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Yankton, South Dakota
Yankton, the Missouri River, and the Meridian Bridge to Nebraska
Yankton, the Missouri River, and the Meridian Bridge to Nebraska
"Mother City of the Dakotas"
Location in Yankton County and the state of South Dakota
Location in Yankton County and the state of South Dakota
Country United States
State South Dakota
County Yankton
Incorporated 1869
 • Total 8.45 sq mi (21.89 km2)
 • Land 8.21 sq mi (21.26 km2)
 • Water 0.24 sq mi (0.62 km2)
1,211 ft (369 m)
 • Total 14,454
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,760.5/sq mi (679.7/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 605
FIPS code 46-73060
GNIS feature ID 1259091
Website City of Yankton

Yankton is a city in, and the county seat of, Yankton County, South Dakota, United States. The population was 14,454 at the 2010 census. Yankton is the principal city of the Yankton Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the entirety of Yankton County, and which had an estimated population of 22,702 as of July 1, 2015.

Yankton was the first capital of Dakota Territory. It is named for the Yankton tribe of Nakota (Sioux) Native Americans; Yankton is derived from the Nakota word I-hank-ton-wan ("the end village"). Yankton is located on the Missouri River just downstream of the Gavins Point Dam and Lewis and Clark Lake and just upstream of the confluence with the James River. The United States National Park Service's headquarters for the Missouri National Recreational River are located in the city. The Human Services Center was established as a psychiatric hospital in 1882 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Yankton is commonly referred to as the "River City", due to its proximity to the Missouri River and the importance that the river played in the city's settlement and development. Yankton has also earned the nickname, "Mother City of the Dakotas", due to the early important role it played in the creation and development of the Dakota Territory, which later became the 39th and 40th U.S. states of North and South Dakota, respectively.


Yankton View
A view of Yankton, South Dakota from the Meridian Pedestrian Bridge, showing the Missouri River, Discovery Bridge and the steeple of the Bishop Martin Marty Chapel.

Yankton is located at 42°52′54″N 97°23′33″W / 42.88167°N 97.3925°W / 42.88167; -97.3925 (42.881647, -97.392485). in southern South Dakota on the state's border with Nebraska. The city is located on one of the last free-flowing, natural stretches of the Missouri River; this segment of the river, between Gavins Point Dam four miles west of Yankton, and Ponca State Park in Nebraska, has been designated by the U.S. National Park Service as the Missouri National Recreational River. The city is located approximately six miles west of the point where the James River flows into the Missouri. The central business district of the city is located on a natural landing along the Missouri River, and city rises in the west to "Mount Marty" (actually a high bluff along the river). The city is also intersected by the Marne Creek, which also flows into the Missouri River.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 8.45 square miles (21.89 km2), of which, 8.21 square miles (21.26 km2) is land and 0.24 square miles (0.62 km2) is water.

Yankton has been assigned the ZIP codes 57078-57079 and the FIPS place code 73060.


Gavins Point Dam
Gavins Point Dam (foreground) with Lewis and Clark Lake in the background
Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 3,431
1890 3,670 7.0%
1900 4,125 12.4%
1910 3,787 −8.2%
1920 5,024 32.7%
1930 6,072 20.9%
1940 6,798 12.0%
1950 7,709 13.4%
1960 9,279 20.4%
1970 11,919 28.5%
1980 12,011 0.8%
1990 12,703 5.8%
2000 13,528 6.5%
2010 14,454 6.8%
Est. 2015 14,557 0.7%
U.S. Decennial Census
2015 Estimate

2010 Census

As of the census of 2010, there were 14,454 people, 5,909 households, and 3,348 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,760.5 inhabitants per square mile (679.7/km2). There were 6,365 housing units at an average density of 775.3 per square mile (299.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 92.1% White, 2.1% African American, 2.3% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 1.3% from other races, and 1.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.4% of the population.

There were 5,909 households of which 27.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.1% were married couples living together, 10.1% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.5% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.3% were non-families. 37.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.17 and the average family size was 2.87.

The median age in the city was 40.4 years. 20.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 9% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 26% were from 25 to 44; 26.1% were from 45 to 64; and 17.9% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 50.5% male and 49.5% female.

2000 Census

As of the census of 2000, there were 13,528 people, 5,369 households, and 3,232 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,743.2 people per square mile (673.1/km²). There were 5,735 housing units at an average density of 739.0 per square mile (285.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.35% White, 1.64% African American, 1.58% Native American, 0.50% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.90% from other races, and 0.99% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.46% of the population.

There were 5,369 households out of which 29.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.5% were married couples living together, 9.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.8% were non-families. 34.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.96.

In the city, the population was spread out with 23.4% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 28.2% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 17.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 96.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.0 males.

