Bone-chilling cold held Fort Pierre, South Dakota, in its icy grip the evening of January 27, 2010, as six men met in the city’s cozy Log Cabin Information Center.
I don’t live in Fort Pierre, but in Pierre, its neighbor across the Missouri River, so I invited experts to help me describe what it’s like to live in this historic Western town: Sam Tidball, Fort Pierre’s mayor, Darby Nutter, cowboy and president of the Verendrye Museum, Zay Norman, rancher, Mike Pellerzi, cowboy, and John Duffy, historian.
Surrounded by pioneer artifacts, antique saddles and old photos of Fort Pierre buildings and citizens, we had a free-flowing discourse on Fort Pierre. Below is only the tip of the iceberg of Fort Pierre’s history and what you’ll find here today. By the way, Fort Pierre is pronounced “Fort Peer.”
Population: 2,400 people and “10,000 cattle on Fridays,” John Duffy says. Friday is sale day at the Fort Pierre Livestock Auction.
What’s the latest gossip? “We’re working the Scotty Philip Trail Ride,” Darby Nutter says. The ride takes place in 2011 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Philip, one of the few people who helped save the buffalo from extinction, at his pasture several miles north of town.
Good Cowboy Bar: Duffy’s Chateau Lounge, where, Mike Pellerzi says, six-time PRCA bronc-riding champion Casey Tibbs, stock contractor Erv Korkow and other rodeo cowboys met in 1955 to form the South Dakota Rodeo Association.
Popular Local Hangout: Dave Dahl’s Diamond D Saddle Shop. Ticked off by a couple of locals, Calamity Jane shot holes into the ceiling that now houses the saddle shop, Nutter says.
Favorite Local Cuisine: “That would be steak and Budweiser,” Nutter says. Find good steak at Chateau Lounge, roast beef at Chuckwagon Café and walleye at McClelland’s (outside of town, north on Highway 1806, the year Lewis and Clark returned down the Missouri River).
Best Bookstore of the West: “Well, I guess this is where we give Pierre a plug,” says Mayor Sam Tidball. Prairie Pages offers “lots of excellent Western books.”
Best Spot to View Wildlife: View buffalo at: Ted Turner’s ranch west of town on the Bad River Road, Triple U Ranch on Highway 1806 where Kevin Costner filmed many of the scenes from Dances With Wolves and at the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe’s Buffalo Interpretive Center south of town.
Historic site schoolchildren visit: The Verendrye Monument, where in 1913 several schoolchildren found a lead plate Chevalier and Louis Verendrye left in 1743, claiming this area for France.
Do-Not-Miss Attraction: The Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center, devoted to the history and stars of South Dakota rodeo.
Old West Attractions: Verendrye Museum, with its pioneer and ranch items, including original ox yokes used on the Fort Pierre to Deadwood Trail. “Our grandfathers put it together to preserve our culture,” Zay Norman says.
The Fort Pierre Monument, a mile north of Fort Pierre, is the site of Fort Pierre Choteau Jr., built in 1832, a major outpost of the American Fur Company.
Cedar Hill Cemetery, where George the Kid and Black Dick are among the Old West characters, ranchers and soldiers buried here.
Popular Local Event: “We know how to celebrate the Fourth! Mayor Tidball says. The morning starts with a parade that, Nutter boastss, has “got to be the longest parade in South Dakota” followed by rodeos in the afternoon and night (with fireworks).
Average House Cost: $127,419. Realtor Cathy Sonnenschein says Fort Pierre has “become a desirable place to live because of new development along the Missouri River with its waterfront access.”
Average Temperature: Summer: 89°F to 62°F; Winter: 28°F to 3°F.
Who knows Fort Pierre’s history best? I consider John Duffy and Darby Nutter a modern-day version of Lewis and Clark exploring Fort Pierre’s past.
In Fort Pierre, everyone knows: Ed Duffy (okay, he’s John’s uncle, but that’s beside the point), because he’s been serving whiskey and beef for 65 years at the Chateau Lounge.
Preservation Project: Finished the restoration of Fort Pierre’s 1890 jail, with plans to focus on preserving Fort Pierre’s downtown next.
Neighborly Love: “People are good at helping each other here,” Mayor Tidball says. “The city just sent two portable generators to Eagle Butte where they lost electricity in the recent blizzard.” Eagle Butte is a city on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation north of Fort Pierre. “That’s right,” Norman agrees. “People still know how to neighbor in Fort Pierre and the surrounding country.”