The only South Dakotan to win high elective office was Hubert H. Humphrey (1911–78), a native of Wallace who, after rising to power in Minnesota Democratic politics, served as US senator for 16 years before becoming vice president under Lyndon Johnson (1965–69).
Other outstanding federal officeholders from South Dakota were Newton Edmunds (1819–1908), second governor of the Dakota Territory; Charles Henry Burke (b.New York, 1861–1944), who as commissioner of Indian affairs improved education and health care for Native Americans; and Vermillion-born Peter Norbeck (1870–1936), a Progressive Republican leader, first while governor (1917–21) and then as US senator until his death. The son of a German-American father and a Brulé Indian mother, Benjamin Reifel (1906-1990) was the first American Indian elected to Congress from South Dakota; he later served as the last US commissioner of Indian affairs. George McGovern (b.1922) served in the US Senate from 1963 through 1980; an early opponent of the war in Vietnam, he ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972.
Associated with South Dakota are several distinguished Indian leaders. Among them were Red Cloud (b.Nebraska 1822–1909), an Oglala warrior; Spotted Tail (b.Wyoming, 1833?–1881), the Brulé chief who was a commanding figure on the Rosebud Reservation; Sitting Bull (1834–90), a Hunkpapa Sioux most famous as the main leader of the Indian army that crushed George Custer's Seventh US Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn (1876) in Montana; and Crazy Horse (1849?–1877), an Oglala chief who also fought at Little Big Horn.
Ernest Orlando Lawrence (1901–58), the state's only Nobel Prize winner, received the physics award in 1939 for the invention of the cyclotron. The business leader with the greatest personal influence on South Dakota's history was Pierre Chouteau, Jr. (b.Missouri, 1789–1865), a fur trader after whom the state capital is named.
South Dakota artists include George Catlin (b.Pennsylvania, 1796–1872), Karl Bodmer (1809–93), Harvey Dunn (1884–1952), and Oscar Howe (1915–83). Gutzon Borglum (b.Idaho, 1871–1941) carved the faces on Mt. Rushmore. The state's two leading writers are Ole Edvart Rõlvaag (b.Norway, 1876–1931), author of Giants in the Earth and other novels, and Frederick Manfred (b.Iowa, 1912–94), a Minnesota resident who served as writer-in-residence at the University of South Dakota and has used the state as a setting for many of his novels.