Congress Creates Dakota Territory

Washington, D.C.
March 2, 1861

With two days to go in office, President James Buchanan signed an act which creates two new territories. Congress carved Nevada Territory out of Utah and created Dakota as a territory stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Red River.
Settlers around Sioux Falls and Yankton pressured Congress to create Dakota. Territorial status means that soon a land survey will be conducted so that the orderly settlement of white farmers can proceed.

William Jayne.

Few settlers now live in the vast territory beyond the southeastern corner. Much of the area remains the property of the native Indian people.
President-elect Abraham Lincoln, who will take office on March 4, says that he will appoint Dr. William Jayne, his personal physician from Springfield, Illinois, as the territory’s first governor. Jayne will oversee all the territorial business and serve as superintendent of Indian affairs.
Under the territorial system the president appoints the major officials: the governor, the secretary, the three judges, and land sale and land survey officials.

Dakota Territory is created as Civil War threatened the country.  In 1861 it includes what will become North and South Dakota, Montana, and part of Wyoming by 1890.  Map created by Everett Albers.

Once Jayne has established legislative districts, the people will elect the members of the territorial council and house of representatives. These legislative bodies will enact the laws of the territory. The governor may veto any bills but the council and house may override the veto by a two-thirds vote. The people also elect a territorial delegate to the United States Congress. The delegate may debate issues but is not allowed to vote. The federal government pays all territorial salaries, including those of the legislature, and all expenses for running the government.

Early homestead scene.  NDIRS.

J. B. S. Todd, a native of Springfield and a cousin of Mrs. Lincoln, has played a very important role in the establishment of the territory and the selection of Yankton, where he owns land, as the territorial capital. Although the few white settlements are now scattered along the Missouri River and near Sioux Falls, Todd is optimistic that once the land is surveyed, people from the East will pour into Dakota Territory to claim rich farm land. “This land is rich and wonderful,” states Todd. “Bounty is at hand.”

North Dakota Indians look with some skepticism at advertisements offering Dakota land for Settlement.

Territorial Political Roundup

1—Vermillion, January 1, 1863
MAHLON S. GORE, the editor of the Vermillion Republican, has claimed the first 160 acres under the Homestead Act.

2—Yankton, March 1863
GOVERNOR JAYNE has resigned. Newton Edmunds of Michigan will arrive shortly as the newly appointed governor.

New settlers ham it up for the photographer on their Dakota homestead.

3—Vermillion, December 1864
The first public school district in the territory has been organized here.

4—Yankton, November 1872
GOVERNOR BURBANK has become very unpopular. His critics claim that he has used his position for the personal gain of himself and his friends.

5—Yankton, December 1873
GOVERNOR BURBANK has resigned under a dark cloud. The new governor is John L. Pennington of North Carolina.

6—Washington, D.C., April 10, 1880
GOVERNOR WILLIAM HOWARD of Dakota Territory died here today. He had been ill for six months. He was held in high esteem. Unlike many governors, he was purely honest.

7—Canton, June 1882
THE FIRST STATEHOOD CLUB was organized here this month. The club will organize others and lobby for Dakota statehood.

8—Yankton, Spring 1883
GOVERNOR NEHEMIAH ORDWAY has conspired with Alexander McKenzie, the Northern Pacific lobbyist from Bismarck, to remove the territorial capital from Yankton to Bismarck. Rumors circulate that McKenzie bribed members of the nine-man commission that was charged with the responsibility of selecting a capital site. Yankton leaders are outraged at McKenzie’s methods and believe that the capital should have stayed put!

9—Sioux Falls, September 8, 1885
A CONVENTION is meeting to draft a constitution for the new proposed state.

10—Bismarck, November 1885
VOTERS have overwhelmingly endorsed the new constitution.

11—Washington, D.C., 1886
CONGRESS has turned down Dakota’s request for statehood.

12—Bismarck, June 1887
TERRITORIAL VOTERS have endorsed a plan for two states—North and South Dakota—by a margin of 5,000 votes. The plan is much more popular in the south than in the north.

13—Washington, D.C., February 22, 1889
PRESIDENT CLEVELAND has signed the Omnibus Bill that creates four new states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Washington.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change