Tag Archives: Dakota Sioux

Winter on the Plains

Homesteaders in North Dakota

Though its topography varied from region to region, the area known as the western Plains could be counted on to have a harsh environment. Summer temperatures often reached 100 degrees, and winter temperatures well into the double-digits below zero. Without many trees to stop or break the wind, heavy snows could be blinding and treacherous. South Dakota, one of the Plains states and home to the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, experienced difficult weather that brought out its inhabitants’ resourcefulness and courage.

The Lakota and Dakota Sioux, native peoples who had lived on the Plains for centuries, were nomadic. During the winter they lived in buffalo-hide tents (tipis) and ate the food supplies they had gathered and preserved earlier. These supplies could be enormous. An account of General Alfred Sully’s 1863 retaliation against the Dakota for an uprising in 1862 says that his troops burned 500,000 pounds of “jerked buffalo meat, food gathered for the Indians’ long winter” over a two-day period. The melted fat “ran down the valley like a stream,” according to one observer.

This abundance contrasts sorrowfully with the rations most native peoples received once they were forced onto reservations. By the 1880s, game was scarce and the buffalo nearly gone. Iron Teeth, a 92-year-old Cheyenne woman, described her monthly rations: a quart of green coffee, a quart of sugar, a few pounds of flour, and some baking powder. In 1883, winter storms left some of the northern tribes in Montana near starvation. When a government wagon finally got through, it delivered only a load of bacon contaminated by maggots.

Annuity Payment at La Pointe, Wisconsin, 1870, courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Waiting for Rations, circa 1905, courtesy Wannamker Collection, Mathers Museum Indiana University

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Dakota Territory

Gold Rush Town of Deadwood, Dakota Territory, 1876

Though it wasn’t officially created until much later, Dakota Territory was carved from land inhabited by the Dakota Sioux and gained through the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Shortly after the purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804 established the area’s first permanent American settlement at Fort Pierre. Congress created Dakota Territory in March, 1861. Though Congress quickly reduced its size to that of North and South Dakota, the territory was originally a huge tract of land that eventually became North Dakota, South Dakota, and most of Wyoming and Montana. President Lincoln established a territorial government and appointed his personal physician, William Jayne of Springfield, Illinois as governor in 1861; at that time, the white population stood at only a little over 2,000. Dakota Territory boomed in the 1870s with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills and the expansion of railroads, and by the late 1880s, the territory had almost half a million non-Native American residents. The territory’s population could now justify statehood.

On November 2, 1889, both North and South Dakota were admitted to the United States. There was controversy about which state should be admitted first, and President Benjamin Harrison did not want to show favoritism. He shuffled the Act of Admissions papers for North Dakota and South Dakota, and signed one at random without recording which one it was. Consequently, the two states’ order of admission is listed alphabetically, with North Dakota noted as the 39th state and South Dakota the 40th state.

Line of Oxen and Wagons in Sturgis, Dakota Territory, 1887

Post Office in Pembina, Dakota Territory, 1863

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South Dakota Is Still Brand New

Little Thunder, Yankton Dakota (1887) courtesy of http://www.firstpeople.us/

Little Thunder, Yankton Dakota (1887) courtesy of http://www.firstpeople.us/

South Dakota was still a relatively new state when Canton’s ex-mayor, Oscar S. Gifford, made good on his hope to have an Indian insane asylum built there. Dakota Territory had been created in 1861, and took its name from the Dakota Sioux word meaning “allies.” This huge tract of land included what became North and South Dakota, and most of Montana and Wyoming. Two years later, the territory was reduced to the area of North and South Dakota only.

By the late 1880s, the northern part of the territory had about 190,000 people in it, and the southern part about 340,000. These numbers justified statehood. North Dakota became the 39th state and South Dakota the 40th, on November 2, 1889.

Sod Home courtesy Library of Congress Fred Hulstrand and F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

Sod Home courtesy Library of Congress Fred Hulstrand and F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

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