After the West Was Won: Homesteaders and Town-Builders in by Paula M. Nelson

By Paula M. Nelson

Western South Dakota 1900-1917

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They remained in camp until spring, when they again began to wander, moving away from the river, west to the high plains. Their new west river home was a rich, rolling grassland marked with occasional buttes and deep canyons where streams cut their beds. It was a land alive with buffalo. Although the Oglalas had not intended to cross the Missouri, the move was a fortuitous one for them and for the other subtribes of the Teton, or western Dakota (called the Lakota be- Page 3 Wild, rough country, rocky ridges, brush-tangled coulees, crisscrossed by trails known only to wild animals that seldom saw any but wilder, warrier neighbors, in a region so big a good fast crow couldn't wing over it in a weekthat sort of home ground is bound to encourage outlaw tendencies.

Railroad corporations promoted settlement heavily because they needed the business of settlers who would build farms, grow crops, and ship their harvest east by rail. Their literature was designed to lure the most skeptical farmer to this newly opened land of milk and honey. Farmers responded because cheap lands were increasingly scarce east of the Dakota line. Although scientists worried publicly that the drier lands west of the 98th meridian would not be able to support traditional humid-land agriculture, eager settlers had nowhere else to go.

French maps from the 1640s place them in north central Minnesota, where they lived in a mixed horticulture and hunting prairie economy. Shortly after this, they began their journey to the south and west, driven by the gun-bearing Cree. In small bands the Lakota and their relatives, the Dakota, moved west. The Dakota found comfortable territory in southwestern Minnesota and eastern Dakota. The Lakota pushed on to the unknown lands beyond. As they drifted, their economy gradually shifted toward the buffalo culture of the plains.

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