The Settlement of Flandreau

The Flandreau Colony

Indians have inhabited Moody County for thousands of years. The large number of arrowheads, hatchet and hammerheads and other Indian artifacts found are evidence of their presence. The burial mounds south of Trent contain Indian remains and are evidence that a permanent village endured for a considerable time along the Big Sioux River.

Indians traversed this prairie and river-bottom land to fish, hunt and trap for furs. Many traded their furs for needed items. As early as 1683, French traders searching for rich trapping areas mapped the valley of the Big Sioux. In 1701 a trading party in the employ of French explorer Le Sueur visited the Big Bend in the river well known as a favorable camping spot to Indians traveling through Dakota. There on a high hill above the river they built a trading post. In 1822 Joseph La Framboise, a French explorer who had built a trading post on the Missouri at Ft. Pierre, came to the Big Bend and built a trading post on the south bank of the Big Bend near the present site of Flandreau. That post operated continuously until 1840.

The 1851 treaty ceded land from the falls of the Big Sioux to Big Stone Lake. In 1857 the Dakota Land Company laid out a town site northeast of the present site on the north bank of the Big Bend. When the Santee families moved from Nebraska to take up homesteads they located along the river as far as twenty miles to the north and south of the old town site. They called the settlement Riverbend.

Fifteen families walked from Santee, Nebraska, in March 1869. One woman perished in a snowstorm on the walk to the Big Bend. They trapped, hunted and fished. With hoes they began farming. For the next few years they struggled to improve their conditions without government aid.


As indicated, Flandreau has been in different locations and has had different names and spellings since its founding in the spring of 1857 by the Dakota Land Company of St. Paul, Minnesota. The company laid out the town site probably on the Big Bend of the Big Sioux River several miles east and north of Flandreau's present location. Under pressure from Chief Smutty Bear and the Yankton Sioux, the site was abandoned and destroyed after one year.

The site was name for Charles E. Flandrau, a Sioux agent and territorial judge. Flandrau had been instrumental in securing the rescue of two captives of Inkpaduta of the Wahpekute tribe after the Spirit Lake massacre in northwestern Iowa. Shortly before Flandrau was founded, the Indians had fled over the Big Sioux at Big Bend where one of the captives, Mrs. Thatcher, was killed. Friendly Indians rescued the remaining hostages with money raised by Flandrau. He was later an organizer of the defense of New Ulm, Minnesota, against the Indian uprising in 1862.

The Indians called the first post office in 1871 River Bend. Its location is uncertain. David Faribault was the first postmaster and was succeeded by Marshall Morse. From January to July 1873 the post office was called West Bend with F.W. Pettigrew as postmaster. It was later moved to the new site of Flandreau that had been homesteaded by Pettigrew and where the first legal office was located.

When the new village was platted, the name was spelled Flandreau. In 1880 the townspeople made efforts to omit the "e" in accordance with the correct spelling of Judge Flandrau's name. In 1891 the Moody County Enterprise returned to the previous spelling with no explanation for changing the name a second time. The Flandreau Herald in 1882 took up and continued the spelling of Flandreau, as we know it today.

In 1869, Charles K. Howard, pioneer businessman from Sioux Falls, opened a trading post with Clark Coats to deal with the Indians. Additional white settlers came to join the established colony of Christian Santee homesteaders along the Big Sioux. The Indian Presbyterian Church was erected in 1871. In 1873 Marshall Morse established a general store. M.D.L. Pettigrew and his family were the first white family to homestead. They settled south of Flandreau. F.W. Pettigrew homesteaded much of the land that is now the town of Flandreau.

Between the years 1869 and 1872, the population of Flandreau doubled. The grasshopper plagues and other difficulties slowed its growth for several years, but then the settlement pace quickened. In 1878 Flandreau had three general stores, one drug store, one hardware store, two hotels, three real estate offices, one newspaper, one livery, one harness shop, two blacksmiths, two saloons, one barber shop and one meat market. It also had a mill, dam and two flour mills. The terrible winter of 1880-81 and the resulting spring flooding caused considerable damage to mills and property all along the Big Sioux.

The city of Flandreau was official organized in 1879. Records indicate that it is the oldest town in the county. In the same year offers were made by the Southern Minnesota and Black Hills railroads, to build a line to Flandreau. Hopes were high that the two lines would extend to Flandreau by winter. It was not until January 1880, however, that the first train was run into Flandreau by the Southern Minnesota line of the Milwaukee Railroad. The company continued the line to Egan, which was organized in 1881. Egan and the surrounding area made a strong bid for the county seat but was defeated in a county election. Flandreau was officially declared the county seat in 1881 and the first county courthouse was erected in 1882.

The railroad opened up the Dakotas to immigration and replaced boats and wagons as the primary means of travel and settlement. Moody County and Flandreau shared in the rapid increase of population during the Dakota Boom of the 1880's. Population growth was not spectacular but in 1913 Flandreau could boast of over 50 places of business. Included were three banks, two weekly newspapers, two wagon shops, the government Indian school (the Riggs Institute), an opera house, moving picture shows, eight churches, water power, electric lights, two hotels, a flour mill, creamery, foundry and automobile garages.

The first newspaper in Flandreau was the Moody County Enterprise. A.M. Fink began the weekly in june of 1878 with J.H. Smith as editor. H.M. Williamson bought it in April 1879. The Flandreau Herald is said to have begun in 1882 as a result of a political campaign by the renowned R.F. Pettigrew of Sioux Falls. Dissatisfied that the Enterprise was so critical of his campaign to become territorial representative, Pettigrew saw to it that a rival newspaper was launched to give him a voice in the political affairs of the county. Pettigrew later withdrew his candidacy at the convention in Bismarck but was a prominent political figure in early territorial politics and later was to become a U.S. Senator from South Dakota.