U.S. Dakota Territory Becomes Two States

United States #858 (1939)

United States #858 (1939)

On November 2, 1889, the United States Territory of Dakota was split and the two halves were admitted into the Union as the separate states of North Dakota and South Dakota. President Benjamin Harrison signed proclamations formally admitting both states but had the papers shuffled to obscure which one was signed first and the order went unrecorded.  They were the 39th and 40th states to be admitted. North Dakota is bordered by the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the north, Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south, and Montana to the west. The state capital is Bismarck, and the largest city is Fargo. North Dakota is the 19th most extensive but the fourth least populous of the 50 United States, while South Dakota is the 17th most expansive and the fifth least populous state in the nation. Pierre is South Dakota’s state capital and Sioux Falls, with a population of about 171,000, is the largest city. It’s bordered by the states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana as well as bisected by the Missouri River, dividing South Dakota into two geographically and socially distinct halves, known to residents as “East River” and “West River”. Eastern South Dakota is home to most of the state’s population, and fertile soil in this area is used to grow a variety of crops. West of the Missouri, ranching is the predominant agricultural activity, and the economy is more dependent on tourism and defense spending. Most of the Native American reservations are located in West River.

The original Dakota Territory consisted of the northernmost part of the land acquired in the Louisiana purchase in 1803, as well as the southmost part of Rupert’s Land, which was acquired in 1818 when the boundary was changed to the 49th parallel. The name refers to the Dakota branch of the Sioux tribes which occupied the area at the time. Most of Dakota Territory was formerly part of the Minnesota and Nebraska territories and included much of present-day Montana and Wyoming as well as all of present-day North and South Dakota and a small portion of present-day Nebraska.

Land speculators founded two of eastern South Dakota’s largest present-day cities: Sioux Falls in 1856 and Yankton in 1859.  When Minnesota became a state in 1858, the leftover area between the Missouri River and Minnesota’s western boundary fell unorganized. When the Yankton Treaty was signed later that year, ceding much of what had been Sioux Indian land to the U.S. Government, early settlers formed an unofficial provisional government and unsuccessfully lobbied for United States territory status. Three years later, President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s cousin-in-law, J.B.S. Todd, personally lobbied for territory status and the U.S. Congress formally created Dakota Territory. It became an organized territory on March 2, 1861.

The territory was not directly involved in the American Civil War but did raise some troops to defend the settlements following the Dakota War of 1862 which triggered hostilities with the Sioux tribes of Dakota Territory. The Department of the Northwest sent expeditions into Dakota Territory in 1863, 1864 and 1865. It also established forts in Dakota Territory to protect the frontier settlements of the Territory, Iowa and Minnesota and the traffic along the Missouri River.

Following the Civil War, hostilities continued with the Sioux until the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. By 1868, creation of new territories reduced Dakota Territory to the present boundaries of the Dakotas. Territorial counties were defined in 1872, including Bottineau County, Cass County and others. During the existence of the organized territory, the population first increased very slowly and then very rapidly with the “Dakota Boom” from 1870 to 1880. Because the Sioux were considered very hostile and a threat to early settlers, the white population grew slowly. Gradually, the settlers’ population grew and the Sioux were not considered as severe a threat.

The population increase can largely be attributed to the growth of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Settlers who came to the Dakota Territory were from other western territories as well as many from northern and western Europe. These included large numbers of Norwegians, Germans, Swedes, and Canadians. Commerce was originally organized around the fur trade. Furs were carried by steamboat along the rivers to the settlements. In 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills during a military expedition led by George A. Custer and miners and explorers began illegally entering land promised to the Lakota. Custer’s expedition took place despite the fact that the United States had granted the entire western half of present-day South Dakota (West River) to the Sioux in 1868 by the Treaty of Laramie as part of the Great Sioux Reservation.

The Sioux declined to grant mining rights or land in the Black Hills, and war broke out after the U.S. failed to stop white miners and settlers from entering the region. Eventually the U.S. defeated the Sioux and broke up the Great Sioux Reservation into five reservations, settling the Lakota in those areas. The population surge increased the demand for meat spurring expanded cattle ranching on the territory’s vast open ranges. With the advent of the railroad agriculture intensified: wheat became the territory’s main cash crop. Economic hardship hit the territory in the 1880’s due to lower wheat prices and a drought.

The territorial capital was Yankton from 1861 until 1883, when it was moved to Bismarck. The Dakota Territory was divided into the states of North Dakota and South Dakota on November 2, 1889. The admission of two states, as opposed to one, was done for a number of reasons. The two population centers in the territory were in the northeast and southeast corners of the territory, several hundred miles away from each other. On a national level, there was pressure from the Republican Party to admit two states to add to their political power in the Senate as this meant having four new Republican senators.

