The rich farm country of southeast South Dakota lies in the triangle formed as the Missouri River, to the west, and the Big Sioux River, east of here, flow toward their confluence about 37 miles southeast of this point. This was the land that drew settlers to Dakota Territory.
What may have been the number one entry in the entire United States under the Homestead Act was filed near here. Just minutes after midnight on Jan. 1, 1863, when the Homestead Act went into effect, Vermillion printer Mahlon Core filed his claim for 159 1/2 acres on a site about seven miles due east of here, some three and one-half miles north of present-day S.D. Highway 50. Although he gained a measure of fame for filing first, he never proved up his claim and it lapsed. Most of the early settlement in South Dakota occurred in this southeast corner of the state. Sioux Falls, the state's largest city, 50 miles north, was settled in 1857. To the west, Vermillion was established in 1859, Yankton in 1858.
Highway 50, which runs east-west past this rest area, forms a corridor in time to Territorial days of South Dakota. Union County, Clay County, and Yankton County along this Highway were among the earliest to be organized in Dakota Territory, in 1862. Their names were reminiscent of the times. Union County originally called Cole, was renamed in 1864 because of northern sentiment existing during the Civil War. Clay County took its name from the famed senator Henry Clay. Yankton County derived Its title from the Sioux tribe which gave up that area in an 1859 land cession.
The city of Yankton, 33 miles west along the Missouri River, was a major steamboat port in Dakota Territory. That status helped make it the capital city of Dakota from 1861-1883. Yankton has often been called the "Mother City of the Dakotas" and it retains much of the luster of those days.
Education was a key interest with early legislators. Vermillion , eight miles west of here on Highway 50, exhibits that in the University of South Dakota. Vermillion was designated at the site for the territorial university in 1862, although the institution (then called University of Dakota) did not begin classes until 1882, with 35 students. When South Dakota entered the union in 1889, Vermillion found itself the proud home of the University of South Dakota.