Seeds of Dakota Territory
The political borders involving this north-central region fluctuated for decades. In 1849, when Minnesota Territory was created, it stretched all the way to the Missouri river. And when Minnesota became a state nine years later, the western remainder of the territory went unorganized.
On this date in 1859, two meetings convened in Vermillion and Yankton in what is now South Dakota. The meetings agreed on a statement, called a memorial, to petition for the creation of a new territory. More than 420 people signed the Yankton Memorial, which was presented to Congress about a month later. A Minnesota senator introduced a bill to create the new territory, but the topic was tabled after questions about slavery came up.
About a year after that first convention, another meeting took place at Yankton, urging organization of the leftover territory. John Blair Smith Todd, an Army veteran who would eventually become Dakota Territory’s first delegate to Congress, was a major advocate. Another memorial went to Congress, with more than 470 signatures. This time the effort picked up steam, and the Senate Committee on Territories rolled out a bill creating the territories of Dakota and Nevada.
President Buchanan made Dakota Territory official in March of 1861. Word reached Yankton a week and a half later. Now the residents of Dakota Territory had to create their government – everything from counties to a criminal code. It was quite a task; the original territory was huge, including modern day Wyoming and much of Montana.
In 1886, the border changed again as the territory was reduced to the present state boundaries of North and South Dakota.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Lounsberry, C.A. (1919). Early history of North Dakota. Liberty Press: Washington, D.C.