The earliest inhabitants to migrate to the Fort Randall area were probably Archaic Period hunters who arrived in the region about 6,000 B.C.
About 1,500 years later, other groups of Native Americans, moving out of the central plains of Nebraska and western Iowa, settled in permanent villages along the Missouri River. These early farmers were probably ancestors of the historic Mandan and Arikara tribes. Sometime after 1750 A.D., the Mandan and Arikara were pushed upriver into North Dakota by Dakota and Lakota Sioux groups moving into the area from the east.
Using buffalo and horses as their mainstays for survival, the Sioux adapted well to northern plains living. Exploration, fur trading and establishment of military outposts were soon followed by homesteading pioneers.
From the explorations of Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s until the railroads steamed across the plains in the 1880s, trading posts, explorer camps, Indian agencies, military posts and steamboat landings dotted the basin.
The Fort Randall Military Post, built in 1856 on the south side of the river just below the present site of the dam, was established to keep peace on the frontier and served as a major navigation link on the Missouri River.
The Fort Randall Military Post, located on the south side of the river just below the present site of the dam, was named for Colonel Daniel Randall, a career Army officer who also served as Deputy Paymaster General of the Army. The site was selected in 1856 by General William S. Harney, Commander of the Sioux Expedition.
In 1875, soldiers of the Fort conceived the idea of building a combination church and Odd Fellows meeting hall in an effort to stem rampant alcoholism and provide some social, spiritual and intellectual stimulation at the isolated post.
The Fort Randall Post Cemetery is located on the south side of the river just below the present site of the dam. When the fort was officially abandoned in 1892, the 158-grave cemetery was left to the elements.