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March 2nd, 1861 – On This Day in Sioux Falls History, President James Buchanan signs a bill for the official organization of Dakota Territory. Strangely enough the bill which “created” Dakota Territory passed congress and was signed by the president only after residents of Sioux Falls and the Big Sioux River Valley had tried… TWICE… to create their own territory without federal approval!!!

Really, as with most things, we can blame it all on Minnesota!  Minnesota Territory stretched from the Mississippi River on the eastern border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, all the way to the Missouri River, including half of what is now North and South Dakota.  It was a huge chunk of land.  When Minnesota became a state Congress required them to select a much smaller segment of land to be established as a state.

Arguments ensued, one of which suggest Sioux Falls as the new capital of the State of Minnesota (What!), but in the end St. Paul remained the capitol and Minnesota was established as the tall and skinny state we recognize on the map today between Iowa and Canada.  However, this created a bit of a problem for all of the land that was “left out” of Minnesota (the eastern halves of North and South Dakota), it was land without a territory or state government overseeing it!

At the time, everything west of the Missouri River was considered “Indian Country.” American settlers were not allowed by law to homestead in that area.  Also at the time the Yankton Sioux Tribe was challenging their boundaries in Eastern South Dakota, as some of “their land” had been signed away by Chiefs not recognized by the tribe as having the authority to speak on their behalf.  All in all, the federal government was not eager to add the thin stretch of land to any territories or to create new territories anytime soon!

This led the handful of settlers in the area to get creative!  They argued that as full legal citizens of the United States and operating within an area outside of any territory or state law, they were actually obligated to put in place law and order in “aide” to Congress.  Of course when they attempted to create their new territory they elected each other as Governor, Congressional Delegate, and other high ranking offices!  Twice the squatter governments of “Dakota Territory” sent an “elected representative” to Washington DC to submit a bill requesting formal recognition by the Federal Government… twice the delegate was laughed out of the chamber while his bill died a quick death in the committee rooms.

Alas it was the work of an outsider, in fact Abraham Lincoln’s cousin, by marriage, John Blair Smith Todd,  who successfully lobbied to win territorial status for the land of Dakota!  Todd had first come to what would become Dakota Territory as a captain with the US Army spending time at Ft. Randall.  He resigned his commission in 1855 and promptly secured financing and partnerships to invest heavily in what he believed would be a boom in Dakota Territory.  Todd and his partners secured official treaties with the hold out Yankton Sioux Tribes, making it legal for US settlement in the previously disputed southeastern corner of South Dakota and did much to establish. He was an early citizen of Yankton and lobbied family, friends, and most importantly influential politicians back in DC to recognize the territory. At last Buchanan admitted Dakota Territory to the union on his second to last day in office, but he left the appointment of its first Territorial Governor to the new president… Abraham Lincoln.  It looked like Lincoln would make Todd our first governor, but before he could get around to making the declaration it came out that one of Todd’s partners had been involved in a Civil War plot to cease St. Louis for the Confederacy!  Too juicy of scandal for Lincoln to wade into, he instead appointed his long time personal physician from Springfield, William Jayne.