Have you ever wondered: How did Pierre become the capital of South Dakota?

Published: Oct. 31, 2017 at 11:38 AM CDT
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The original question a viewer asked is 'Why was the capital moved from Yankton to Pierre?' But the capital moved to several cities before it finally landed in Pierre.

Before South Dakota became a state, Yankton was the capital of Dakota Territory. The city lost the status of capital in 1883 though, which was just three years after Governor Nehemiah Ordway came into office.

"Of course, he (Ordway) wanted it to go some place where he had already had land that was in his name. So he could benefit from it." said Crystal Nelson, who is the director and curator of the Dakota Territorial Museum in Yankton.

A committee of nine members was put together to vote for the new capital. Any city could be considered as long as they offered the government $100,000 and 160 acres of land. Bismarck earned five votes, becoming the new capital of the territory.

"Yankton never really had a chance to put their two cents in," said Nelson.

Dakota Territory split several years after that in 1889 into North and South Dakota. Bismarck stayed the capital of North Dakota. Pierre is in the middle of South Dakota geographically, so it was named the temporary capital while cities campaigned for the title.

"That's what a lot of the smaller communities did was try to help lobby for their community of choice for the capital," said Nelson.

Some cities made campaign ribbons to win more votes. Mitchell, Huron, Watertown, and Pierre were just a few of the cities wanting the capital status.

"It went to a public vote where everyone could go to vote and everyone could decide where they wanted to have the permanent capital," said Nelson. "So Pierre did win."

The city of Yankton didn't even try to become the capital of South Dakota because of its geographical location. The vote for the capital of South Dakota was held in 1890. Huron came in second behind Pierre.