Clay County, South Dakota

County History

1881 Article, History of Southeastern Dakota

1885 Article

1885 Newspapers Published



HISTORY OF Southeastern Dakota, Its Settlement and Growth,
Sioux City Iowa: Western Publishing Company, 1881


This fertile and well-settled county was among those organized by the first Legislative Assembly. It is situated in the southeastern corner of Dakota, and is the second county reached on coming into the Territory. It is bounded on the north by Turner and Lincoln Counties, on the east by Union County, on the west by Yankton County, and on the south by the Missouri River. It is about eighteen miles wide, east and west, and twenty-five miles north and

The surface of Clay County resembles that of Union and Yankton, the southern portion being level bottom lands along the Missouri River, varying in width from one to fifteen miles, and the northern portion gently rolling prairie. Near the center of the county, near the Vermillion River, is the " Spirit Mound," mentioned by Lewis & Clarke in the journal of their exploring expedition up the Missouri in 1804. This mound is a regular cone-shaped hill, with smooth sides, and is nowise remarkable except for the
Indian legends and traditions concerning it. It can be seen for many miles on the prairie, and is a prominent land-mark to travelers.

The soil is extremely fertile, yielding bountiful crops of wheat, corn, oats, and in fact all kinds of grain or vegetables grown in this latitude. There is probably no difference between the soils of any of the lower counties. What is said of one county will generally apply to all.

The county is well watered by the Missouri and Vermillion Rivers and Clay Creek, which is a tributary of the Vermillion. Springs are numerous in the uplands, especially along the bluffs, where the uplands and lowlands meet. On the bench land above Vermillion, although the ground is fifty feet above the bed of the Missouri, excellent wells of never failing water are obtained by digging only 15 or 20 feet.

The date of the county organization is April 10, 1862. The present County Officers are as follows: Commissioners—C. N. Taylor, F. Taylor, W. Lowry. Sheriff—G. H. McDonald. Register of Deeds—H. E. Hanson. Treasurer—W. Shriner. Judge of Probate— H. A. Copeland. Clerk of Courts—S. W. Kidder. Superintendent of Schools—C. C. Bridgman.

The first settlements of Clay County were made at Vermillion in 1869, by James McHenry, P. H. Jewell, M. Robinson and L. E. Phelps. A. C. VanMeter, Hugh Campton and Jacob Deuel were also among the first settlers. Outside of the town of Vermillion, the first settlements were made on the bluffs above Vermillion, and also along the Missouri west of Vermillion. Capt. Nelson Miner and family are among the earliest settlers of Clay County. W. W. Benedict, B. E. Wood and James Whitehorn were among the early settlers of the county west of Vermillion. Other portions of
the county were settled previous to the stampede, and were abandoned in 1862 and 1863.

Compiled by O. H. Holt


Clay county is situated on the Missouri river, near the southeast corner of the Territory. The area, including several of the large islands in the Missouri, is about 409 square miles, or 261,760 acres. Clay has the smallest area of any county in Dakota, but is a very important one, by virtue of its geographical position and the fine character of its soil. The Missouri river washes its southern boundary for a distance of nearly thirty miles. The Vermillion river passes through this county in nearly a southerly direction, discharging into the Missouri at Vermillion. Marshes of considerable extent occupy part of the western portion, but generally the county has good tillable land.

The bluffs along the Missouri rise seventy or eighty feet at Vermillion, and those on the Vermillion river are of a similar character but of less altitnde.

"Spirit Mound," near the centre of the county, is a cone-shaped elevation which rises to a height of several hundred feet.

There are numerous springs and a few small streams in the county, which is well watered.

The surface mainly consists of gently rolling prairie land; considerable timber fringes the borders of the Missouri.

The Sioux City and Dakota division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway traverses the southern portion of the county.

Vermillion is the county seat and a town of much importance. It was originally settled in 1859 but was not incorporated until 1876. It was first located upon the Missouri river bottom land, but was entirely swept away by the flood in the spring of 1881, and the new and present site is upon a high bluff. Vermillion now has a population of nearly 1,500, and contains a number of unusually attractive buildings. The most important of these is the University of Dakota, which has been erected at a cost,
so far, of $30,000. and will, when completed, cost $75,000. Other prominent structures are, the new public school building, which cost $15,000, a fine court house, city hall, jail, etc.

Newspapers Published in Clay County in 1885

Compiled by O. H. Holt

Dakota Republican, Rep......Vermillion
Plain Talk..................... Vermillion