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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Territory of Dakota
Organized incorporated territory of the United States


1861 – 1889



Location of Dakota Territory
Capital Yankton (1861-1883)
Bismarck (1883-1889)
Government Organized incorporated territory
Governor List
 - Created from Nebraska & unorganized territories March 2 1861
 - Idaho Territory split off March 4 1863
 - Land received from Idaho Territory May 28, 1864
 - Wyoming Territory split off July 25 1868
 - North Dakota & South Dakota statehood November 2 1889

The Territory of Dakota was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from March 2, 1861, until November 2, 1889, when the final extent of the reduced territory was split and admitted to the Union as the states of North and South Dakota.

The Dakota Territory consisted of the northernmost part of the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of the United States. 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. 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 Lakota land to the U.S. Government, early settlers formed an unofficial provisional government and unsuccessfully lobbied for United States territory status. However, it wasn't until three years later when soon-to-be-President Abraham Lincoln's cousin-in-law, J.B.S. Todd, personally lobbied for territory status that Washington formally created Dakota Territory.

It became an organized territory on March 2, 1861. Upon creation, Dakota Territory included much of present-day Montana and Wyoming; by 1868, creation of new territories reduced Dakota Territory to the present boundaries of the Dakotas.

Dakota Territory, circa 1886

The territorial capital was Yankton from 1861 until 1883, when it was moved to Bismarck. 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 centers of population 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 the two states rather than one to add political power in the Senate.


Life in Dakota Territory

After becoming an organized territory, the population increased very slowly during the early years and then very rapidly with the "Dakota Boom" from 1870 to 1880.[1] The white population grew slowly for a number of reasons. Mainly, the Sioux Indians were considered very hostile and a threat to early settlers. They were gradually defeated and were not as severe a threat.[2] The population increase can largely be attributed to the growth of railroads, specifically the Northern Pacific Railroad. Settlers that 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.[3]

Life in Dakota was organized around agriculture and the fertile soil. Wheat became the main cash crop of the territory. Economic hardship hit the territory in the 1880s because of a decline in price of wheat and a drought that hit the territory hard. Other economic activities included mining and cattle ranching. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills and attracted more settlers to the area. This population increase led to more of a demand for meat products, and cattle ranching became prominent on Dakota's vast open ranges.[4]

Dakota Territory was the setting for the syndicated western television series, Man Without a Gun, starring Rex Reason as newspaper editor Adam McLean and Mort Mills as Marshal Frank Tillman. The program aired from 1957-1959.

See also


  1. ^ The New Encyclopedia of the American West. Ed. Howard R. Lamar. 1998 Yale University Press, New Haven. pp. 282
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of the American West. Ed. Charles Philips and Alan Axelrod. 1996 Macmillan Reference USA, New York. pp.1200-1201
  3. ^ John H. Hudson, "Migration to an American Frontier," Annals of the Association of American Geographers,(June 1976), 243-244
  4. ^ The New Encyclopedia of the American West, 282

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