Tonight, we begin a nearly year long salute marking the 125th anniversary of South Dakota's statehood. South Dakota was granted statehood on November 2nd, 1889.
It was born out of the Dakota Territory. That territory includes what is now North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana and was created in 1861. The naming of the territorial capitol is where the story of South Dakota really begins.
Ask someone about South Dakota's capitol city and they'll tell you about the beautiful state capitol in Pierre. But in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln had other plans in mind. He named William Jayne the first governor for Dakota Territory...and then sent him packing.
"Lincoln told him to go to Yankton and when he was here he was not very happy with what he found when he got here. Because there wasn't really anything here." Crystal Nelson is with the Dakota Territorial Museum in Yankton. She says Yankton had only been in existence for two years when Lincoln made it the capitol of Dakota Territory. What came with that designation? An economic boom. New businesses. New settlers. The beginning of the city's riverboat industry....and a sense of pride. "The residents of Yankton wanted to make Yankton as big as, at the time, the Philadelphia or the St. Louis of its time."
And that growth made Yankton a big city on the prairie. In fact, the biggest between the Iowa border and the Black Hills. The original capitol building was small in comparison to the capitols of today: a two story building; a replica of which lies along Yankton's riverfront. The bottom floor was territory offices. The top floor was the room where territorial legislators began the hard work of putting governing the huge territory. "The territorial days were rough. Those politicians were rough. There were a lot of fistfights and a lot of horrible things that happened."
Yankton was growing. And thriving. And quickly becoming an economic powerhouse. But the end of Yankton's days as territorial capitol began in 1881. A Spring ice jam on the Missouri River flooded Yankton and severely crippled the city's riverboat industry. That industry not only transported people but goods, so the city's economy took a substantial hit. And it spurred a movement to move the territorial capitol from Yankton to Bismarck. Yankton knew its fate was sealed in 1883, when the commission considering relocating the capitol came to Yankton by train. "When the train came through Yankton it literally slowed down but didn't actually stop. So nobody had a chance to do anything."
The capitol was moved to Bismarck. Yankton lost prestige and confidence as a result. People moved away. Businesses closed up. In 1889, when South Dakota was granted statehood, Yankton tried to become the state capitol. But it lost out to Pierre...which was centrally located. But what remains here in Yankton are the memories and the mementos of that time and a sense of accomplishment that what happened here...in a small two story capitol building....led to the state we now know. "There was something here before South Dakota and that there was a lot of groundwork that had to be laid and it wasn't smooth. It wasn't like they showed up and everyone got along and everything worked out just perfect. There were a lot of people who fought really hard to get us to the point where we could become South Dakota."
Many of the early settlers of Yankton have had their names cast into the state by having counties named for them: Mellette, Faulk and Pennington...for example. We want to know: what do you think makes South Dakota...South Dakota? We've got that question up right now on our Facebook page. Let us know what you think.