John Pickler

Jan 24, 2018


After North and South Dakota became states, everyone from Dakota homesteaders to congressmen wanted to know: Where was the boundary? They knew it was the seventh standard parallel, but where exactly was that?


John Pickler was one of many people who influenced the effort to survey and mark the Dakotas’ boundary. It was 1890, and he was South Dakota’s congressional representative. He had previously been elected as a territorial legislator after moving to the area from Iowa, where he had also been a legislator and Civil War soldier.

Pickler was a member of the House Committee on Public Lands, and he wrote a favorable report of the legislation to fund a survey for the border, saying:  “It is important in defining the territorial jurisdiction of the courts, in describing the location of post offices, and that the citizens settling near the boundary line between the states of North Dakota and South Dakota may be able to determine with certainty their location, and that the permanent boundary between said states be fixed.”

Another congressman argued that the states should survey their own boundaries, not the federal government. But Pickler managed to convince Congress that the feds had a vested interest in knowing where the line of the seventh standard parallel was. In addition to post offices and courts, the line ran through thousands of acres of federal land open to homesteading.

Senate Bill 3089 passed the House and Senate in September of 1890, and was signed by President Benjamin Harrison. The project to survey and mark the border that ran from Minnesota to Montana was then bid upon and awarded to a renowned surveyor whose team battled the elements and topography to install over 700 seven-foot quartzite monuments every half-mile.

As for Pickler, he served in the House until 1897. He was also a key supporter of women’s suffrage. He was born on this date in 1844 in Indiana, and died in 1910 in South Dakota.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


Mulrine, M.B. (2011). The price of honor: The life and times of George Brinton McClellan Jr. Fairleigh     Dickinson University Press: Lanham, Maryland.

Iseminger, G.L. (2007). The quartzite border: Surveying and marking the North Dakota-South Dakota     boundary 1891-1892. The Center For Western Studies: Sioux Falls, SD.