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Changing Borders Before Dakota


Before North and South Dakota, there was Dakota Territory, but before Dakota Territory the area had many other characterizations. The Mandan, the Arikara, the Hidatsa, the Anishinabe, the Oyate all had their way to talk about it. After the arrival of Europeans, it became part of a vast area referred to as Louisiana, generally defined as the western watershed of the Mississippi River. France claimed the region in 1682 until the Mississippi Company gained control in 1712. France got Louisiana back in 1731, then transferred it to Spain under a secret treaty in 1762. Another secret treaty in 1800 ceded Louisiana back to France. Napoleon Bonaparte viewed Louisiana as key to his North American empire, but American interests and claims rivaled those of Napoleonic France. In 1803, Napoleon sold Louisiana to the US for $15 million. After Louisiana’s statehood in 1812, the rest of the Louisiana Purchase became Missouri Territory.

Under the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, however, the US ceded land along modern Montana’s northern border to Britain. This is the US’s only lasting and major cession of land to a foreign power. Britain ceded the southern Red River Basin in modern North Dakota and Minnesota, defining the northern US boundary at the 49th parallel.

From there, the modern Dakotas became parts of several territories that changed with the United States’ expansion. Missouri Territory was split in 1819, with the land north of the modern state of Missouri’s southern border remaining an organized territory. This included the Dakotas and most of the Midwest. Dakota would later be part of the Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska territories.

On this date in 1861, Congress created Dakota Territory, adjacent to Nebraska Territory at the southern border of modern South Dakota.

The territory’s borders changed several times. Originally, it included the modern Dakotas, much of Montana and northern Wyoming. By 1868, Dakota was carved up to create other territories, with Dakota assuming the borders of North and South Dakota we know today. It remained a territory for another 28 years, waiting longer than many other territories for statehood. Finally, in 1889, North and South Dakota were created as twin states, and admitted to the Union.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura