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Dakota Territory Named


A cartographer certainly had his work cut out for him when it came to the early days of mapping Dakota Territory.

So, hang on, this is somewhat complicated. Most of us know that in 1889, Dakota Territory was split in half to create the States of North and South Dakota. Therefore, when most of us picture a map of Dakota Territory, we think of the current borders of the two states. Actually, it was almost twice as large.

On this date in 1861, when the new Territory was named, it stretched much farther west to include most of present day Montana and Wyoming. But two years and a day after the territory came into existence; the areas of Montana and Wyoming were dropped. Then in May of 1864, the greater part of Wyoming was added back in, only to be dropped again, leaving the final configuration of present day South and North Dakota, which would eventually be split in half for statehood in 1889.

The complicated process of establishing our part of the nation is amplified by how many countries claimed ownership of present day North and South Dakota.

Here’s a breathtaking and somewhat head-scratching chronology of North Dakota. Since 1804 the state, or the greater portions of it, have been part of the following territories: Louisiana, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.

Sovereign nations that claimed the land of North Dakota were France, then England, followed by Spain, then back to France and finally to the United States when President Thomas Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase.

Early plans failed to carve a section away from the territory and name it Lincoln. That would have added yet another dimension to our multiple names.

In the meantime, mapmakers probably never complained about not having enough to do. Happy Birthday, Dakota Territory!

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark


Sources: Piper, Marion, 1964, Dakota Territorial Centennial Commission, Dakota Portraits