Hughes County is located in the approximate center of the state and of the
North American Continent. Hughes County was organized in November of 1880 and
named after Alexander Hughes. It ranks 45th in county size, with approximately
741 square miles. Pierre was selected as the county seat, and when the state
organized in 1889 it was also given the honor as the new capitol city.
Mitchell disputed Pierre's selection as state capitol for several years,
finally giving up the fight to have it changed about 1903. Due to its location
on the river (Missouri), it was an early center of river trade. In 1863, the
army established a post called Ft. Sully about four miles from what is now
Pierre. It was active there until it was moved north on the river to Sully
County in 1866. The very southern area of the county as set aside for the Crow
Creek Indian Reservation.
Some of the early settlers in the area were J. P. Laughlin, Joseph Reed,
Burt Dickey and Eva Dix. Prior to these hardy people there were many trappers
and hunters that came and went on the other areas, some stayed.
In 1883, three small communities were organized in Hughes County to the
east of Pierre. They were Blunt, Harrold and Canning. All had several
businesses in their early years and schools and postal service. Blunt and
Harrold still are active. In the 1890's Blunt had about 1,500 people with a
decline to about 500 in 1935. Both Harrold and Blunt had newspapers in the
1800's, and for some years after that. Originally the site of Canning was
called Paxton, and it was the little village of Paxton that in 1880 had the
first official post office. The first school district in the county was formed
in 1881 which started the operation of several area school houses. For about
six years Pierre had "Pierre University" in operation but due to
financial problems it was moved to Huron about 1898. In 1891, the "Pierre
Indian Leaning Center" was started under the name of the "Pierre
Indian School", and remains active to this time.
Early churches in the area were Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian. The first
organized church groups started about 1881.
The city of Pierre was organized in 1883 with a population of about 1,800.
With the coming of the railroad from the east in 1880 and its ferry business
across the river with Ft. Pierre to the west it established a busy trade
industry. Like all new towns it soon had many business ventures. One of the
earliest, if not the first settler of note in Pierre, was Anson Hilger. In
1887, the arrival of Charles I. Hyde was the beginning of one of the largest
family business operations that was notable in the area. Today, with the Oahe
Dam just upstream on the Missouri River, Pierre is a center of fishing and
water sport activity. The Cultural Heritage Center opened by the State of South
Dakota provides visitors with an interesting place to study the history of
The topography of Hughes County is varied from rolling plains to the more
rugged Missouri River Breaks. The area has nine soil associations, ranging from
deep loam type in the northwest to claypan and clayloam in the east central.
Crops vary with the markets but wheat, corn, soybeans and hay are the main
types through the years. Approximately 55% of the usable land is grazing for
livestock. Precipitation ranges on an average of 16-18 inches. Some irrigation
is now practiced along the river and Lake Oahe.