History, Department of


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: History (Great Plains Studies). Under the Supervision of Professor John R. Wunder.
Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2009.
Copyright © 2009 David Nesheim.


Lake Andes sits at the center of the Yankton Sioux Reservation in south-central South Dakota and might be described as a prairie pothole, except it encompasses nearly 5,000 acres when full of water, stretching twelve miles long by a mile to a mile and a half wide in a quasi-crescent shape. Originally carved out by a receding glacier during the Wisconsin glaciations, for its entire history the lake has gone dry during low precipitation -- a cycle interrupted after the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) commissioned several artesian wells beginning in 1896. As the lake expanded, the U.S. Fish Commission stocked the lake with 600 largemouth bass. For the next thirty-seven years a recreation fishery thrived, crashing in the 1930s when drought and carp eliminated the "bass bonanza."

Artesian wells and largemouth bass formed an unlikely association in the campaign to re-order Lake Andes, acting as the most effective agents in an arsenal of technologies employed by governments, individuals, and organizations laboring to extend the American national project. Scientists featured prominently in the effort, as geologists, mathematicians, ichthyologists, horticulturalists, and ornithologists appeared in turn, though frequently the realm of "pure science" arrived filtered through layers of interpretation. In particular, the federal government supported knowledge creation and employed that research in transformative initiatives.

By the end of the 1930s, the lake was significantly altered. Coinciding with the massive public works projects of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, a carp eruption fomented a local groundswell for federal intervention, culminating in a National Wildlife Refuge and the legal and physical partitioning of the lake. At the same time, John Collier’s Indian New Deal petulantly denied Yanktons a democratic government, thereby excluding them from critical management decisions that reverberate to the present day.

This biography of Bde Ihanke-Lake Andes serves to remind that there are many ways to order the world. In the United States, science has served as a crucial adjunct to governmental power in the active campaign to wrest wildlife management authority from Native Americans, abrogating tribal sovereignty as the power shifted from tribes to states and ultimately to the federal government.