Friday, June 23, 2017

Fort Pierre and Pierre, South Dakota

June 12 - 17, 2017:  The Road to Nowhere

We stretched it out today doing 130 miles on on route 83 north with clear skies but a very wicked wind. We cross into South Dakota and go through the Sioux Reservation for about 60 miles, lightly inhabited with government reservation houses.  There are huge expanses of grassland, very scenic and also vast expanses of cultivated farmland and cattle ranches.  There were only a couple of towns, I detoured through Mellette, SD but there wasn’t much of interest except an old Ford car dealership.  Route 83 runs for 1,885 miles from Brownsville, Texas to Westhope, North Dakota at the Canadian border.  It’s a Route 66 kind of thing, except you won’t find many neon signs.

The Road to Nowhere

Our destination, the Fischers Lilly Park Campground, is a small non-reservable city campground in Fort Pierre, South Dakota.  There only 12 campsites with electric and water along the Missouri River in a town park setting next to the  Casey Tubbs Rodeo arena, more about Casey latter.  There is only one other camper here, it’s very quiet and peaceful, all we hear are the frogs croaking after dark.  Alice is sitting at the at the screen door now, totally absorbed in the sounds and whatever else cats think about.

The view from our front door

The spot where Lewis and Clark met with the Teton Sioux Indians

The Capital of South Dakota is the city of Pierre, across the Missouri River, which the locals pronounce as “peer”. I read an article that stated the relationship between Pierre and Fort Pierre best; The area history is kept in Pierre, but the history happened in Fort Pierre.  Fischer Lilly Park is one of those historical places at the head of the “Bad River” where it flows into the Missouri River.  It was here that Lewis and Clark had a meeting with a few Sioux Indian Chiefs.  The story goes that one of the Chiefs became upset about his gifts (must have felt slighted) causing a very tense situation until one of the other chiefs, Black Bufalo, calmed him down.  It might have been the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition right there.

Fort Pierre is the oldest town in South Dakota having been settled in 1817 and is celebrating their bicentennial this year.  The Sioux tribe resided in this area for hundreds of years previous mostly living off the Buffalo and other fish, game and plants. The first European contact was in 1743 when French explorers, brothers Francois and Louis-Joseph representing their father, Pierre Verendrye came here searching for a new trade route.  They left a stone marker, the Verendrye Plate, on a hilltop proclaiming this land for France.  This plate was found by a couple of teenagers in the early 1900’s and miraculously someone recognized its importance and saved it.  A monument is now erected on the hilltop where the stone marker was found and the actual stone is in the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.  
The American Fur Company established Fort Pierre Chouteau in 1832 which was the largest trading post on the upper Missouri River.  It was the happening spot until about 1855 although nothing remains these days. It is now a National Historic Landmark with a monument and interpretive signs.
Fort Pierre has several old historic buildings, the impressive Stockgrowers Bank, the excellent Verendrye museum, a rodeo Arena, a few restaurants, a few stores, a very lively swimming pool and a couple of bars.

The most impressive building in Fort Pierre is the Stockgrowers
Bank established in 1903

The Verendrye Plate

Painting of FortPierre Chouteau

Fort Pierre City Hall

I was equally impressed with the hay truck

The old city jail

The Old Deadwood Trail was a Steamboat landing where supplies
were unloaded onto horse drawn wagons and then transported 200
miles overland to the gold camps in Deadwood, SD

Scotty Philip was an early settler who married an Indian woman
and was a very successful businessman

Scotty amassed a huge Buffalo herd and is given credit as the
one who saved the Buffalo from extinction

Steamboats at the landing in Fort Pierre

A lot is packed into the Verendrye Museum

I went into the “Silver Spur” which has the appearance of an old building hoping to find a real Saloon atmosphere inside.  I was disappointed as it looks just like any other new chain restaurant with a totally redone interior, no character at all.  They had a good dining crowd and the food may be excellent, but they should change the name to the “Plastic Spur”. 

They do have an event room in the rear for music concerts and such

The Chuckwagon was calling me, but I never went in

On the other end of Deadwood Street next to a very rough looking harness shop is the “Hop Scotch” which is the local “Gentlemen’s Club”, but these are the kind of places you go to in a group, you feel like a pervert going alone.

Possible regret ?

I did have a interesting hour or so at the St. Charles Hotel Lounge.  I had been nearby checking out a very cool ice cream shop called Zesto, with the slogan “Zesto is the Besto”, and happened to ride by the St Charles and hear music playing. I had wanted to see the inside of the St Charles anyhow as it is the most iconic of the old luxury hotels in Pierre.  The lounge was packed with people for a benefit listening to a trio playing broadway show tunes.  I never did find out what the benefit was for.  I happened to sit next to a guy who was an off-duty bartender there who was really into this music, knew the words, was singing along and said he grew up with this music as a child.

The Zesto Ice Cream stand is very popular, this was taken in the
morning before opening time

I searched high and low for live music or a nice brewpub in Pierre and found absolutely nothing.  It’s weird, because almost all towns now have a small brewery or brew pub, you'd expect a Capital city to have several.  Casino’s are the thing in South Dakota, there're on practically every corner, not the big Indian Casinos, but rather dumpy little rooms in convenience stores, gas stations, Laundromats, etc.  It’s ridiculous how many there are and most are trashy looking.  I think what you do in these parts is to stop on your way home, buy a 12 pack of the cheapest beer and take it home to drink. On the restaurant front, its slim pickings also as two of the most popular restaurants seem to be Perkins Pancake House and the Pizza Ranch, not exactly fine dining.  We did go to the Pizza Ranch to see what the fuss was about to find a buffet with several varieties of Pizza and a salad bar as expected. The strange thing however was the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and biscuits ?  It seemed as though more people were going for the chicken and mashed potatoes than the Pizza. 