Admission of new western states was a party political battleground with each party looking at how the proposed new states were likely to vote. At the beginning of 1888, the Democrats under President Grover Cleveland proposed that the four territories of Montana, New Mexico, Dakota and Washington should be admitted together. The first two were expected to vote Democratic and the latter two were expected to vote Republican so this was seen as a compromise acceptable to both parties. However, the Republicans won majorities in Congress and the Senate later that year. To head off the possibility that Congress might only admit Republican territories to statehood, the Democrats agreed to a less favorable deal in which Dakota was divided in two and New Mexico was left out altogether. Cleveland signed it into law on February 22, 1889 and the territories could become states in nine months time after that. However, incoming Republican President Benjamin Harrison had a problem with South Dakota; most of the territory was Sioux reservation land and the state would not be viable unless much of this land became available to settlers.

There had been previous attempts to open up the territory, but these had foundered because the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) required that 75% of Sioux adult males on the reservation had to agree to any treaty change. A commission headed by Richard Henry Pratt in 1888 had completely failed to get the necessary signatures in the face of opposition from Sioux leaders and even government worker Elaine Goodale, later Superintendent of Indian Education for the Dakotas. The government believed that the Dawes Act (1887), which attempted to move the Indians from hunting to farming, in theory meant that they needed less land (but in reality was an economic disaster for them) and that at least half was available for sale. Congress approved an offer of $1.25 per acre for reservation land (a figure they had previously rejected as outrageously high) and $25,000 to induce the Indians to sign.

A new commission was appointed in April 1889 that included veteran Indian fighter general George Crook. Crook pulled out all the stops to get the Indians to sign, using a number of underhand tactics. He threatened them that if they did not sign, the land would be taken anyway and they would get nothing. This would not have been seen as an idle threat; the treaty had been ignored in the past when the Black Hills were taken from the Sioux. Crook ignored leaders like Sitting Bull and Red Cloud who opposed the sale and kept them out of the negotiations, preferring instead to deal with moderate leaders like American Horse. American Horse, however, claimed immediately afterwards that he had been tricked into signing. Crook made many personal promises (such as on reservation rations) which he had no authority to make, or ability to keep. He claimed afterwards that he had only agreed to report the concerns back to Washington. Crook lied about how many signatures he already had, giving the impression that the signature he was currently asking for would make no difference. He said that those who did not sign would not get a share of the money for the land. Crook even allowed white men who had married Sioux to sign, a dubious action given that the blood quantum laws only counted full-blood Indians as members of the tribe. By August 6, 1889, Crook had the requisite number of signatures, half the reservation land was sold, and the remainder divided among six smaller reservations.

The rivalry between the two new states presented a dilemma of which was to be admitted first. Harrison directed Secretary of State James G. Blaine to shuffle the papers and obscure from him which he was signing first and the actual order went unrecorded, thus no one knows which of the Dakotas was admitted first. However, since North Dakota alphabetically appears before South Dakota, its proclamation was published first in the Statutes At Large. Since that day, it has become common to list the Dakotas alphabetically and thus North Dakota is usually listed as the 39th state.

On December 29, 1890, the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Commonly cited as the last major armed conflict between the United States and the Lakota Sioux Nation, the massacre resulted in the deaths of at least 146 Sioux, many of them women and children. Thirty-one U.S. soldiers were also killed in the conflict.

The original North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck burned to the ground on December 28, 1930. It was replaced by a limestone-faced art deco skyscraper that still stands today. During the 1930’s, several economic and climatic conditions combined with disastrous results for South Dakota. A lack of rainfall, extremely high temperatures and inappropriate cultivation techniques produced what was known as the Dust Bowl in South Dakota and several other plains states. Fertile topsoil was blown away in massive dust storms, and several harvests were completely ruined. The experiences of the Dust Bowl, coupled with local bank foreclosures and the general economic effects of the Great Depression, resulted in many South Dakotans leaving the state. The population of South Dakota declined by more than 7% between 1930 and 1940.

Economic stability returned with the U.S. entry into World War II in 1941, when demand for the state’s agricultural and industrial products grew as the nation mobilized for war. In 1944, the Pick–Sloan Plan was passed as part of the Flood Control Act of 1944 by the U.S. Congress, resulting in the construction of six large dams on the Missouri River, four of which are at least partially located in South Dakota. Flood control, hydroelectricity, and recreational opportunities such as boating and fishing are provided by the dams and their reservoirs.

Scott #858, based on an original sketch made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was released on November 2, 1939, to mark the 50th anniversary of the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana (admitted on November 8, 1889), and Washington (November 11, 1889). The 3-cent rose violet stamp is perforated 11×10½.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s