outdoor Sports & Recreation, then Parks & Picnic Areas, and finally What to See on page 32. Since my main reason for being in Pierre was to visit the State Capitol, I quickly realized i didn’t have the same priorities as the people of Pierre.
There must not be much demand for a State Capitol tour. When I arrived the next morning at 9 am, I learned that there was only one guided tour that day at 1 pm. It was self-guided or nothing until then, so I grabbed the available Tour Script and set out. Acknowledging its most famous attraction, I soon learned, South Dakota’s nickname is “The Mount Rushmore State”.
Bismark, North Dakota’s capital, was also South Dakota’s until it achieved statehood in 1889. Yankton, now about the same size as Pierre, was South Dakota’s Territorial Capital by 1862 when 11 of its 16 legislators were from New England. Seven towns competed to become its capital, and the 2 top contenders were Huron and Pierre. Pierre won because it was in the new State’s geographic center.
The Capitol building was completed in 1910. Pierre Area raved about its, “dramatic murals, stained glass, elaborate tile work, and collections of sculpture and art.” It was impressive (the Grand Staircase, for example, was truly grand), but it was also very traditional–predictable Indiana limestone, Italian marble, Greek goddesses, etc. But I did find 4 unique things about it.
Its rotunda dome featured the Seals of Sovereignty of the 4 governments, including France and Spain, that have claimed ownership of South Dakota. When I read this I wondered how the 5th, the Sioux, felt about being excluded.
Over a pair of doors was a stained glass window in remembrance of the1993 plane crash that killed South Dakota’s popular governor, George S. Mickelson, and 7 others.
The State Capitol grounds included Capitol Lake and Hilger’s Gulch Park with a 1 1/2 mile walking trail, gardens, monuments, etc. The most impressive, to me, was the World War II Memorial. The Fighting Stallions, another memorial, honored 8 men, including Mickelson.
The grounds were treeless when the capitol was built and many said that growing trees on the prairie was not possible. However, around 60 different types of trees now thrive here, and the Governors Grove Trail is both a tribute to past governors and a pleasant walk.