History of Yankton
Transplanted Americans soon followed when, in 1804, explorers Lewis & Clark passed through on their journey west. General George Custer and his calvary also camped near Yankton in 1876 before their fateful battle with the Native Americans took place in Montana.
The wild west visited Yankton one year later in 1877 when the killer of Wild Bill Hickok, Jack McCall was hanged after his trial in town. McCall is buried in Yankton cemetery.
Steam boats passed through Yankton from the 1860s to the 1880s carrying explorers, workers and cargo. Several prominent ship captains decided to dock in Yankton and call it home. Grant Prince March is one of those men who contributed to the sprinkling of historical homes throughout Yankton.
The Benedictine Sisters soon followed to bring religion to the growing town of Yankton. They arrived in 1887 and more than a century later have contributed to the community with a regional medical center, Mount Marty College, monastery and chapel.
The Meridian Bridge, a long-time sight of the Yankton skyline, connected Yankton and Nebraska in 1924.
Big name entertainers and politicians found their start at WNAX radio, which began broadcasting in 1922. U.S. Senator Chan Gurney spread his message about aviation and Missouri River dams on WNAX. Musical giant Lawrence Welk brought his band to Yankton and received national recognition from WNAX’s coverage.
The 1950s saw the creation of Gavins Point Dam, a part of the federal flood control project known as the Pick-Sloan Plan. Now one of the busiest recreation areas for fishing, swimming, boating and hiking, the Lewis & Clark Lake area greets visitors from all over. The Lake area is also home to the bald eagle and many rare and native fish species.
Famous humans are also part of Yankton’s history. NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw grew up in Yankton and graduated from the University of South Dakota, down the road in Vermillion. Co-creator of South Dakota Magazine Bernie Hunhoff resides in Yankton. Yankton’s 1998 Citizen of the Year Bob Karolevitz lives in nearby Mission Hill, but is well-known as a South Dakota historian.
Whether it is an interest in nature or history that brings one to Yankton, there are endless sights and attractions to satisfy visitors.
History At A Glance
Residents and visitors alike can revel in Yankton’s historical past. Whether at Lewis & Clark Lake or in downtown Yankton, there are many reminders of the events that have shaped Yankton. Here are highlights that span Yankton’s lifetime:
* Government met in Yankton, the first capital of Dakota Territory, from 1862 to 1883. Originally at Fourth and Capitol, a replica of the Territorial Capitol stands at Riverside Park.
* On their famous trek westward, Lewis & Clark camped at the mouth of the James River in 1804, near present-day Yankton.
* Pierre Durian, Sr., the first white settler of the territory, was buried in Yankton in 1780.
* In 1873 General George Custer and his Seventh Calvary camped at Eighth and Burleigh just before the Last Stand at Little Big Horn.
* The first structure across the Missouri River in South Dakota – Meridian Bridge (now our walking bridge) – was built in 1924.
* The American flag was raised for the first time in 1804 at Calumet Bluff, opposite the city on the Nebraska side.
* First Dakota National Bank, the first and oldest bank, opened in 1872.
* On Aug. 2, 1876, “Wild Bill” Hickock was shot and killed by the infamous Jack McCall in Deadwood, Dakota Territory (South Dakota). After bragging about his act, he was apprehended and sent to Yankton to stand trial. McCall was convicted and hung in 1877 two miles north of Yankton. He was buried in an unmarked grave in a Yankton cemetery.
* In 1875, Yankton High School became the first high school in the Dakotas.
* The Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan is the oldest daily newspaper in South Dakota. It was the first in Dakota Territory, founded in 1861 as a weekly and became a daily in 1875.
* Yankton College was the first institution of higher learning founded in Dakota Territory in 1881, eight years before South Dakota became a state. Yankton College closed in 1984 and was later sold. The campus was converted into a minimum security Federal Prison Camp in 1988.
* Sacred Heart Hospital began operating in 1887.
* The Great Northern Railway Depot was constructed in 1892.
* The first medical clinic in South Dakota opened on the corner of Douglas and Fourth in 1914.
* Mount Marty Academy started its academic career with 37 students in 1922.
* Mount Marty College graduated their first students in 1951.
Courtesy of Yankton Press and Dakotan