People have inhabited the shores of the Missouri River for thousands of years. As the environment changed over the millennia, so did the methods early people utilized to survive. Early groups inhabited isolated locations such as wooded draws and terraces which offered protection from the elements and access to food sources. By the time European explorers arrived in this area in the 18th century , earth lodge villages of the Arikara tribes lined the bluffs along the river. Eventually, the Arikara were gradually displaced by Dakota and Lakota people moving into the area from the east.
It is this mix of Arikara villages and Dakota and Lakota encampments that the Lewis and Clark expedition encountered upon reaching the Big Bend region on September 19, 1804. Their journals are filled with vivid descriptions of the area and its inhabitants.
During the first part of the 19th century, the history of Big Bend was one of exploration and trading. Trading posts and military forts were soon established as people arrived by boat up the Missouri. Scattered early white settlements began at this time.
The northeast end of the dam is located near the site of Fort Thompson, a reservation headquarters established in 1863 for Santee Sioux and Winnebago agencies.
The Santee and Winnebago Tribes were soon relocated further downstream, and in 1865 the Lower Yanktonai, a subdivision of the Dakota tribe, were gathered on the reservation.
The towns of Fort Thompson and Lower Brule were relocated to their present sites in the early 1950's before the old town sites were flooded due to the construction of the Fort Randall Dam.
Big Bend Dam was constructed under the Pick- Sloan Plan for development of the Missouri River Basin. During the peak construction period, a work force of 1,300 people was involved in the construction of the dam.
Today, approximately 80,000 acres of public lands and water provide a variety of benefits to the public including flood control, recreation, conservation of our natural resources, fish and wildlife habitat, irrigation, and hydropower production.
It is possible to view many types of wildlife on the Missouri River at Lake Sharpe. Tribal bison herds can be seen grazing the lake area's grasslands north of the towns of Fort Thompson and Lower Brule. The shoreline areas of the lake also offer excellent waterfowl, upland game birds and big game hunting opportunities. Big game animals include whitetail and mule deer, elk, bison, coyotes and wild turkeys. Waterfowl and upland game birds include ducks, geese, pheasants, prairie chickens, and grouse. Hunting regulations are established and enforced by the State of South Dakota, and the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Tribes.