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The Life of Ben Reifel

Ben Reifel

Benjamin Reifel was born on September 19, 1906 in a log cabin on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. His father, William Reifel, was German-American and his Mother, Lucy Burning Breast, was a full-blooded Lakota Sioux. Ben was an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. His Indian name was Lone Feather.

In Ben's 83 years he would graduate from South Dakota State College, rise through the ranks of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, serve his country in World War II and in Congress. The various pages listed below highlight a specific aspect of his life, from his family through his political career. 

89th United States Congress in session in 1965
The 89th United States Congress in session in 1965.

Congressional Career

In 1960, Ben Reifel resigned from the BIA in order to run for Congress from South Dakota's First District. He was elected in a landslide victory and served five terms as the state's Representatives. He was the first U.S. legislator of Sioux ancestry. 

Ben Reifel: US Congressman

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Representative Ben Reifel pointing with right hand


Ben remained very active after leaving Congress, accepting an appointment by President Nixon as chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission, and speaking at numerous occasions such as graduations and Memorial Day services.

In 1977, Ben became a trustee of the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings, SD and served terms as their board president from 1982-1983. He established the first Native American collection at the Art Museum in 1977, donating most of his personal collection.

Representative Ben Reifel with an man at the South Dakota Art Museum.
Representative Ben Reifel with an man at the South Dakota Art Museum.

Ben died of cancer at the age of 83 in 1990. To honor him, South Dakota State University named one of its dormitories after him. A middle school in Sioux Falls that is currently being built will also be named after him. In 2017, Governor Dennis Dauggard named September 19thas Ben Reifel Day to honor him.