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In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon, and President Thomas Jefferson organized a group commonly referred to as the "Lewis and Clark Expedition" to explore the newly-acquired region. The expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, would travel through the area twice along the Missouri River on their way to and from the Pacific Ocean.

In 1817, an American fur trading post was set up at present-day Fort Pierre, beginning continuous American settlement of the area. During the 1830s, fur trading was the dominant economic activity for the few Whites that lived in the area. Settlement by Americans and Europeans was by this time increasing rapidly, and in 1858 the Yankton Sioux signed the 1858 Treaty, ceding most of present-day eastern South Dakota to the United States.

An increasing population caused Dakota Territory to be divided in half and a bill for statehood for North Dakota and South Dakota (as well as Montana and Washington) titled the Enabling Act of 1889 was passed on February 22, 1889 during the Administration of Grover Cleveland. It was left to his successor, Benjamin Harrison, to sign proclamations formally admitting South Dakota to the Union on November 2, 1889.

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