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Unit 9


Changing Times

Lesson 3
People on the Move

     The two atomic bombs that ended the Second World War were the start of the Cold War. Many countries rushed to build more atomic bombs. The United States stored hundreds underground in western South Dakota. Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City became part of a special unit. It was called the Strategic Air Command (SAC). This unit could take off in planes armed with atomic bombs. They could fly anywhere in only a few hours.

Ellsworth Plaque
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


      Soon tension built up between two countries that had many bombs. These were the United States and the Soviet Union. They had different forms of government. The United States is a democracy. Citizens give power to the government (you read about this in Unit 8). The Soviet Union was Communist. Its government told its citizens what to do. It took charge of all property and money. The struggle between these two governments was called the Cold War. People worried that it would become a hot war. This would unleash the atomic bombs. The thought troubled people around the world.


Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism

     Then in 1950, the Cold War heated up. North Korea invaded South Korea. The Soviet Union backed North Korea. The United States rushed to aid South Korea. So did other United Nations countries. Thousands of people from South Dakota served in the war. Even though a truce ended the fighting, the Cold War did not end. More planes, bombs, and atomic missiles were stored in western South Dakota.


Pierre flood, 1952
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


     While war raged in Korea, construction crews were working on the dams on the Missouri River (you read about this in Unit 7). Their work would change the riverís flow and the land itself. Flood control was an important reason for this work. No longer would there be yearly floods in towns like Pierre and Yankton. Some small towns had to move before the lakes began to form behind the dams. Pollock moved a mile south of where it had been. Then lake waters flooded farmlands and Indian sites on the river bottom. Some things were lost, but "Old Miseryís" water was no longer muddy. Instead, the new lakes were clear blue. President John F. Kennedy came to open the Oahe Dam. The year was 1962.

Kennedy at Oahe Dam, 1962
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Times were good in South Dakota. Despite droughts and low prices for farm products, ranching and farming thrived. By 1960, most farmers had electricity. They used tractors, combines, and corn pickers. These things made their work easier. Farmers experimented with new crops. They grew soybeans and sunflowers. Tourism also thrived. More South Dakota highways were blacktop rather than gravel. It was easier for tourists and families to drive to the Corn Palace, the Badlands, or Mount Rushmore.

     South Dakota farms and ranches kept growing. The average one grew from 672 acres to 804 acres. The number of jobs for farm workers dropped, though. Machines now did much of the work. People from small towns moved to bigger towns, looking for jobs. Others moved to big cities outside the state. Finding work on Indian reservations was even harder.

     The towns of Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Aberdeen grew. The population of the state fell. By 1970, tens of thousands of people left South Dakota. Nearly two hundred small towns died. Farmers and ranchers no longer needed a railroad town nearby. They could drive fifty miles to a bigger town and be back in no time. Their children rode school buses to consolidated schools.

     Miles of railroad track were no longer used. In its place were better roads. New interstate highways made travel fast and safe. These highways had four lanes. I-29 ran north and south; I-90 went east and west. They linked South Dakota to other parts of the country. Many South Dakotans also took to the air. They got on commercial planes at airports in the larger towns. South Dakotans did not really need to leave their living rooms to see the world. A new invention was bringing the world to South Dakota. That invention was television.

I-29 Dedication near Beresford
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

average (adj.), a typical size or amount; ordinary

consolidated (adj.), united; combined; brought together

experimented (v.), tried; tested

tension (n.), an uneasy feeling; a worry or concern

truce (n.), an agreement to stop fighting

unleash (v.), to release something