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Pierre and Fort Pierre, South Dakota

Turtle Effigy

Turtle Effigy
Turtle Effigy
South Dakota State Historical Society

Turtle Effigy is a large stone alignment on the earth in the shape of a turtle. No one knows for sure who made the effigy. According to one story not attributed to a specific tribe, “An Arikara lookout surprised by a Sioux War party and badly wounded, took flight to warn his kinsmen. He ran about one-half mile before dying. The Sioux, admiring his bravery, placed a rock for each drop of his blood and constructed a cairn (pile of stones) where he died. They signed it with a tribal band insignia of a turtle."

Effigies are patterns and pictures on the land made by the careful placement of stones. More than 100 stone effigies have been found in South Dakota. Most are located on high bluffs and ridges. Although we know that American Indians created these sites, we understand little about why the effigies were made.  Archeologists believe that some effigies may be commemorative, marking significant places, people, or events. Others may have helped aid the hunt or held spiritual power. No one knows for sure, and many different stories often are associated with a single effigy.

Sites like the turtle effigy are special places and vulnerable to harm. A number of known effigies have been lost forever, because people removed the stones or damaged the design.

Plan your visit
The Turtle Effigy is located approximately three miles north of Pierre on SD Hwy 1804 on the south side of the highway. A highway historical marker is located at the foot of the driveway, marking the turnoff. The Turtle Effigy is on privately owned land, but the landowners invite you to respectfully visit the site. Please be considerate of their land and close all gates behind you. Proceed up the driveway and park on the top. Please keep your vehicle off the grass. Enter through the small metal gate to the left. Follow the ridge through the green gate on the hill and continue to the fenced-in area about 100 yards up the hill. The disturbance or relocation of any effigy stones is prohibited. Please be aware of snakes and livestock.
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