Return to Home

Unit 5


Notable Dakotans, 1850-1900



Harney Expedition in Dakota
Yankton Sioux Treaty signed
Dakota Territory set up
Homestead Act passed
Fort Laramie Treaty signed
Gold discovered in Black Hills
Black Hills opened to non-Indians
South Dakota becomes a state
Great Sioux Reservation opened
Lakotas massacred at Wounded Knee Creek
New plants brought to western South Dakota

South Dakota State Historical Society started

Lesson 2
Laura Ingalls Wilder and Frederick Taft Evans

     Settlers now streamed into Dakota Territory. The Homestead Act of 1862 drew thousands of them. This law was signed by President Lincoln. It promised free land to anyone who worked on it. A settler could claim a farm of 160 acres. He had to live on it and farm it for five years. Many immigrants from Europe and other states moved west. Many people who came had little money. The Homestead Act gave them a chance to own their own farms for a small fee. One of the most famous of all settlers in Dakota Territory was a teenager named Laura.


Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little Town on the Prairie

     The story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family is about homesteading. It is also about building a town on the prairie. She told the story in nine books.

     Laura Ingalls was born in Wisconsin in 1867. The Ingalls family followed the promise of free land to the West. The family settled first in Kansas. This story is told in Little House on the Prairie. Then the family took a farm in Minnesota. On the Banks of Plum Creek tells this tale.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Surveyor's House
Surveyor's House

     Then when Laura was twelve they moved to De Smet. By the Shores of Silver Lake tells the story of their move and of the building of De Smet. The Long Winter is an account of the hard winter of 1880-1881 (learn more about this in Unit 6). Little Town on the Prairie talks about the early days of De Smet. In the book, Laura Ingalls began teaching school when she was fifteen. She taught in one-room schools near De Smet. At the same time, Almanzo Wilder began courting her. She told this story in These Happy Golden Years.

     Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder married and farmed together. They had a baby girl. This story is told in The First Four Years. They had many hardships. Crops failed. Their only son died. A fire burned down their home. Diphtheria left Almanzo partly paralyzed. In 1894, the Wilders left South Dakota. They moved to Missouri where they had better luck farming.

     Later Laura’s daughter asked her to write about her early life. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book came out when she was sixty-five years old. It was called Little House in the Big Woods. It was about her life in Wisconsin. The other books came later. Wilder won awards for her books, and many, many people read them. She lived to be ninety years old.

book jacket


Frederick Taft Evans and Hot Springs

Frederick Evans
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Frederick Taft Evans was a rancher, freighter, and town builder. He liked the frontier and its rapid changes.

     He was born in Parkman, Ohio, in 1835. Evans left home at eighteen. He went out West. He worked as a woodchopper and bullwhacker. He bought a ranch in Nebraska in 1859. He also worked in a store and a bank in other places.

     Then gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874. Evans joined others and began a freighting business. They hauled supplies west to Deadwood. They went on the official roads across the Great Sioux Reservation. Stagecoaches did too. The Evans Transportation Company carried millions of pounds of freight from Fort Pierre and Chamberlain. Evans hired more than one thousand men. He owned four hundred wagons, two hundred forty mules, and fifteen hundred oxen.

Oxen Yoke
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Hot Springs - Evans Plunge
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     When the railroad reached Rapid City in 1886, Evans sold his business. Now, he helped build the southern Black Hills town of Hot Springs. It was a health spa. It had warm springs flowing in it. People thought they made them healthy. People came from all over to bathe in the springs. Evans built the Evans Plunge. It was the largest enclosed swimming pool in the world. Evans also built the Evans Hotel and other buildings. All the buildings were built of native pink sandstone. Today, Hot Springs is still full of such beautiful buildings.

     Evans was also a commissioner for Lawrence County, South Dakota, and mayor of Hot Springs. He always worked hard to make Hot Springs a good place to live. He died there in 1902.

account (n.), a story of an event

courting (v.), trying to get another person to fall in love with you

diphtheria (n.), a disease that gives a person a high fever, weakness, and makes it hard to breathe

freighter (n.), a person who hauls goods for pay

homesteading (v.), claiming land by settling on it and farming it

immigrants (n.), people who migrate to a different country to settle