You can do it all at this gas station

Pierre happens to be the second smallest capital city in the US.  I knew it wasn’t the smallest since I have spent considerable time in the smallest capital city of Montpellier, Vermont.  
South Dakota had been a US Territory from 1861 to 1889 when it became a state. The Territorial Capital had been in Yankton, but with Statehood the location of the Capital was up for grabs.  Several South Dakota cities duked it out to determine which one would be the new Capital.  In the end, Pierre won mainly due to its central location within the State.  Initially a small wooden building was erected which quickly became inadequate and a new grand Capital building was designed and erected.   The new Capital was completed in 1913, was modernized slightly over the years and then totally restored as close as possible to it’s original 1910 appearance.  It’s not the best Capital building we have visited, but it’s very impressive. 

Looking straight up into the Rotunda

I was also impressed with the floor tiles

And this particular mural

And this one

The exterior is stately looking as a Capital should be

Another great Pierre attraction is the South Dakota Cultural Center housed in a unique building built into the side of a bluff planted with native prairie grasses.  Their native American exhibits and artifacts were especially good.  I was quite taken with the horse effigy carvings, done by Lakota warrior "No Two Horns", which memorialize his indian horses who were killed in battle.  I haven’t seen these anywhere else and we’ve been to many museums.
Pierre Street is the old business district which has a several turn of the century buildings, but nothing of particular significance.  Pierre seems to be a nice family oriented place to live, with much fishing and boating but is very lacking in culture, the arts, dining, nightlife and shopping.

No Two Horns horse effigy

You didn't just walk into an Indians house and sit anywhere

One of my favorite buildings in Pierre

Also this one

Pierre has a trail of governors around town where statues
of former governors are displayed on street corners.  This
governor is Peter Norbeck, the only one I might have voted for.

This is one of the best ever historical markers

My favorite sign

A view of the Railroad Bridge taken almost from in someone's
side yard, a very nice private dock there

The largest Dam on the Missouri River, Oahe Dam, is located just upstream from Pierre and the resulting Lake Oahe is reported to be the 14th largest lake by volume in the World.  This stretch of the Missouri River is tightly controlled and tamed, it sort of looks like a canal, not the meandering river we saw back to Ponca, Nebraska.  I know it’s for the common good, but it’s kind of sad.
This brings to mind a poster I used to have on my bedroom wall about 50 years ago of a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “What does education often do ? It makes a straight cut ditch of a free meandering brook”

Scenic viewpoint on the lake 

This was a Mission School that would have ben flooded by the
lake, it was relocated to the visitors center

We had a series of wicked thunderstorms on Monday night, we knew they were coming by the forecast, you need to pay attention to the weather here.  I still was a bit alarmed when at 1AM a emergency alert audio message starts blaring from this campground system waking me from deep sleep.  I’d say the system works well, except for people like Twinkles, who slept right through it all. The wind, rain, thunder and lightning were pretty intense, but luckily only very minor hail.  This storm raged for about an hour, abated and then a few hours latter another weaker band of storms came through.

I visited the Fort Pierre Railroad Depot built in 1906 by the Chicago and North Western Railroad. The Depot was closed in 1958 and eventually sold to a local rancher.  In 2010, the Depot was discovered and a fund raising group “Bring it Home” was formed which successfully did bring it home, set it up near its original location and beautifully restored it.  It has recently reopened as a museum.

They really have done a stellar job, all volunteer's

The railroad had some great looking equipment

On the hilltop overlooking the Depot is the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center and Mattie Goff-Newcombe Conference Center.  Casey Tibbs was raised on a ranch near Fort Pierre and at an early age became a Rodeo star.  He was the sports biggest star in his prime, was compared to Babe Ruth and made the cover of Life Magazine.  He won 6 saddle bronc riding, 2 all around cowboy and 1 bare back riding world championships in his career.  After his rodeo days he moved on to movies as a stunt rider, producer, horse trainer and consultant to John Wayne.

Mattie Golf-Newcombe was a cow girl from an early age breaking horses on the ranch.  She worked the rodeo circuit for many years as a bronco rider and a trick rider, back when they allowed the cowgirls to do that.  Twinkles asks why women aren’t allowed to compete in the bronc and bull riding competition these days?  My only answer is that the macho cowboys are afraid the girls will beat them.

Casey Tibbs even looks like a star

Statue in front of there museum

Large Cowboy Mural 

This was Mattie's rodeo touring car and trailer.  The car is painted,
the trailer is real and attacks realistically to the rear of the car

Mattie won numerous championships and ended up a
successful cattle rancher.  She lived to be 98.

This was most interesting, Casey failed his army physical
for his broken bones while he was competing and wining
campionships on the rodeo circuit

When a statue of Casey Tibbs was dedicated at the Pro Rodeo Hall
of Fame, Casey in his speech said,  "Thanks for making me
look so good, hell, I was that good".  This was put on his gravestone.

We did a hike from downtown Fort Pierre to LaFramboise Island which was a very long circuitous route  over the Missouri River bridge to Pierre, through Steamboat Park to the Island which is directly across the Missouri from our campsite, in fact we could see our RV from there.  LaFramboise Island is a large sand bar in the Missouri River with well established forest.  They have several trail loops through and around the island.

The trail along the river

The RV across the river

A final evening ride out into the prairie to the Buffalo Interpretive Center was inspiring, the light, the clouds, the wind in the grass, a storm in the distance and a few Buffalo, near perfect.

Beautiful to see that grass blowing in the wind

Rain in the distance

Where the Buffalo still can roam

Next stop is Mobridge, South Dakota;
Twinkles and Slick

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