© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The End of Pennington


Dakota would see ten territorial governors before North and South Dakota became states. The territory’s governors were a colorful bunch, from the corrupt Nehemiah Ordway to the often absent John Burbank. Topics of the times included relocating the capital, women’s suffrage, and the boom of the railroads.

On this date in 1878, the term in office ended for Governor John L. Pennington, the territory’s fifth governor. Like other Dakota governors, he counted journalism on his resume. Pennington hailed from the South, but he supported the Union in the Civil War. He left journalism in 1866 and spent a stint in the Alabama legislature before President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him Dakota Governor in 1874 after Burbank resigned following a railroad scandal.

Pennington’s Dakota tenure largely dealt with the Black Hills gold rush. The Laramie Treaty had guaranteed these lands for the Sioux tribe, but respect for the treaty lost out to gold fever. By the gold rush’s peak in 1877, Pennington had eventually helped settle the “Black Hills matter.” But the governor became unpopular after three years of grasshopper infestations destroyed crops. Pennington refused to believe the bugs were as bad as reports claimed. He even said financial aid would “demoralize the people” and make begging into something acceptable.

By 1878, Pennington’s time was up. President Rutherford B. Hayes denied him a reappointment, though Dakotans reportedly wanted him to stay on. Pennington’s replacement was William A. Howard, who died two years later from heart and lung problems.

Pennington later became an Internal Revenue collector for Dakota. He opposed the division of North and South Dakota in 1883, and returned to newspapers in 1885, residing in Yankton. In 1891, he returned to the South as journalist. He died in 1900, at age 81. Pennington County, South Dakota is named for him, and his house in Yankton still stands on East Third Street, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


"http://history.nd.gov/exhibits/governors/tgovernors1.html" http://history.nd.gov/exhibits/governors/tgovernors1.html

"http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=132808059" http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=132808059

Kingsbury, G.W. (1915). History of Dakota territory: South Dakota, its history and its people (Vol. 2). Chicago, IL: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. Retrieved from:

"https://books.google.com/books?id=5DBEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA1062&lpg=PA1062&dq=%22april+12%22+dakota+territory&source=bl&ots=yNNI1VE6JY&sig=oMmAUX3i3AtctWEAej92oqjLmE8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjdwfH-3dDLAhUK4iYKHZNEBIoQ6AEIMDAD#v=onepage&q=%22april%2012%22%20dakota%20territory&f=false" https://books.google.com/books?id=5DBEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA1062&lpg=PA1062&dq=%22april+12%22+dakota+territory&source=bl&ots=yNNI1VE6JY&sig=oMmAUX3i3AtctWEAej92oqjLmE8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjdwfH-3dDLAhUK4iYKHZNEBIoQ6AEIMDAD#v=onepage&q=%22april%2012%22%20dakota%20territory&f=false