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Pioneer politicians and members of the 'Yankton gang' gather at the first territorial capitol in downtown Yankton.
Pioneer politicians and members of the "Yankton gang" gather at the first territorial capitol in downtown Yankton.

South Dakota Returns To Its Roots

Oct 31, 2013

Saturday (Nov. 2) is a big day for the Mother City of the Dakotas. Governor Dennis Daugaard and a number of other elected officials, past and present, will gather with the public at large to kick off South Dakota’s 125th birthday party in Yankton.

Geographically, Yankton’s role was established long before anyone was writing and reporting on such matters. Native Americans had a permanent camp, possibly going back several centuries. The city’s very name comes from the Dakota word “Ihanktonwan” which was known as the end village along the Missouri.

Lewis and Clark camped there in 1804, and visited with the Native American residents. A baby boy was born while they were there; the famous explorers wrapped him in an American flag and celebrated his birth. Later, the child grew to be a Dakota leader, Struck-by-the-Ree — an amazing chief who promoted women’s rights, environmentalism in the river valley, religious freedom and education.

White settlers built a trading post there in 1857, and the city became prominent when President James Buchanan declared it capitol of Dakota Territory in 1861. Of course, the “Yankton gang” lost the capitol 22 years later but the city has grown to become a political, educational, medical, manufacturing, recreational and media powerhouse, playing a role that has always exceeded its modest population.

Few communities throughout the West have such a reputation, past and present. Saturday is a golden opportunity for Yankton to show once again why it’s the Mother City of the Dakotas. The local business community has worked with the governor’s office to celebrate with style. Curt and Cena Bernard have opened their beautiful Riverfront Event Center as the quasquicentennial headquarters for the day.

The activities begin at 3:30 downtown with re-enactors who will speak for some of our most colorful and important historical characters. Festivities move to the Riverfront Event Center at 6 p.m. for a social hour, followed by a 7 p.m. program with the governor and then a 7:30 p.m. dance with a 10-piece orchestra.

It’s all free, thanks to the generosity of local businesses. And you can wear anything from a tux and top hat to pioneer garb or your usual blue jeans.

Bring your children and grandchildren. This is an opportunity to instill a sense of the history that their community represents. And encourage the seniors in your life to attend, for without their stewardship through the decades we wouldn’t continue to be vibrant community.

Yanktonians hope you’ll join them Saturday afternoon and evening to celebrate life in South Dakota. Yes, there’ll be a big birthday cake.

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