South Dakota's rich western heritage has been remembered along the interstate highway system at safety rest areas and tourist information centers.
The eight pillars which thrust skyward here merge in the framework of a tipi, the Plains Indian home. The one-by-one-and-one-half foot concrete lodge poles rise fifty-six feet in the air and weigh six-and-one-half tons each. The structures were executed in an architectural manner reflecting the spartan life lifestyle of the nomadic Lakota (Sioux) Nation.
The Coteau des Prairie country to the south of this rest area was one of the parts of South Dakota first settled by the Lakota tribes. The Coteau country was formed by the last great glacier which reached across South Dakota as far as the Missouri River. As it melted, thousands of ground-out potholes became glacial lakes. To the southeast, Lake Traverse and Big Stone represent remnants of a mighty river which drained archaic Lake Agassiz in Canada.
Between Lake Traverse and Big Stone Lake is the continental divide separating waters flowing to Hudson's Bay and those flowing to the Gulf of Mexico.
Fur traders and voyageurs found this lake country to be prime trapping and trading territory; they may have arrived in the area as early as 1679. At that time the Santee Sioux, consisting of the Wahpeton, Sisseton, Mdewakanton, and Wahpekute tribes were moving into the lakes region. Nearly two centuries later the Santee ceded this part of South Dakota to the United States in the treaty of Traverse des Sioux, 1851.
The U.S. Army established one of its earliest military posts in South Dakota in 1804, at Fort Sisseton, 36 miles (57 Kilometers) southwest of here. That post was abandoned by the army in 1889, and is now a South Dakota state park. Actual white settlement did not begin until the reservation area of the Sisseton-Wahpeton was opened in 1892.