As of 2000 the median income for a household in the city was $31,843, and the median income for a family was $44,009. Men had a median income of $29,012 versus $20,577 for women. The per capita income for the city was $17,954. About 6.2% of families and 10.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.8% of those under age 18 and 9.1% of those age 65 or over.

According to the 2003 Coldwell Banker Housing Price Comparison Index (HPCI), Yankton was found to have the lowest housing costs of any municipal entity in the entire United States. This is no longer the case as of the 2005 HPCI.


Native inhabitants

The site of Yankton was occupied by the Yankton Sioux (Nakota) prior to the arrival of European settlers. As part of the vast Louisiana Purchase, the site of Yankton was visited by Lewis and Clark in 1804. In the journals of the expedition, the explorers write of a meeting on August 30, 1804 with members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe on a Missouri River bluff presently known as Calumet Bluff. As recently as 1857, the present day site of Yankton was occupied by a village of Yankton Sioux led by Chief Pa-le-ne-a-pa-pe ("Struck by the Ree"). Two years later, with the signing of the Yankton Treaty of 1858, the land was opened for settlement. The city was founded where the small Rhine Creek (renamed Marne Creek in World War I) flowed into the Missouri River. The city grew as a stop for steamboats to take on fresh water and supplies, especially after steamboat traffic boomed when gold was discovered in the Black Hills.

Dakota Territory in 1861.
Dakota Territory Capitol Replica Yankton
A modern replica of the Dakota Territorial Capitol building stands in Yankton's Riverside Park.

Dakota territorial capital

With two days left in his term, President James Buchanan signed a law on March 2, 1861 creating Dakota Territory. Yankton was designated as the territorial capital, and newly inaugurated President Abraham Lincoln appointed his personal physician, William A. Jayne of Springfield, Illinois, as the first territorial governor. The territorial capitol building, a plain, two-story wooden structure, was located at the intersection of Fourth and Capitol Streets; the original structure has been demolished, but a replica of the building has been constructed in Yankton's Riverside Park. Yankton served as the territorial capital until 1883 when the capital was moved to Bismarck (presently in North Dakota).

Yankton Stockade

In response to the Dakota War of 1862 in western Minnesota, Governor Jayne issued a proclamation on August 30, 1862 requiring every male between the ages of 18 and 50 in every settlement in eastern Dakota, be formed into militias to protect against expected attacks from the Native Americans. In response, the Yankton militia built a stockade at the corner of Third Street and Broadway Avenue of approximately 200,000 square feet. Settlers from the surrounding area, and as far away as Sioux Falls and Bon Homme County, fled to Yankton in order to seek shelter in the structure. Although roving bands of Native Americans did approach Yankton over the course of several weeks, no attack ensued, and the stockade was eventually abandoned and torn down. Although no remnants of the stockcade remain, a monument can now be found at the site of the stockade memorializing this event.

Among the most notable events that occurred in Yankton while capital, Jack McCall, murderer of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood on August 2, 1876, was tried in Yankton for Hickok's murder, found guilty, and was hanged on March 1, 1877 at the age of 24. His body is buried in a Yankton cemetery.

Yankton College Conservatory
The conservatory building on the former Yankton College campus - now a federal prison.

Yankton College

Due to the urging of the Reverend Joseph Ward of Yankton, the General Association of Congregational Churches in Dakota Territory voted in May 1881 to establish "Pilgrim College" in Yankton, which was to be the first private institution of higher learning in Dakota. When the college was incorporated in August 1881, the name had been changed to "Yankton College". Classes commenced in October 1882, and Yankton College played a prominent role in the city for over 100 years. Then, in 1983, the small liberal arts college was forced to close due to financial insolvency. After remaining vacant for several years, the historic campus, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was purchased by the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons for use as a minimum security prison. The Federal Prison Camp – Yankton houses approximately 850 male inmates.

River Port and the Flood of 1881

Since its founding, Yankton enjoyed a natural advantage as a steamboat landing along the Missouri River due to the fact that its landing stretched along the entire length of the town’s riverfront. The first steamboat to reach Yankton from St. Louis arrived in 1859, providing goods and supplies to settlers and fur-traders in upper and central Dakota. After that, the city continued to grow, particularly after gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874 and prospectors rushed into Dakota Territory. By 1880, Yankton had become an established riverboat port on the Missouri River, but the city’s status as an important port was literally crushed on March 27, 1881 when an ice dam on the Missouri River burst, sending flood waters and giant blocks of ice flowing towards the town.

Blasting ice with dynamite from in front of steamer on the ways, by Stanley J. Morrow
A view of Yankton's riverfront after the flood of March 1881.

