Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School


First Advisor

Charles P. Gritzner


The objective of this study is to investigate and to analyze one particular phenomenon of South Dakota's settlement history, ghost towns, in a geographical context. Specifically, it is to identify and assess in a spatial-temporal framework those factors that have contributed to town abandonment in the state. A comprehensive geographical analysis of community abandonment within South Dakota has never before been attempted. This study represents, therefore, a pioneer effort toward explaining a phenomenon which has affected the pattern of settlement for more than a century. In so doing, it fulfills a vital link in developing a more extensive understanding of South Dakota's past settlement patterns, economic and transportation conditions, and demographic characteristics. The second phase of work involved the identification and location of ghost town sites. Research disclosed the existence of 245 abandoned settlements which conform to the definition established for this study. A third step was to acquire as much information as possible on each ghost town and to record the assembled data in a readily usable form. To facilitate the cataloging of sites and the analysis of data, information for each town was recorded on a five-by-eight inch index card. The information included the name of the community, the county in which it is located, the dates of settlement and abandonment (if indicated), the principal factors which contributed to the founding and abandonment of settlements in those instances for which such details were available and the sources from which all information was extracted. Fourth, ghost town locations were mapped in order to derive a better understanding of their distributional patterns. This information was vital to the fifth and final phase of the study which was to analyze all assembled data for the purpose of identifying those agents or processes which have contributed to town abandonment in South Dakota. The study does not purport to establish a definitive cataloging of South Dakota ghost towns. Rather its objective is to analyze those factors which have contributed to settlement abandonment. Whether the actual number of ghost towns is 246, or somewhat higher, is of secondary concern in this context. An adequate number of sites have been identified to insure that the primary conclusions regarding the agents and processes of town abandonment are valid. Additional research may disclose that a limited number of small settlements were abandoned for reasons other than those specified in this work.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Extinct cities -- South Dakota
South Dakota -- History



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University