Fort Pierre is the oldest continuous European settlement in Dakota Territory.
Historians have designated it “the most historic site in South Dakota.”
And this weekend, Fort Pierre celebrates its bicentennial merging the 200 year party with the annual Dakota Western Heritage Festival and the Stirling Ranch Rodeo.
Fort Pierre, with a population of 2,100 could easily triple in size during the three-day event, said Mayor Gloria Hanson.
"This is the first 200th birthday of anything in North or South Dakota,” Hanson said.
The community has invited direct descendants of some of the community’s most significant historic figures:
• Joseph LaFramboise, the French fur trapper who established the first trading post in 1817 in what is now Fort Pierre.
• Pierre Chouteau, for whom the two cities -- Fort Pierre and Pierre -- are named. Chouteau brought the first paddlewheeler up the Missouri River from St. Louis and made Fort Pierre a major center of commerce.
• Meriwether Lewis, who with his partner William Clark, had a tense but peaceful encounter with Chief Black Buffalo at the mouth of the Bad River.
• Fred Dupree, who is credited with saving the buffalo from extinction; and Scotty Philip, who bought Dupree’s herd and continued to expand the buffalo population.
• John Waldron, a Fort Pierre native, part Native American and Annapolis graduate, who changed the course of WWII at Midway Island.
• Casey Tibbs, born and raised in Fort Pierre, who still holds world records in rodeo.
“We all know what is written in history books about these historically significant people, but I am looking forward to hearing some family stories, some personal anecdotes that will really bring them to life,” Hanson said, noting that descendants from as far away as New York and Alabama plan to attend.
On the eve of the celebration, the much anticipated film, “Floating Horses: The Life of Casey Tibbs” will be shown at 4 and again at 7 p.m. at Riggs Theater. A free-will donation will get viewers into the showing because the producer is not able to charge admission until the film has finished its film festival run, Hanson said. The film has opened to rave reviews across the country.
At 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Dakota Western Heritage Festival wagon train will “head em up and roll em out” with Wagon Master Willie Cowan at the helm. Over 200 wagons and horseback riders are expected to participate. The wagon train will arrive back in Fort Pierre to join a Historic Parade at 3:30 p.m.
Entries are still being taken for the parade. No motorized vehicles are allowed. Historic re-enactors are welcome.
Dignitaries such as Governor Dennis Daugaard, former governors, tribal chairmen, and South Dakota’s Congressional Delegation, have been invited to ride in the parade.
Friday evening will feature a community steak feed, dignitary program and entertainment provided by DWHF poets and musicians.
Saturday opens with a 5K Run/Walk at Lilly Park. Registration is at 7:30 a.m.
At 10 a.m. DWHF vendors will open their booths in the Expo Center and Bicentennial vendors will open their booths in Lilly Park next to the Expo Center. In addition to western arts and crafts, children’s activities like pony rides and bouncy houses will be available.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, singer songwriter Susie Bogguss will perform. Advance tickets are available for $25 at Dakotamart stores in Pierre/Fort Pierre and other Fort Pierre locations. Tickets are $35 at the door. Only 650 tickets are available.
Cowboy Church starts the final day of the event, at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Expo Center. Stirling Family Ranch Rodeo will serve a cowboy brunch at 10 a.m. at the fairgrounds grandstand.
Stirling Ranch Family Ranch Rodeo grand entry will take place at 11 a.m. Sunday, and finish mid-afternoon.
“I feel strongly that the Bicentennial is not only significant to Fort Pierre, but to all of South Dakota and particularly West River,” Hanson said. “The Fort Pierre-Deadwood Trail was the only source of supplies for the Black Hills during Gold Rush days, and was the jumping off point for all points west for homesteaders.