Sesquicentennial Highlights

Sesquicentennial Highlights
Clay County Among Oldest Permanent Settlements

It may never be known who the first men were to look upon the wide sunlit valleys and rolling prairies that we know as Clay County. There is unrecorded evidence that adventurers, traders and trappers passed through this region on their way up the Missouri River before 1800.

The earliest recorded visit is that of Charles Le Rave who visited Spirit Mound in 1802.


In 1827, the Columbia Fur Company established a post at the mouth of the Vermillion River. Little is known of the history or exact location of this post. In 1835, Fort Vermillion was built by the American Fur Company of St. Louis on the Missouri River near Burbank.

Audubon, the famous naturalist, visited Fort Vermillion while traveling through the West for material for a book published a few years later. He wrote, �On May 15, 1843, we reached Fort Vermillion if the place may be so called; for we found only a square, strongly picketed, and without portholes. It stands on the immediate bank of the river and is backed by a vast prairie.�

A party of 90 Mormons, on their way to the Rocky Mountains, spent the winter of 1845 at Fort Vermillion with the fur traders. Fort Vermillion was abandoned about 1855, as the fur trade was no longer profitable. The ground on which it stood has been swallowed by the shifting waters of the Missouri. After the traders left the post, many native fur-bearing animals increased in number. The sale of small furs brought needed funds to many of the early settlers of the region.

A. C. Van Meter is said to have built the first house, in what is now Vermillion, in 1857. In the same year he built a rope ferry across the Vermillion River. Fan Meter served as U. S. government mail carrier from Sioux City to Fort Randall.

Excerpts taken from a historical edition of the Yankton Press & Dakotan published June 6, 1936.

2009 will mark the 150th birthday of the city of Vermillion. Each week until the sesquicentennial celebration, this column will present notable historic information pertaining to the city and surrounding areas.

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