Have you ever wondered: Why was Dakota Territory split into two states?

Published: Aug. 1, 2017 at 1:37 PM CDT
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North Dakota and South Dakota became separate states in the year 1889. It took about seven years for the territories to gain statehood.

A history professor at Augustana University, Dr. Michael Mullin, said the answer depends on who you ask. The debate started when the capitol of Dakota Territory was moved from Yankton to Bismarck.

"South Dakotans say it got stolen. But North Dakotans would say it got moved because that's where the growth was in the territory," Dr. Mullin said. "And at this time, Yankton was very isolated. You couldn't get to Yankton directly from anywhere."

Up until this point, Dr. Mullin said Yanktonites dominated politics in the territory. They were afraid this move would take away their influence. So the conversation started between politicians to create a North Dakota and South Dakota.

"The first question is, 'Will we be one state (or) two state?'" Dr. Mullin said. "Territorial politicians ultimately come okay two states. Much of the one state, two state does come down to personality- that there are some very serious personality conflicts."

Some politicians worried about splitting the states up because of party affiliations.

"Democrats don't want South Dakota in because they are afraid it's going to vote Republican, and Republicans don't want North Dakota in because they think it's going to vote Democratic," Dr. Mullin said.

More politicians liked the idea of separate states though because they believed it created more government support and opportunity. The next question was where to draw the territory line for each state.

"I think they looked at census figures. They looked at what was possible," Dr. Mullin said.

At this time, west river wasn't as settled as east river. Some believed it would take a while to develop.

"What politicians east of the Missouri in both North and South Dakota thought is if that's true and that word gets out, people won't settle," Dr. Mullin said.

That's why the territory was divided north and south officially in 1889, which eventually led to one of the biggest rivalries between the states, The Dakota Marker. Even though the numbers confirm North Dakota leads in wins, South Dakota will always be a winner in the eyes of its people.

Dr. Mullin said there are two books that address this topic of the Dakota Territory separating as well. The first was written by Howard Lamar. The second was written by Jon Lauck who challenges Lamar on who made this decision to separate the states. Lamar's book is called "Dakota Territory 1861-1889." Lauck's book is "Prairie Republic."

If you have a question you'd like answered, reach out to KSFY News reporter Vanessa Gomez. Her email is vanessa.gomez@ksfy.com.