Home page


South Dakota state sealSouth Dakota
Bookmark and Share

The Great Seal of South Dakota

State of South Dakota State Seal Adopted: October 1, 1889
South Dakota state seal
South Dakota Great Seal

Adoption of the South Dakota Great Seal

Dakota Territory, including present-day North Dakota and South Dakota, held three constitutional conventions before the states of North and South Dakota achieved statehood in 1889.

As constitutions were drawn and steps toward statehood were taken, the description of official seals to authenticate official documents had to be addressed. Committees formed at the constitutional conventions were created just for that purpose.

Constitutional Convention of 1883, Sioux Falls

Some have offered evidence that the current description of the South Dakota state seal may have been approved by the Constitutional Convention of 1883.

However, published versions of the 1883 Constitution that we have seen offer a description of the then-current territorial seal. It makes sense to us that the territorial sea would be documented in the 1883 Constitution as North and South Dakota did not formally exist at the time. We believe that the evidence suggesting that the current seal was established at the Constitutional Convention of 1883 is weak.

Constitutional Convention of 1885, Sioux Falls

South Dakota state seal
Article 21 - Constitution of 1885

Currently available documentation confirms that the description of the current South Dakota Great Seal was approved by the Constitutional Convention of 1885 with some minor changes made in 1889. In 1885, however, the seal was still considered a “Dakota” seal rather than a “South Dakota” seal.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1885, the Committee on the Great Seal and Coat of Arms was chaired by Dr. Joseph Ward, founder of Yankton College, and it was his committee that offered the 1885 description of the Dakota state seal.

Constitutional Convention of 1889, Sioux Falls

The description of the state seal in the 1889 Constitution is virtually identical to the description approved by the Constitutional Convention of 1885.

Only three changes were made to the constitutional description from 1885 to 1889:

  • The 1885 description referred to “...other pictures of mining work.” while the 1889 (current) description refers to “…other features of mining work.”
  • In addition, two instances of the phrase “State of Dakota” found in the 1885 description were changed to “State of South Dakota” in the 1889 description.

Constitution of 1889 approved

The current description of the seal was approved when the people of South Dakota ratified the 1889 Constitution on October 1, 1889.

The current Article 21 of the South Dakota Constitution describes the state seal approved by the Constitutional Convention of 1889 at Sioux Falls.

Description of the South Dakota Great Seal

The official seal is a picturesque representation of South Dakota's natural resources, commerce, and industry (mining and agriculture). [ South Dakota Economy ]

Within the inner circle, South Dakota’s motto "Under God the People Rule” is displayed on a banner floating in the sky.

A background of sky and hills (the Black Hills) offers a depiction of the state’s natural beauty.

A river (the Missouri River) runs through industrial (to the left) and agricultural (to the right) land. A steamboat, representative of trade and transportation, plies the waters of the river.

On the left bank of the river, the mining industry is represented by a smelting furnace, hoist house, mill and dump.

On the right bank of the river, the state’s agriculture is represented by a farmer plowing a field with a team of horses while cattle graze in the background. Beyond the cattle can be seen a field of corn.

The outer circle of the seal bears the words "State of South Dakota", "Great Seal," and the year South Dakota achieved statehood.

Adoption of an official colored seal

South Dakota state seal
Colored South Dakota Great Seal

In 1961, the South Dakota Legislature adopted a “reproduction of the seal, described in article XXI, section 1 of the Constitution of the State of South Dakota” as the official colored seal of the State of South Dakota along with instructions on the preservation of an original seal created by Richard Cropp.

The “proportions and colored detail” of the official colored seal of the State of South Dakota “are set out specifically in accord with an original painting of the great seal produced by John G. Moisan of Fort Pierre and shall be the basis for all reproductions of the great seal of the State of South Dakota.”

The statutes below may seem a bit confusing. Perhaps the confusion can be limited if we remember that the constitution and the statutes are actually describing two different things.

The 1889 Constitution describes the “official seal.”

The 1961 law describes an “official colored reproduction” of the official state seal described in Article 21 of the Constitution.

Later legislation

Further legislation was adopted in 1986 to make it a misdemeanor, punishable by law, for misuse of the state seal or reproductions, to establish a royalty framework for use of the seal or reproductions, and to reinforce the Secretary of State’s position as custodian of the state seal.


State of South Dakota. South Dakota Constitution. Pierre: State of South Dakota, 2011. Web. 25 Jun 2011. <http://legis.state.sd.us/statutes/Constitution.aspx>
State of South Dakota. South Dakota Codified Laws. Pierre: State of South Dakota, 2011. Web. 25 Jun 2011. <http://legis.state.sd.us/statutes/TitleList.aspx>
State of South Dakota. History of the South Dakota State Flag. Pierre: State of South Dakota, 2011. Web. 25 Jun 2011. <http://www.state.sd.us/boa/centralsupply/Central%20Supply%20Catalog/History_SD_Flags.htm>
South Dakota Constitutional Convention: Held at Sioux Falls July 1889. Vol. 2. Huron, S.D.: Huronite printing Co., 1907. Print.
Shankle, George Earlie. State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols. Irvine, Calif.: Reprint Services Corp, Revised edition, 1971.
Shearer, Benjamin F. and Barbara S. State Names, Seals, seals and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 3 Sub edition, 2001.

South Dakota Great Seal
State Capitol Ceiling Painting
Photograph: State of South Dakota

Additional Information

History of the South Dakota State Flag: State flag descriptions begin with the state seal. State of South Dakota.

State seals: Complete list of official state seals from NETSTATE.COM.

More South Dakota symbols & emblems: Complete list of official South Dakota state symbols from NETSTATE.COM.

South Dakota - 3 inch Round State Seal Patch
3" seal patch

South Dakota - 3" Round State Seal Patch, 3" round patches feature an emroidered version of the state seal of South Dakota. Iron it on or sew it on.

US Sights and Symbols: Seals
Annalisse Bekkering

US Sights and Symbols: Seals, by Annalisse Bekkering. 48 pages. Weigl Publishers (August 2009) Reading level: Grade 4. What do official sites and symbols reveal about each of the states? How do state emblems honor and uphold the heritage, culture, and resources of the country?

The U.S. Sites and Symbols series provides fascinating facts about each state’s incredible sites and symbols. Stunning color photographs showcase these American icons. Every book in the series builds an understanding of our nation through the history of each state’s official symbol. This engaging series reinforces citizenship, community, and national pride.

Great State Seals of the United States
Great State Seals
Annemarie Berg

Great State Seals of the United States, by Annemarie Berg. 158 pages. Publisher: Dodd, Mead and Company (October 1979) Reading level: Young adult. Discusses the design, adoption, and use of the Great Seals of the 50 states.