To us Nebraskans, the Dakotas, especially South Dakota, belong to our region of America. Many of us have family and friends who live in one or both the Dakotas. My mom was born in Winner, South Dakota. Several of my maternal relatives continue to live there. I also have some friends who live in Rapid City.
North Dakota is home to some special friends. I have a couple of old college pals who have called Fargo home for several decades. A man who was a roommate and coworker of mine in the 1970s, has lived in Dickinson since the 1980s.
They’re sometimes called “The Quiet States”. North Dakota and South Dakota actually have a less than quiet history. The two states are comprised of land that has been the territories of many people throughout history. The states were carved, first from the home of the native plains Indian peoples. The Spanish and French alternately claimed the territory as their own. The large swath of land became a part of the United States after Napoleon Bonaparte sold it as Louisiana Territory.
After the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the territory began opening up to speculators, commercial interests and settlers. This accelerated after steamboats started to navigate many of the region’s rivers. In 1862, the Homestead Act increased migration and settlement in the new territories that had been carved out of the Louisiana Territory. At this stage, Nebraska Territory and Minnesota Territory covered the land that eventually became Dakota Territory.
At this time, tension between the Lakota and other First Nation peoples and the Federal government and settlers increased. Even though the Black Hills were set aside by treaty for exclusive use as a reservation, the 1874 discovery of gold there, changed all of that. The U.S. Army and wildcat gold prospectors poured into the sacred Lakota land. In 1877 the native Americans were forced to yield their Black Hills to the U.S. Government.
This activity overlapped the territorial history of the Dakotas. In 1868, areas of the former Nebraska and Minnesota Territories were officially sectioned off as Dakota Territory.
In the 1880s territorial squabbles erupted over where the location of the capital should be located within the disparetely settled territory. Corporate power began to flex its muscle within the new Dakota Territory. Northern Pacific Railroad’s agent, Alexander McKenzie conspired with the corrupt Republican governor Nehemiah Ordway to move the territorial capital from Yankton, in the south, up to Bismarck, located on the railway’s main line.
The people in the south strongly resented the move, so they began petitioning for separate statehood with work on their own constitution starting the same year. In February of 1889, a congressional omnibus bill was passed that divided Dakota Territory into two halves.
Officials in both territories continued work on their own constitutions with individual statehood as goals. South Dakota settled upon their new territorial capital at Pierre. Then, on November 2, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison signed the two laws of statehood. North Dakota was admitted as the 39th state and South Dakota was admitted as the 40th state of the union.
From that day on, the North and South Dakotans began their journeys in modern history.
At the risk of seeming like a shill for the two states, the Blue Jay of Happiness notes that both North Dakota and South Dakota have a lot of wilderness peace and beauty to offer people who pass through them.