Ranching and Rodeo History
1878 through 1886 marked “The Great Dakota Boom.” The promise of land drove pioneers and settlers into the area – including the Ingalls family which settled in De Smet, South Dakota. South Dakota was later a prominent piece in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of five famous books.
Ranchers in South Dakota faced many trials during the early years of settlement. The severe winter of 1886-1887 destroyed major herds of cattle. This spurred the trend of owning smaller herds allowing ranches to provide winter shelter and feeding. At this time, the cattle grazed across public lands and were only rounded up for branding and shipment to market. Droughts plagued the state for many years and caused people to emigrate away. Even though the expansion of the Milwaukee railroad encouraged agriculture expansion, many farmsteads were left abandoned in fear that the drought would never end.
Despite the looming fear of drought in the early settlement days, South Dakota has proven to be a great state of agriculture. Ranching continues to be the “West River’s” predominant agricultural activity. The fertile soil throughout “East River” has allowed a variety of crops to grow abundantly.
With spring calving well underway in South Dakota, it is branding time throughout the state. The history of branding and branding in South Dakota is long. Branding dates back to as early as ancient times. Greeks and Romans used hot irons to mark ownership of their livestock just as ranchers do today. Branding was brought to North America with the arrival of Europeans, in particular the Spanish. Spaniard’s, who had large cattle grazing region, began utilizing this useful identification method. The American West followed soon after. After heating a branding iron in fire until hot they would press the unique iron upon the hide of the cow. Cattle owned by multiple ranches could then graze freely together on the open range; the owner could still identify their livestock at round-up time.
Hot iron branding is still the most popular method still used today. Another type of branding has emerged – freeze branding – even though not all states recognize it as a valid form of branding. Branding is a very important part of ranching; it proves ownership for lost and stolen animals.
The Black Hills Journal (now the Rapid City Journal) initially went to press on November 13, 1880 as a way to publish cattle brands throughout South Dakota. Brand laws for South Dakota’s Dakota Territory date back to 1862. In 1886, the Black Hills Journal began to publish daily news and soon thereafter began reporting events. In 1898-99 the Brand Book, published by the newly formed Brand and Mark Committee, had 2,066 registered brands in South Dakota. Currently, the Brand Board Office exists and maintains a record of over 26,000 registered livestock brands. Every five years all brands registered in South Dakota are renewed by the owners of the brand.
To find out more information about South Dakota brands in particular, the South Dakota State Brand Board’s website great resource http://www.sdbrandboard.com/default.asp.
Another piece of South Dakota’s Old West history still lives on – the rodeo. The rodeo is South Dakota’s official state sport. There are many rodeos that take place in South Dakota every year, some include PRCA Xtreme Bulls Div. 1, Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo, Casey Tibbs Match of Champions, Rosebud Casino PRCA Rodeo, Crazy Horse Stampede, High School State Finals, Sitting Bull Stampede, Black Hills Roundup, Wall Rodeo, Burke Rodeo, Dupree Pioneer Days Rodeo, Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, Days of ’76, Central States Fair Rodeo, and the First Chance Bonanza.
Many world famous rodeo champions have history in South Dakota. Casey Tibbs has one of the greatest rodeo champion stories. Tibbs was born 50 miles northwest of Fort Pierre, South Dakota. He was the youngest man ever to win the saddle bronc-riding crown. In just seven years he had won a total of six PRCA saddle-bronc riding championships – a record that has yet to be broken. A new museum stands in his memory, The Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center, located in Fort Pierre.
Discover more history of South Dakota’s Old West in communities throughout South Dakota. Museums throughout the state provide a detailed account of South Dakota’s history. Plan your journey to discovery at www.TravelSD.com.