It all was almost lost - the entire town - to a hideous epidemic: Smallpox.

Jefferson, South Dakota is a 'gateway' of sorts to many folks driving up Interstate 29 from Iowa.

Jefferson is home to 500+ friendly folks and is part of what's called the Sioux City, IA-NE-SD Metropolitan Statistical Area.

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Jefferson South Dakota
Credit: Google Maps

For high school sports fans (and historians) in the Mount Rushmore State, the first phrase that comes to mind when they think of Jefferson is, perhaps, 'girls basketball'.

If you love great food, racing, maybe their annual 'Days of '59' celebration, or just a relaxing time visiting with friendly South Dakotans, well, make a stop in Jefferson and say 'Howdy'!

And it all was almost lost - the entire town - to a hideous epidemic: Smallpox.

Jefferson South Dakota
Credit: Google Maps

The town was founded in 1859 (hence the annual 'Days of '59' celebration), and by 1867 twenty-five or so French-Canadian families called Jefferson home. All was going well in this small rural community. Then came the winter of 1880-81 and a smallpox epidemic.

Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by one of two virus variants...The initial symptoms of the disease included fever and vomiting. This was followed by formation of ulcers in the mouth and a skin rash. Over a number of days the skin rash turned into characteristic fluid-filled blisters...The disease was spread between people or via contaminated objects. - <a href="" target="_blank">Wikipedia</a>

How did smallpox arrive in Jefferson, South Dakota?

Well, as the story goes, in late 1880 people arrived in a town called Yankton on their route to settle in the Dakota Territory (South Dakota wouldn't become a state until 1889). And they apparently brought smallpox with them

The virus made its way to Jefferson and ravaged the town, nearly wiping it off the map. The town was quarantined for weeks. No one in, no one out. No railroad service. No mail service. No nothing.

By February of 1881, about 150 cases of 'black smallpox' were reported in and near the community of Jefferson, Dakota Territory. More than 82 people died.

But Jefferson survived. And thrived. Was it the hearty will of these people, these folks that dreamed of building a new life on the plains of this new place, this 'Dakota Territory'?

I'd say yes.

Jefferson South Dakota
Credit: Google Maps

So you might want to take some time soon, pull off that busy 'ol Interstate 29, stop into the town of Jefferson, South Dakota, maybe have a cup of coffee and some warm conversation.

Oh, and ask them about those girls basketball teams that dominated the state tournament 'back in the day'.

Wikipedia Contributed To This Article

Have You Ever Explored the 'War Eagle Monument' on the South Dakota/Iowa Border?

Originally being from the Sioux City area, I grew up knowing about the War Eagle Monument perched on a bluff along I-29. There was at least one field trip for every kid in the area to the monument.

However, speaking with folks from Sioux Falls, they didn't seem to know what I was talking about. All they know about I-29 in Sioux City was that it was usually under construction.

When crossing into Iowa from South Dakota on I-29, look up!

10 Really Strange Things That Are Still Illegal in South Dakota

Even though these laws are rarely ever enforced nowadays, they still are on the books in South Dakota. Here are the Ten Commandments of South Dakota Law:

Know Your South Dakota College and University Mascots

The college football experience is an ultimate high for football fans and it takes several other teams to make that happen week after week during the season.
Just think about what goes into gameday? First and foremost, the players and coaching staff who put in hours and hours of practice and training to play in front of their fans. Then there's field prep, game officials, live broadcasts, concessions, and on-the-field entertainment. Yep, entertainment.

Second to the game, who do you watch? The cheerleaders? The band at halftime? What about the mascot? That's a job not many people can do.
I asked Sioux Falls native and former Cagey mascot for the Sioux Falls Canaries and Little Red & Herbie for the Nebraska Huskers Nate Welch about being a mascot:

  • What does it take to be a mascot?
  • "Losing a bet or filling an opportunity!" Welch says, "An internal energized desire to love life. After meeting great performers who are introverts out of costume, they become the center of attention when they take the stage. And also feeding off the performance of others."
  • Why does the mascot never talk?
  • "Know your role and shut your mouth. You are there to entertain. Tell the story with your actions and not your voice."
  • Advice to someone putting on that costume for the first time?
  • "Remember you are now in a costume. Have fun. Otherwise, you're just a dork in tights. If the fur ain't flying you ain't trying."

Nate Welch has moved on from his days as a mascot to Executive Director of the Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce and Development Company in Vermillion, South Dakota.

So, can you name the mascots at our South Dakota Colleges and Universities? Check out the gallery below:


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