History of Yankton

 History of Yankton, South Dakota

From its days as the Capital of the Dakota Territory to tales of The Old West, Yankton’s interesting and abundant history remains part of the community today.

1804 & 1806     The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through the Yankton area.

1859     The land was opened for settlement.

1861     Yankton was the first Dakota Territorial Capital until 1883. Established in June 6, 1861, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan is known as the oldest newspaper of the Dakotas.

1862     Fort Yankton was built by settlers.

1870s    Navigation via the Missouri River brought riverboats to the foot of present day Walnut Street. These riverboats carried immense tonnage and hundreds of passengers during the Gold Rush Days.

1873     The arrival of the Dakota Southern Railroad ushered out the riverboat era.

1873     Brevet-Major General George Armstrong Custer and the ill-fated Seventh Cavalry chose a temporary campsite north of the city on their way to the fatal battle of Little Big Horn. Upon his arrival it snowed – an episode pinpointed in local history as the Custer Blizzard of April 13, 1873.

1879     The state psychiatric hospital, now known at the South Dakota Human Services Center, was established.

1886     The Cramer Kenyon Heritage Home was built. It is the tallest Queen Anne home in South Dakota.

1896-1904     The South Dakota State Fair was held in Yankton.

1922     WNAX Radio began broadcasting in Yankton. Lawrence Welk launched his career at WNAX in 1927 through 1937.

1924     When the $1.3 million Meridian Bridge was completed, Yankton became known as the “Bridge City”.

1948     Yankton was the home to the first drive-in theatre in South Dakota. It was located in the area near the current Days Inn and had one screen with a 300 car capacity.

1955     Yankton adapts to the City Manager form of government.

1957     Yankton was designated an All-American City.

People throughout Yankton’s History

Lyle Alzado
Professional football player Lyle Alzado attended Yankton College. He played in the National Football League for the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Raiders.

Tom Brokaw
Yankton is the home of Tom Brokaw, former anchor of the NBC Nightly News. He graduated from Yankton High School in 1958.

Pierre Dorian
Pierre Dorian was the first white settler in the Yankton area. He lived among the Yankton Sioux at the time Lewis and Clark passed through in 1804. His grave was located by a local historian and a memorial marker was dedicated in 2002. The marker is located at the intersection of West 2nd Street and Riverside Drive.

William Jayne
The first governor of the Dakota Territory, William Jayne, was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln. Jayne served as Lincoln’s personal physician.

Jack McCall
Yankton was the trial and execution site of Jack McCall, convicted murderer of Wild Bill Hickok. McCall is rumored to be buried in Yankton with an unmarked grave.

Tommie White
Dr. Tommie Lee White, 1966 Yankton College graduate, has earned national and international recognition on the track field. He earned the “Outstanding Athlete of the Meet” at the Moscow Invitational in Russia for his performance and sportsmanship. He broke numerous collegiate, state and national track records in the high hurdles along with receiving several honors. 


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