On November 9, 1992, South Dakota officially dropped its monicker as “The Sunshine State” and became known as “The Mount Rushmore State.” As chronicled by the Black Hills Pioneer, then State Representative Chuck Mateer of Belle Fourche introduced legislation in January of 1992 to change the state’s nickname. Opponents of the legislation including then State Representative Mary Edelen of Vermillion argued that it would make non-residents believe South Dakota to be “frozen tundra.”
South Dakota had several nicknames prior to being dubbed both “The Sunshine State” and “The Mount Rushmore State.” Perhaps the state’s earliest nickname was the “Coyote State,” which is believed to have been inspired by a horse race rather than the wild animal. In 1863, a solider from the 6th Iowa Cavalry and another from Company A of the Dakota Cavalry raced horses at Fort Randall. The Iowa soldier’s horse lost by a long shot, which cause an onlooker to remark “that the Dakota horse ran like a coyote,” thus inspiring the state’s nickname.
About 30 years later, South Dakota acquired a new nickname during a drought. The state’s first governor, Arthur C. Mellette, had embarked on a trip to Chicago in search of aid for his state when he ran into a newspaperman and personal friend, Moses P. Handy. Handy asked the governor how his state was faring, to which Mellette replied “Oh, South Dakota is a swinged cat, better than she looks.” Accounts of the incident indicated that Mellette meant “singed” or “burnt” when he said “swinged.” Shortly thereafter, the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper published a story citing Mellette “governor of the swinged cat state.”
Additional historical nicknames assigned to South Dakota can be viewed on the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation’s website.