Fort Pierre (population 2,010), South Dakota, dates to the 1817 founding of a fur trading post. Native Americans had inhabited the area for centuries, and the Arikara and the Sioux were living here when the first white explorers arrived. Located on the Missouri River, the City of Fort Pierre traces its name to the French fur trader Pierre Chouteau Jr., who established a fur trading fort alongside the river.

The first Europeans known to have visited were the Verendrye brothers, who explored the upper reaches of the Missouri River, seeking the hoped-for Northwest Passage – a water route from the Hudson Bay area of Canada to China. In 1743, they placed an engraved lead plate on a hill above what is now Fort Pierre, claiming the land for France – a plate which was found by a group of teenagers in 1913 after lying undisturbed for 170 years.

Lewis and Clark camped here in 1804 and in 1806, and described in their journals a tense confrontation with Native Americans where the Bad River flows into the Missouri on their first passage. Fort Pierre was a key center in the fur trade, and was an important shipping point for cattle and goods during the Black Hills gold rush. Today sites in Fort Pierre are promoted as part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Fort Pierre has been involved in the State Historical Society’s Central South Dakota Heritage Tourism Education Program, funded in part by a Preserve America Grant. The program has developed and is implementing an interpretive and educational plan for local heritage tourism resources. To date, 26 interpretive signs have been created for sites in the Fort Pierre area, and a Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary has been developed for all local historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places in partnership with the National Park Service.

In October 2007, a celebration took place to mark the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bridge across the Missouri River between Fort Pierre and Pierre, attracting 875 people. The rededication of the Verendrye Monument National Historic Landmark in May 2008 also drew a large crowd, including the governor and congressional representatives. Both events involved unveiling new interpretive signs.

Another local attraction is the Verendrye Museum, housed in a 1933 Legion Community Hall, which has a collection of South Dakota and regional artifacts documenting the early history of the area and the Fort Pierre to Deadwood Trail. The Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center, named after a nine-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider, is a historical museum devoted to the sport, an important part of South Dakota’s cultural heritage.

There are hundreds of archaeological sites in the Fort Pierre area. For those sites that are not on federal property (and therefore monitored by the Corps of Engineers) the State Archaeological Society relies on a stewardship program where local landowners and volunteers monitor the sites. These volunteers play a vital role in keeping the archaeological sites intact and free of vandalism and looting.

Designated a Preserve America Community in May 2012.

For more information

City of Fort Pierre History

National Register Travel Itinerary: Pierre and Fort Pierre