Dakota Territory Masons
The first Grand Lodge officers of Dakota Territory were elected and installed on this date in 1875, creating Dakota Territory’s own Grand Lodge of Freemasons. Prior to this, all Masonic Lodges within Dakota Territory had to receive charters and dispensations from either the Grand Lodge of Minnesota or Iowa. Masons and masonry, however, had been a part of the territory even before its purchase by the United States in 1803.
In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson, himself a Freemason, ordered James Monroe and Robert Livingston, also Masons, to travel to Paris to negotiate the terms of the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon Bonaparte. After agreeing to a purchase price of $15,000,000, President Jefferson appointed Mason brothers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the newly-purchased territory. So, “Freemasons conceived of, negotiated for, approved…” and explored the land that would later become Dakota Territory, and, subsequently, the state of North Dakota. It was no surprise then that the earliest settlers in the Territory brought Masonic teachings and rituals with them as well. In 1862, masons at Fort Randall and Yankton were granted dispensations to form their own lodges from the Grand Lodge of Iowa. The following year, the first Masonic funeral in the Territory was held for Lieutenant Fredrick Beaver, an English soldier attached to General Sibley’s unit near Bismarck, who had been killed in a skirmish with the Sioux. The Grand Lodge of Minnesota sent their deputy grand master, John Whipple, to conduct the last rites of Masonry for Beaver.
That year, the Northern Lights Lodge was created at Fort Abercrombie with a dispensation from Minnesota. The lodge traveled with the soldiers to Fort Pembina the following year, and eventually to Fort Garry, near Winnipeg. Several lodges received permission to form within the territories over the next decade, until Masons in the Territory decided that their numbers justified the formation of their own Grand Lodge. In 1875, they did just that, meeting between June 22nd and 24th at Elk Point to organize the Grand Lodge of Dakota Territory and elect officials. Once it became clear that North and South Dakota would be carved out of the territory, the Grand Lodge of North Dakota was organized from the Northern lodges on June 11, 1889. As of 2009, there were over 3,000 active Masons in North Dakota, part of 1.4 million across the nation.