James River (Dakotas)

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James River
Jim River, Dakota River
James River in Jamestown, N.D.jpg
Flowing through Jamestown, North Dakota
The course and watershed of the James River.
EtymologyFrench: Rivière aux Jacques
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Dakota, South Dakota
CitiesJamestown, ND, Aberdeen, SD, Huron, SD, Mitchell, SD, Yankton, SD
Physical characteristics
SourceUnnamed pond
 • locationWells County, North Dakota
 • coordinates47°40′47″N 99°50′55″W / 47.67972°N 99.84861°W / 47.67972; -99.84861
 • elevation1,603 ft (489 m)
MouthMissouri River
 • location
Yankton County, near Yankton, South Dakota
 • coordinates
42°52′17″N 97°17′26″W / 42.87139°N 97.29056°W / 42.87139; -97.29056Coordinates: 42°52′17″N 97°17′26″W / 42.87139°N 97.29056°W / 42.87139; -97.29056
 • elevation
1,152 ft (351 m)
Length710 mi (1,140 km)
Basin size20,942 sq mi (54,240 km2)
 • locationScotland, SD
 • average646 cu ft/s (18.3 m3/s)
 • minimum0 cu ft/s (0 m3/s)
 • maximum29,400 cu ft/s (830 m3/s)

The James River (also known as the Jim River or the Dakota River) is a tributary of the Missouri River, approximately 710 miles (1,140 km) long, draining an area of 20,653 square miles (53,490 km2) in the U.S. states of North Dakota and South Dakota.[1] About 70 percent of the drainage area is in South Dakota.[2] The river provides the main drainage of the flat lowland area of the Dakotas between the two plateau regions known as the Missouri Coteau and the Coteau des Prairies. This narrow area was formed by the James lobe of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the last ice age, and as a consequence the watershed of the river is slender and it has few major tributaries for a river of its length.

The James drops approximately 5 inches (130 mm) per 1 mile (1.6 km), and this low gradient sometimes leads to reverse flow. Reverse flow occurs when high inflow from tributaries leads to James River water flowing upstream for several miles above the joining water. This happens most frequently north of Huron, South Dakota.[2]

The river arises in Wells County, North Dakota, approximately 10 mi (16 km) northwest of Fessenden. It flows briefly east towards New Rockford, then generally SSE through eastern North Dakota, past Jamestown, where it is first impounded by a large reservoir (the Jamestown Dam), and then joined by the Pipestem River. It enters northeastern South Dakota in Brown County, where it is impounded to form two reservoirs northeast of Aberdeen.

At Columbia, it is joined by the Elm River. Flowing southward across eastern South Dakota, it passes Huron and Mitchell, where it is joined by the Firesteel Creek. South of Mitchell, it flows southeast and joins the Missouri just east of Yankton.

The James River flows fully across the state of South Dakota, the only river other than the Missouri to do so.[2]

River conditions during normal years include still water on both the James and its tributaries as well as flooding. Floods occur after snowmelt or heavy rains, as water easily breaches the James' low banks, and such floods tend to cover a significant portion of the floodplain. When the river is still, water quality drops.[2]


This excerpt from the Lewis and Clark map of 1814 shows the rivers of western Iowa and eastern South Dakota. The James (Jacque) is seen near the left center of the map.

Originally called E-ta-zi-po-ka-se Wakpa ("unnavigable river") in the Sioux language, the river was given the name Riviere aux Jacques in 1794 by Jean Trudeau, a French trader. This name was subsequently anglicized to James River,[3][4][5] which was the name used by local whites at the time Dakota Territory was incorporated. However, the Dakota Territory Organic Act of 1861 renamed it the Dakota River. The new name failed to gain popular usage and the river retains its pre-1861 name.

Unrelated to the name of the river, the settlement of Jamestown, North Dakota was named by Thomas L. Rosser, a former Confederate general who helped to build the Northern Pacific Railroad across what became North Dakota, after the English colony of Jamestown in his native Virginia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "USGS 06478500 JAMES R NEAR SCOTLAND,SD".
  2. ^ a b c d Hogan, Edward Patrick; Fouberg, Erin Hogan (2001). The Geography of South Dakota (Third ed.). Sioux Falls, SD: The Center for Western Studies – Augustana College. ISBN 0-931170-79-6.
  3. ^ South Dakota place-names. American guide series. University of South Dakota. 1940.
  4. ^ http://www.augie.edu/sites/default/files/2008dakconfpapers.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  5. ^ Project, Federal Writers' (31 October 2013). The WPA Guide to South Dakota: The Prairie State. ISBN 9781595342393.