The History and Mystery of Elk Point
The recorded history of Elk Point dates back to the Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1804. Captain William Clark recorded in his journal a "Great deel of Elk Sign" at this campsite along the Missouri River. In spite of that significant journal entry, no one today can pinpoint the origin of the name Elk Point. Depending on the historian, Elk Point was named by the Native Americans who hunted in this area, or it was named by the French fur trappers who preceded Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery, or it was named by Captain Clark himself, or by Eli Wixson, who had come from Sioux City, IA, to build the first cabin in 1859 and become Elk Point's first citizen. Whatever the origin, this community was officially incorporated as Elk Point on January 10, 1873.
Eli Wixson, came to Dakota in 1859, and settled at the present site of Elk Point. He was the first white man to settle in this portion of Dakota.
History notes that the Lewis & Clark Expedition made camp in or near Elk Point on August 22, 1804 . Elk Point was first settled in 1859 along the Military Road running from Sioux City to Fort Randall in the Dakota Frontier, making this community one of the oldest in South Dakota.
The Lewis & Clark Legacy
Equally mysterious is the exact location where Lewis and Clark camped on August 22, 1804 and again on September 3, 1806. Because of the shifting of the Missouri River channel over the last 200 years, the actual campsite may vary one-half- to one mile from Captain Clark's compass readings. However, Captain Clark reports in his August 22 journal entry that the Missouri River "bends to the East and is within 3 or 4 miles of the River Soues (Big Sioux River)," as estimated by a sighting of the bluffs above the Big Sioux. One thing is certain - the Missouri River has carved many channels and left many natural berms in its geological history.
One such berm curves through the western end of Elk Point - about three miles from the Big Sioux River - and forms a "point" in what is now Heritage Park, a 15-acre garden and pond area bordered by Interstate 29.
This geologic footprint so effectively reinforced the oral history of Elk Point that in 1937 a 77-year-old graduate student named Edward Elliott Collins included the Lewis & Clark episode in his historical thesis of Union County. Collins came to the Dakota Territory with his family in 1864 and combined his first-person accounts of Union County history with the accepted oral histories of Elk Point. Collins records in his thesis that Lewis and Clark "made camp that night by a lone tree on a point of land on the river's north bank. This camp was about half a mile south and a quarter of a mile west of the present site of the Elk Point water plant, on the Eli Wixson farm, later owned by Charles Stickney."
The location described by Collins would put the campsite in Heritage Park