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Ben Reifel, US Congressman
1961 - 1971


Congressman Ben Reifel

Congressional Biography

REIFEL, Benjamin, a Representative from South Dakota; born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation near Parmelee, Todd County, S.Dak., September 19, 1906; attended Todd County rural schools; B.S., South Dakota State College, 1932; M.A., 1949, and a Ph.D., 1952, in public administration, Harvard University; served in the United States Army as a lieutenant colonel from 1942 to 1945, with service in Europe; employed by the Department of the Interior since 1933, resigning as Aberdeen area administrator in the Bureau of Indian Affairs in March 1960; elected as a Republican to the Eighty-seventh and to the four succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1961-January 3, 1971); was not a candidate for reelection in 1970 to the Ninety-second Congress; was a resident of Estelline, S.Dak., and Largo, Fla., until his death in Sioux Falls, S.Dak., on January 2, 1990.

Ben Reifel as a young man on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation

Young Ben Reifel playing a courting flute, John A. Anderson, photographer, Rosebud, South Dakota, circa 1900. Reifel was a clerk in Anderson's store and later became a U.S. Congressman.


  • Reifel, Ben, US Congressman
  • Reifel, Benjamin (1906-1990) -- also known as Ben Reifel -- Born in a log cabin near Parmelee, Todd County, S.Dak., September 19, 1906. Republican. Served in the U.S. Army during World War II; U.S. Representative from South Dakota 1st District, 1961-71. American Indian. Episcopalian. Sioux Indian. Died in Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, S.Dak., January 2, 1990. Burial location unknown. See also: congressional biography.

    Special thanks to: The Political Graveyard for providing this information.




    Q: Do American Indians have the right to hold Federal, State and local government offices?

    A: Yes. Indians have the same rights as other citizens to hold public office. Indian men and women have held elective and appointive offices at all levels of government. Charles Curtis, a Kaw Indian from Kansas, served as Vice President of the United States under President Herbert Hoover.

    Indians have been elected to the U.S. Congress from time to time for more than 80 years. Ben Reifel, a Sioux Indian from South Dakota, served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986 from the Third District of Colorado, and is currently serving in the United States Senate. He is the only American Indian currently serving in Congress. Other Indians who have served in the U.S. Congress include- -

    U.S. Senate:

    Hiram R. Revels, Lumbee from Mississippi, 1870-1871

    Mathew Stanley Quay, Abenaki or Delaware from Pennsylvania, 1887-1899 and 1901-1904

    Charles Curtis, Kaw from Kansas, 1907-1912 and 1915-1929 (Vice-President from 1929-1933)

    Robert L. Owens, Cherokee from Oklahoma, 1907-1925

    U.S. House of Representatives:

    Charles Curtis, Kaw from Kansas, 1893-1907

    Charles D. Carter, Choctaw from Oklahoma, 1907-1927

    W.W. Hastings, Cherokee from Oklahoma, 1915-1921 and 1923-1935

    Will Rogers, Jr., Cherokee from California, 1943-1944

    William G. Stigler, Chocktaw from Oklahoma, 1944-1952

    Benjamin Reifel, Rosebud Sioux from South Dakota, 1961-1971

    Clem Rogers McSpadden, Cherokee from Oklahoma, 1972-1975



    Source: Bureau of Indian Affairs.




  • Read an interview with Rep. Ben Reifel (R-SD) with Richard Fenno in April 1964.

    Click here to see the Ben Reifel, Famous Lakota Sioux website, with a photograph.

    Review the Ben Reifel Manuscript Collection in the South Dakota State University Archives.

    Learn about the Ben Reifel Visitors Center at Cedar Pass in the Badlands National Park.

    Learn about a number of Indian politicians, including Ben Reifel at this site.


    Visit the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Reservation, birthplace of Ben Reifel.







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