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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading


Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

historic site Spirit Mound
South Dakota

Location: Clay County, just west of S. Dak. 19, about 8 miles north of Vermillion.

Spirit Mound
Spirit Mound. (Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.)

On a stiflingly hot day, August 25, 1804, Lewis and Clark and nine other men, thirsty and tired, trudged northward a few miles from the Missouri to visit this distinctive conical mound. The Indians in the vicinity, who never visited the place themselves, said it was the residence of devils—18-inch-high dwarves with extraordinarily large heads, who were armed with sharp arrows they used to kill any intruders.

The explorers encountered no dwarves or other spirits, but from the top of the hill they beheld what Clark termed a "most butifull landscape." Visible in all directions were herds of buffalo and timber-less plains, which extended on the north as far as the eye could see.

Formerly an agricultural area in private ownership, with cattle, instead of buffalo, grazing on the plains, in 1986 a local group incorporated the Spirit Mound Trust, dedicating its efforts to save the mound as a public resource. In cooperation with the National Park Service, South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, the 320 acres of Spirit Mound Historic Prairie became part of the South Dakota state park system in 2001. The prairie has been replanted with native prairie grasses and flowers—the farm buildings and trees have been removed in an effort re-create, as much as possible, the way it appeared when Lewis and Clark passed through.

Last Updated: 11-Oct-2005