I almost felt like I’d be blown away at the top of the Nicollet Tower in Sisseton South Dakota. Dave and I had just climbed nearly a hundred steps to reach the lookout point from which we could see the vast prairie landscape which is the traditional home of the Sisseton-Wahpeton people and covers parts of three states, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. It was sooooo windy up there……. but my what a view!
The tower is named after a French explorer, mapmaker and astronomer Joseph Nicolas Nicollet who came to the United States at age 46 determined to map the area between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
He traveled extensively in the region on two trips one beginning in July of 1838 and another in July of 1839.
He was very interested in the First Nations people he met and made the acquaintance of many with the help of his guides Joseph LaFromboise and Louison Freniere. He listened to aboriginal stories and legends and recorded the traditional Dakota names for places.
He was careful to include the traditional First Nations names for places on the map he created on his return to Washington D.C. He presented the map and made a report to the Senate about his travels in 1843. His map and diaries record the beauty and potential of the area and were responsible for much of the settlement that would happen there later. This might have given Nicollet second thoughts because he wrote so movingly of the culture and way of life of the aboriginal people that was forever changed by the settlers who arrived.
The Nicollet Tower stands on a spot Nicollet called the Coteau des Prairies, the Hill on the Prairie. Having climbed the hill to view the valley all around he wrote in his diary, ” I pity anyone whose soul would not be moved by this spot.”The interpretative center at the tower is hosted by Keith Likeness who is a veritable encyclopedia about the history and geography of the area. Since one of the reasons we’ve come here is so I can find information for a novel I’m writing Keith was the perfect resource.
The Nicollet Tower is built with eighty year old Douglas Fir trees about 75 feet high and each weighing close to 5000 pounds. The tower is a marvel of construction and gives you a marvellous view of the landscape.