People move. They move to improve their lives. To move, they use
whatever means of transportation available. More than 25,000 years
ago, prehistoric animals, like the mastodon, and the people who
hunted them crossed the land bridge from Asia to Alaska and south
into the rest of North America, and even farther to South America.
On pre-historic plains, later called South Dakota, ancestors of
present-day Native Americans walked to get where they wanted to
find better places to live and hunt, Native Americans had only one
transportation option—their feet—until the middle of
the 17th century. At that time, Spanish military explorers and missionaries
brought with them an animal that would dramatically change life
in the Americas. From Spanish missions, Native Americans acquired
horses. On horseback, Native Americans could move more quickly and
more easily. They could hunt buffaloes across broader ranges, killing
more selectively. They could find better places to live, and better
ways to fight.
For hundreds of years the horse was the best land transportation
technology there was. In 1858, the first non-stop stagecoach trip,
from St. Louis to Los Angeles, almost 2600 miles, took 20 days.
Two years later, the Pony Express covered 1966 miles, galloping
from St. Louis to Sacramento, in 11 days. Horses pulled plows, buggies,
barges—everything a human could not. Without this literal
horsepower, transportation would have been nearly impossible.
Eventually, though, horses were replaced. From 1862 to 1883, railroad
companies built the infrastructure for train travel; soon, train
tracks and trains crisscrossed North America, bringing thousands
of emigrants to once-remote land. It took 19 years for the Northern
Pacific Railroad to complete its system. The expansion of rail transportation
coincided with the decline of the buffalo: from an estimated 60
million at the beginning of the century, the gigantic herds had
been reduced to 2000 animals.
Like horses, trains were replaced by another transportation innovation:
As automobiles improved (and became more affordable), so did roads
and highways. The U.S. Highway System led to the Eisenhower Interstate
System, further opening up the country. People could move around
South Dakota and the nation like never before. As cars and the roads
spread, one more innovation soon started to have an impact on how
In the 1930s commercial air service reached most corners of the
United States, including South Dakota. Airline passenger traffic
volume, the number of miles people travel by plane, increased by
1700 % from 1954 to 2001. More than ever, people are moving. Whether
the transportation is planes, trains or automobiles, horses or on
foot, it is a vital aspect of daily life.