The resulting flood waters continued to accumulate behind the debris, and by March 29, the town’s riverfront and downtown were covered in water, ice and rock, destroying or stranding several riverboats that were moored there. As a result of this flood, and the expansion of railroads as a preferred method of shipping goods (the railroad reached Yankton in 1872, and the rest of Dakota throughout the 1870s), Yankton’s river boat traffic was reduced, and the city’s role as a prominent stopping point on the way west dwindled over the next several years.

Francis Marion Ziebach established the second newspaper in the area that became South Dakota, the Weekly Dakotan, in Yankton on June 6, 1861, bringing his outfit from Sioux Falls by team and wagon. A second newspaper, started by Francis Marion Ziebach, is still published today as the Yankton Press and Dakotan.

In 1882, the Human Services Center was established as a psychiatric hospital. On June 2, 1883, Dakota Territory Governor Nehemiah G. Ordway moved the territorial capital from Yankton to Bismarck, present-day North Dakota.

National Register of Historic Places

A Sample of Historic Structures in Yankton, South Dakota
Gov. Pennington House
Ohlman-Shannon House
Charles Gurney Hotel
Bruce-Donaldson House
Bishop Marty House

As evidence of its rich historical past, Yankton has 26 individual properties and 6 historic districts within the city listed on the National Register of Historic Places, maintained by the U.S. National Park Service. Each individual district contains several structures, and include:

  • the Yankton (residential) Historic District,
  • the Yankton College Historic District,
  • the Yankton High School Historic District,
  • the Yankton Historic Commercial District
  • the House of Gurney Historic District, and
  • the South Dakota Human Services Center campus.


The City of Yankton maintains fourteen municipal parks, including Fantle Memorial Park, which is the location of an outdoor public swimming pool, and Riverside Park, which is home to the city’s Riverside Baseball Field. There are two golf courses in the city: the Fox Run municipal golf course, and the private golf course located at Hillcrest Golf and Country Club. The City of Yankton and the Yankton School District jointly maintain and operate the Yankton High School and Summit Activities Center; this facility offers an indoor swimming pool, several gymnasiums, and a public weight lifting room.

The double-decker Meridian Bridge over the Missouri River was decommissioned for traffic in October 2008 after the new Discovery Highway Bridge was opened. This old bridge was converted to a pedestrian bridge (photo), and is part of the city’s extensive pedestrian and bicycle path system. The Brokaw-Auld Trail is a linear park and recreational path along Marne Creek, and the State of South Dakota has developed trails and paths to and throughout the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area.

Four miles west of Yankton, the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area attracts over one million visitors per year. This state park, extending approximately two miles along the north shore of Lewis and Clark Lake, offering camping, swimming,and boating facilities. The federal Corps of Engineers also maintains camping, boating, swimming and recreation facilities along the Missouri River east of Gavins Point Dam.


The Discovery Bridge at night.

The city is served by Chan Gurney Municipal Airport, although the city is not served by scheduled commercial flights. Highway transportation across the Missouri River to Nebraska is provided by US Route 81 via the Discovery Bridge, which replaced the Meridian Highway Bridge in 2008. The City of Yankton is also served by SD Route 50, a four lane, divided highway which connects the city to US Interstate Highway 29, approximately 30 miles to the east.


Mount Marty College offers several cultural assets and venues in Yankton, including the Bede Art Gallery, which showcases artwork from regional and Native American artists, as well as Marion Auditorium, which hosts performing and fine art events. The college is also home to Great Plains Writers' Tour, which brings award-winning professional writers to campus for readings and class workshops. Previous authors include former United States poet laureate Ted Kooser, American Book Award winner Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, David Lee, and William Kloefkorn, among others.

Yankton is also home to the Dakota Territorial Museum, which is located in West Side Park, and which contains information and artifacts about the heritage and development of the City of Yankton and the surrounding area. The museum’s collection includes artifacts of Dakota Territory, Native American inhabitants and early pioneers. The museum complex also contains several outbuildings, such as a restored rural school house and the Great Northern Railway Depot. The museum also displays a retired Burlington Northern Railway caboose. The museum has announced plans to purchase and rehabilitate the Mead Building on the grounds of the Human Services Center, to be used as the new site of the museum and its collections.

Yankton Human Services Center 1
The abandoned Mead Building on the South Dakota Human Services Center campus in Yankton has been identified as the future site of the Dakota Territorial Museum.

Yankton's Riverboat Days is an annual celebration held in the third full weekend in August that attracts 135,000 people. The primarily free event hosts over 150 artists and over 50 food vendors at Riverside Park. Other activities include a rodeo, parade, golf tournament and snowmobile grass drag race.

Contemporary culture

Yankton is mentioned numerous times as the territorial capital in the western TV series Deadwood.

A fictional version of Yankton appears in the video game Grand Theft Auto V.

Yankton was mentioned in a 2015 episode of The Middle, Hecks on a Train.

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