Happy Birthday, Ft. Pierre: cowtown celebrates the old-fashioned way | TSLN.com

Happy Birthday, Ft. Pierre: cowtown celebrates the old-fashioned way

Yvonne Hollenbeck
for Tri-State Livestock News
A wagon train, led by Willie Cowan of Ft. Pierre Livestock, (left) and Terry DeRouchey, Hot Springs (right) and outrider Tate Cowan traversed the rough river breaks before arriving in town. Photos by Colleen McCurrin

The city of Ft. Pierre, South Dakota, just celebrated its 200th birthday and what a celebration it was.

The recent celebration in Ft. Pierre was a living history experience in its best form. To kick off the celebration, approximately a thousand people viewed the anticipated film, “Floating Horses: The Life of Casey Tibbs,” at the Riggs Theatre. This movie is receiving rave reviews at film festivals across the land and is destined to be hit after its official release. The film, in addition to the efforts of the Casey Tibbs Foundation and the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center, have played a major role in educating the public on the sport of rodeo and preserving its history…a vital part of South Dakota’s heritage.

The city of Ft. Pierre, its residents and many in the region spent untold hours preparing for the big birthday party and it was only fitting that the party joined forces with the sixth annual “Dakota Western Heritage Festival.”

Folks like Carmen Cowan-Magee and Gary Heintz, co-founders of the Dakota Western Heritage Festival, joined by Willy and Loretta Cowan, provided many educational programs for school students; dignitaries were honored; entertainment was provided; and Friday morning found approximately 200 people horseback along with 40 wagons, rolling out of the Stanley County Fairgrounds for a day long wagon train/trail ride through the hills west of Fort Pierre. Returning to Fort Pierre, they were joined by floats, bands, and many more wagons and buggies to form what many claimed to be the finest parade in the history of the area. Following the parade, a steak feed was held, hosted by the Hayes Fire Department.

Living history continued for the following two days as the Expo Center at the Stanley County Fairgrounds facilitated craftsmen demonstrating the making of wagon wheels, ropes, saddles, boots, knives, and rope spinning. A large display of E.C. Lee saddles and an assortment of all sorts of high quality vintage buggies and wagons was enjoyed my many, as well as vintage quilts and trade blankets. Not only were there many vendors of handmade products at the Expo Center, but Saturday found a large craft fair at the nearby Lilly Park. Old time cowboy musicians and poets provided ongoing entertainment which was culminated by a sold-out concert on Saturday evening by Susie Knight, R P Smith, and featured entertainer, Suzy Bogguss.

In addition to a Cowboy Church Service on Sunday morning, the demonstrations, exhibits, vendors and entertainment continued throughout the day, preceded by a brunch hosted by the Stirling Family. The Stirling Family Ranch Rodeo was also held on Sunday afternoon with a large attendance on hand to help wrap up a Bicentennial Celebration which will be long remembered and the lessons gleaned from this celebration will help preserve our western heritage for generations to come.

Although the Bicentennial of Fort Pierre has now become a part of the city’s history, the Dakota Western Heritage Festival is already planning its seventh annual event to be held in 2018, and will once again provide many of the same events that have made it one of the fastest growing and most historically accurate western festivals in the country. Although that community can boast about being one of the oldest continually established settlements on the Northern Plains, it also has been home to a number of events and individuals that is the envy of others.

If you would like a history lesson on the settlement of the lands comprising the Louisiana Purchase, a visit to Ft. Pierre can provide just that. When the U.S. purchased the 828,000 square miles of land from France in 1803, this heartland of the current United States became the future home to all of us in this tri-state region. In 1817, when Fort Pierre was established, the area had already been home to visits by French explorers, such as the LaVerendrye brothers, who in 1743 left an inscribed lead plate on one of the bluffs above the present day city. (The plate was discovered by a group of children in 1913 and is now on display at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.)

Because of the streams full of beaver and the large buffalo herds that roamed the area, it soon became evident that there was a need for a trading post along the Missouri River, and in 1817, Joseph LaFramboise built the post which was replaced in 1831 by Pierre Chouteau, Jr., a representative of the American Fur Company, and thus named “Ft. Pierre.”

In 1855, the U.S. Army purchased the fort to use as a military post, however, people continued to live at the site and Ft. Pierre continued to be an active trade area such as it remains today.

Not only was Ft. Pierre a center for trade, but also for navigation along the Missouri River, and through the years was home to many individuals important to the history of the country. From the French explorers to Native American negotiators, government officials to homestead locators, many matters important to the settlement of our country were discussed at Fort Pierre. Individuals such as Scotty Philip, who single-handedly saved the American Buffalo from extinction, to Casey Tibbs, who not only became a world champion cowboy, but without a doubt did more for the sport of rodeo than any individual known today. Many other notable and outstanding individuals once called Fort Pierre home.