The Wild & Scenic Middle Missouri River - 39 Mile District
The 39 Mile District of the Missouri National Recreational River encompasses the least developed stretch of the free flowing Missouri River in the United States, This driving tour starts at Chief Standing Bear Memorial Bridge close to Running Water, South Dakota and covers over 65 miles of roadway to Fort Randall Historic Site.
Click here for a printable PDF of the full 65 mile Wild & Scenic Missouri River Driving Tour
Click here for a Google Map of the Wild & Scenic Missouri River Driving Tour
Know Before You Go: The driving tour will take you in, around and through the bluffs and bottomlands of one the least developed stretches of the Missouri National Recreational River. Most of the driving takes place on winding, gravel roads or two lane, paved county roads. Make sure your car is in good working condition. There are few services along these roads and only the occasional rural farmstead. Cell phone coverage is spotty at best. Be sure to prepare accordingly. A front wheel drive car should do fine on these roads, four wheel drive is not needed, but do not attempt to travel on these roads during or after heavy rain and snow.
This driving tour will reveal the stunning view scape of the Middle Missouri River valley. Endless vistas stretch across the horizon. Thousands of acres of grass or farm field cover the landscape. A rich, complex history of Native Americans and homesteaders is still discernible in this area. It is a land where the past is ever present.
Mile 0.0 - Chief Standing Bear Memorial Bridge Overlook. Take a left out of parking lot. Head north on South Dakota Highway 37
The Bridge is named after Ponca Indian Chief Standing Bear who won a landmark court case that brought greater civil rights for Native Americans. The case arose from the U.S. Government's decision to remove the Ponca from their traditional homeland. In 1877, the federal government decided to remove the Ponca Indians to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).
The Ponca were a small tribe living on the west bank of the Missouri River and along what are now the lower Niobrara River and Ponca Creek in northeast Nebraska. Standing Bear, a tribal leader, protested his tribe's eviction. Federal troops enforced the removal orders, with the result that the Ponca arrived in Indian Territory in the summer of 1878.The death of Chief Standing Bear's sixteen-year old son in late December 1878 set in motion the event which was to bring a measure of justice and worldwide fame to the chief and his small band of followers. Wanting to honor his son's last wish to be buried in the land of his birth and not in a strange country where his spirit would wander forever,
Standing Bear gathered a few members of his tribe-mostly women and children-and started for the Ponca homeland in the north. Because Indians were not allowed to leave their reservation without permission, Standing Bear and his followers were labeled a renegade band. The Army, on the order of The Secretary of the Interior, arrested them and took them to Fort Omaha, the intention being to return them to Indian Territory.
The case of Standing Bear v. Crook decided in 1879 is a landmark court decision that was the beginning of civil rights for Native Americans. The case was decided in favor of Standing Bear, reasoning that he and his band were indeed "persons" under the law, entitled to sever tribal connections and were free to enjoy the rights of any other person in the land. The government appealed Dundy's decision, but the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the case, leaving Standing Bear and his followers free in the eyes of the law.
(Visitor's note: There are multiple wayside exhibits at the overlook which tell the story of transportation along this stretch of the Missouri River as well as the Lewis and Clark Expedition's adventures in the immediate area.
Mile 4.7 - Go left onto Bon Homme County Road 20 (314th Avenue)
Click here for The Wild And Scenic Middle Missouri River Driving Tour Mile 4.7 to Mile 31.3