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Division Day Banners

Creating North Dakota and South Dakota was no easy matter, with years of partisanship and multiple proposals tossed around for dividing Dakota Territory into states. One school of thought saw dividing Dakota into north and south as vital. About 500 delegates from the various counties convened in July of 1888 in Huron to hash out division of the territory.

By the end of the convention, most of the delegates supported division. Pro-divisionists penned a speech that condemned the “territorial condition,” with increasing taxes, cramped industries and ruined interests. It read in part: “Rights are invaded, justice is denied, public improvements are held back, rightful political power is withheld, a voice in your own government is insolently refused.” That sentiment referred to the inability of territory residents to choose state leaders. It was the President who selected the territorial governor, territorial secretary and Supreme Court justices.

Attorneys, ministers, newspaper editors, farmers and businessmen also attended the convention, participating in auxiliary committees to consider division. After much discussion, the convention adjourned after adopting a plan for a constitutional convention for North Dakota, and to take steps to also establish a state government for South Dakota.

On this date in 1888, before a crowd at Huron’s opera house, a group of women presented two white silk swallowtail banners to the convention representing North Dakota and South Dakota. North Dakota’s banner depicted an oil painting of a young dark haired woman holding a bundle of wheat. South Dakota’s was a fair haired woman holding a cornstalk.

Fargo businessman Waldo Potter accepted the North Dakota banner from Flora Gans, a clerk for an insurance company in Huron. Potter said the banner was “a gem of workmanship.” Former Dakota Territorial Secretary George H. Hand thanked the women for the banners, and said, “We will bear them aloft until heaven’s golden light shall kiss their folds, amidst the plaudits of a free and enfranchised people.”

Today the South Dakota State Historical Society displays the banners in Pierre. At its centennial, North Dakota wanted its banner back. Instead, the state received replicas of both banners.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Kingsbury, G.W. (1915). History of Dakota Territory, Vol. 2. S.J. Clarke Publishing Company: Chicago, IL

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