We know from our previous explorations in this series that Sioux Falls, South Dakota is named after the Sioux Native American Tribe who were the first inhabitants of the area, and the Big Sioux River which runs through it. With a population close to 160,000 people, it is the largest city in the state.
In terms of black history, although blacks in Sioux Falls and South Dakota today constitute only about 4% and 1%, 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.”
Nat made a name for himself in several states as a tough, astute and savvy horseman and sharp shooter 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 sharp shooting 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 One historical document written in 1889 notes, “Yankton has a mixed population of five thousand inhabitants about 60 of whom are Afro-Americans, who are more or less in a prosperous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 the 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 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.
Timeless history is up next!
To start at Part 1 click here.