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Creating a Territorial Capital


Capital at YanktonThe first capitol building of Dakota Territory, located in Yankton, was a modest two-story structure. (SHSND 0389-53)

The Territorial Legislature of 1871 adopted a memorial to Congress requesting a division of Dakota along the 46th parallel of latitude.  Similar memorial requests were adopted and sent to Congress by the Legislatures of 1872, 1874, and 1877.  The completion of the Northern Pacific Railway to Bismarck did much to increase interest and influence the final decision.


Nehemiah Ordway, Territorial Governor from 1880 to 1884, decided to move the capital from Yankton, South Dakota.  During the Assembly of 1883, he secured enough backing to push through a bill creating a capital commission of nine persons who were authorized to choose a new capital city.  The Commission was to meet within 30 days at Yankton, organize, and then proceed with the selection, visiting the towns vying for the rich reward.  Yankton was determined to keep the capital.  Aberdeen, Bismarck, Huron, Mitchell, Pierre, Redfield, and Sioux Falls wanted it, and Fargo and Jamestown would have welcomed it if offered.

In the face of all the opposition, it seemed to the Yanktonites that their best hope lay in preventing the Commission from meeting to organize.  Since the meeting had to be held in Yankton to be legal, a constant watch was kept for signs of any such gathering.  Unknown to the people of Yankton, however, the Commission members had chartered a special train which left Sioux Falls at 3:00 AM on April 3, bound for Yankton.  As the dimly-lit coach, with Commission members aboard, was pulled slowly into the Yankton city limits, the members met, chose officers and adjourned the meeting until that afternoon.  When the hurried meeting was over, the train still had half a mile to go to the city limits.  The Commissioners had lived up to the letter of the law, and had outwitted the Yankton maneuver.