Flowing just north of here, Medicine Creek runs through the center of Lyman County, emptying into the Missouri River 27 miles (43 kilometers) to the northeast. The place-names of this Central South Dakota area read like an index to early state history — Medicine Creek, for example, took its name from a butte in Eastern Lyman County reputed to be the site of Indian ceremonials.
County and community names provide a look into territorial politics and plains expeditions. Lyman County derived its name from Major W.F. Lyman, a member of the 1872 Territorial Legislature which created the county, even though Lyman never lived in this area.
Hughes County, across the Missouri to the north, was named after another territorial legislator. Mellette County, southwest, honored the last territorial and first South Dakota governor. Stanley and Sully Counties, both north of here, were named after army generals of the pioneers era. Jones County, to the west, is a bit different; settlers named it after their home county in Iowa.
Railroads contributed their share of place-names to the country. The Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul chose a route west across South Dakota which generally parallels that taken by Interstate 90. As a result, many towns which sprang up have railroads names: Vibian, three miles (4.6 kilometers) west, was named for
the wife of a Milwaukee railroad representative. Draper, 17 miles (27 kilometers) west, is one of the few towns in America named for a railroad conductor.
To the northwest, an approximate 20-by-20 mile area of the Ft. Pierre National Grassland preserves the side-open look of the original Dakota prairie. Thirty-five miles (56 kilometers) north, Ft. Pierre and Pierre bear names recalling the furtraders who preceded settlement along the Missouri. Their names come from that of Pierre Chouteau, Jr., an agent of the American Fur Company in the 1930's. Ft. Pierre, on the west bank of the Missouri, has been continuously occupied site since 1817, originally as a fort or fur post before becoming a shipping center and cattle town. Pierre, the state capital, was founded on the east bank of the Missouri in 1880 when Chicago and Northwestern R.R. tracks reached the river.