Yankton’s Bridges and the Missouri River

Credit and many thanks to:  Dave Tunge, Dakota Aerials


Unfolding on the banks of the Missouri River, in the southeastern portion of what was known as the Dakota Territory, is the town named E-Hank-Ton-Wan (“people of the end village”) by our Native American brothers and sisters. Over time it became known as Yankton and was named the capital of the Dakota Territory, newly created on March 2, 1861 by President James Buchanan.


The river has always been the epicenter of life in Yankton. The Yankton Sioux Tribe resided here. And in 1804 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met with the tribal members on nearby Calumet Bluff on their way to explore the Louisiana Purchase. Here is where many steamboats stopped to deliver supplies and pick up provisions. When gold was discovered in the Black Hills many persons of colorful character likely stepped ashore in Yankton as well. While gold may have ceased to be the big draw, the colorful individuals never left. The first bridge constructed over the river in 1924 connected our town to Nebraska and introduced a certain Cornhusker flavor. The Meridian Bridge still proudly straddles the Missouri but has been made into a pedestrian bridge. It is a must-see double-deck structure sporting a clever drawbridge section. The Dakota Southern Railway steamed into Yankton in 1873, thereby expanding transportation options. U.S. Highway 81 passes through Yankton as does S.D. Highway 50. Interstate 29 is 30 miles to the east. 55 miles north of Yankton is Interstate 90, upon which one may zoom along at an astounding 80mph.


Up river just a bit is Gavin’s Point Dam, constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. This is the last dam on the Missouri and provides electricity and plenty of recreational opportunities for Yankton residents and visitors alike. The reservoir and surrounding land is home to a beautiful state park that greets many campers. One will also find a well-equipped marina and numerous water sport opportunities. Archery has also found a niche in our community. World Indoor Archery Championships are held here as well as international outdoor tournaments.


 Our community’s citizens strongly support local education.  Yankton Public Schools teaches 2,700 students, kindergarten through 12th graders, with four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. We also have Sacred Heart Catholic school, which offers pre-kindergarten through 8th grade schooling. Missouri Valley Christian Academy has approximately 50 kindergarten through 8th grade students.  Yankton is also home to institutions of higher education.  Mount Marty is a private Catholic Benedictine four-year liberal arts college that also has locations in Sioux Falls and Watertown.  Yankton’s campus serves 500 students. The Regional Technical Education Center is operated by Yankton School District. It provides training and education for regional employers. Its welding program is well-equipped and popular.


Yankton College, founded in 1881, was also once part of the educational scene in the community. It was the first institution of higher learning in the Dakota Territory. The college closed in 1984 and its photogenic campus was repurposed into a federal minimum-security prison.


High on a bluff, west of downtown and overlooking the Mighty Mo, the Benedictine Sisters constructed the picturesque Sacred Heart Monastery with its impressive chapel. Contiguous to the monastery are Sacred Heart Hospital, the area’s largest employer, and Mount Marty College. The hospital is part of the Avera Hospital System with headquarters in Sioux Falls. Yankton Medical Clinic is across the street from the hospital and is home to many fine doctors and nurses.


Our 14,552 residents enjoy many green spaces, with more than 14 parks facilitating an active lifestyle. Memorial Park Pool is hopping during the summer with great facilities for families. Unemployment is quite low at 2.6% and cost of living is calculated at 93.6% of the national average.


Hometown publications include The Yankton Press and Dakotan, the longest-running daily newspaper in the four states that comprised the Dakota Territory. South Dakota Magazine is published here, too. Thumb through its pages to find breathtaking photography and myriad well-scribed stories.


Jack McCall was hanged and buried here, the territorial capital, after shooting and killing Wild Bill Hickok. However, many less dangerous but no less interesting, folks have called Yankton their home. Tom Brokaw graduated from Yankton High School. The Culligan Man, Emmett Culligan, was born here. Lawrence Welk rose to national fame thanks to Yankton’s WNAX radio broadcasts. NFL great Lyle Alzado played football at Yankton College.


The Mother City of the Dakotas awaits intrepid travelers. Take time to stroll across the Meridian Bridge and watch the swirls and eddies of Yankton’s soulful river. A friendly Yanktonian is sure to stop to chat about the weather. See for yourself what Lewis and Clark wrote about.