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South Dakota

Splitting Dakota

Nov 12, 2020


As what would become North and South Dakota moved towards statehood, regional differences became more apparent. The south had a population of over 98,000 in 1880 when the northern population was only 37,000. The two regions also had different commercial transportation routes. The north was tied to Minneapolis-St. Paul; the south to Omaha and Chicago. There was also something of a personality difference. The south tended to view itself as more civilized and cosmopolitan, while the north was seen as populated by cowboys and fur traders.


French aristocrat Marquis de Mores founded the town of Medora in the spring of 1883 on the east side of the Little Missouri River, across from a small military outpost. His empire is best known for ranching, but the crafty marquis had other business interests, too. He shipped salmon from the Columbia River to the East Coast. He also had ideas for building a pottery works and growing cabbages under glass.


North Dakota’s legislative business is usually done on a tight schedule, no more than 80 days every two years. But sometimes, special sessions are necessary to patch budget shortfalls, to reconsider funding, or to redistrict the Legislature. There have been fifteen special sessions in 130 years.

Too Cold

Mar 26, 2019

North Dakota and South Dakota have been rivals for a long, long time. Congress created Dakota Territory in 1861, and Yankton eventually wrestled with Bismarck over being the territorial capital. The two states’ sports teams have also competed for supremacy for over 100 years. Oddly, in 1880 the rivalry ran fiercely hot over which state had the coldest climate.

What began as a desperate late night ride to warn of an attack ended poorly for a young military man in Dakota Territory. Sam Brown lost the use of his legs after a fifteen-hour, 150 mile ride one wintry night in 1866 near present day Sisseton, South Dakota.

Legend calls him “Prairie Paul Revere.” He was born on this date in 1845 and raised on the Minnesota frontier. His father was a fur trader and scout, and a major under General Henry Hastings Sibley.

When Dakota Territory was created, that also meant organizing its Supreme Court, which was seated at Yankton in southern Dakota for many years. President Lincoln originally appointed three justices – Philemon Bliss, Joseph L. Williams and George P. Williston. Bliss was Dakota’s first chief justice. The men were also trial judges who presided over districts of the territory, so they hardly idled away their days.

The political borders involving this north-central region fluctuated for decades. In 1849, when Minnesota Territory was created, it stretched all the way to the Missouri river. And when Minnesota became a state nine years later, the western remainder of the territory went unorganized.

Early Dakota Markers

Oct 15, 2018

North Dakota’s southern boundary is not the same as it was when the state was young. Towns have come and gone; the Missouri River is dammed; and roads have been constructed. In the autumn of 1891, it was hard going as Charles H. Bates and his eight-man survey crew moved west along the prairie, following the seventh standard parallel and planting quartzite monuments every half-mile to mark the Dakotas’ boundary.

Dividing a territory is no easy matter as Dakotans discovered in the 1880s. Residents of the southern portion of Dakota Territory were eager to become a state. At a convention in 1883, representatives drafted a proposed state constitution. Voters of the forty-two counties approved it and the constitution was submitted to Congress. The Senate approved statehood for the portion of Dakota Territory south of latitude forty-six, but the measure didn’t pass in the House. Those determined to achieve statehood for South Dakota were undeterred. They held another convention in 1885. A new constitution was drafted and submitted to the voters. It passed overwhelmingly.

Division Day Banners

Jul 11, 2018

Creating North Dakota and South Dakota was no easy matter, with years of partisanship and multiple proposals tossed around for dividing Dakota Territory into states. One school of thought saw dividing Dakota into north and south as vital. About 500 delegates from the various counties convened in July of 1888 in Huron to hash out division of the territory.