Tag Archives: Louisiana Purchase

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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Local History

Poster Encouraging Westward Migration

Huge changes took place in the American West during the 1800s. The pre-Revolution colonies were supposed to abide by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which forbade them to move westward past a certain point (called the Proclamation Line) extending from Quebec to West Florida. Colonists resented the restriction and often didn’t obey it, and the Proclamation merely fueled growing aggravations between England and the colonies. Once the American Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase (1803) gave colonists both freedom and land, westward expansion began in earnest.

The new country’s own Preemption Act of 1841 allowed squatters on federal land (particularly in Kansas and Nebraska Territories) to buy 160 acres for $200, and then preserve their ownership of the land by making minimal improvements to it or residing on it for about 14 months. Heads of households, citizens or people intending to become naturalized, and single men, could take advantage of this Act. Eastern states tended to oppose the Act because they were afraid their populations would migrate and cause a labor shortage, but were placated when the government agreed to distribute some of the sales money. Later, the Homestead Act (1862) made property acquisition even easier. The Homestead Act allowed any adult citizen or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. government, to claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. All a claimant had to do to attain ownership of the acreage was to improve the plot by building a home of some kind on it, and cultivate the land. After 5 years on the land, the original filer was entitled to the property, free and clear, except for a small registration fee. The Act originated during the Civil War, and afterward, Union soldiers could deduct the time they had served from the residency requirements.

The ease of attaining land made westward expansion very attractive, and huge chunks of land were appropriated from Native Americans for use by white settlers. My next post will discuss the settlement of South Dakota, where the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians was located.

Proclamation Line of 1763

An Acceptable Dwelling Under the Homestead Act

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Civilizing Indians

Thomas Jefferson, 1803

From the time of their own arrival, most white settlers to America considered Native Americans savages, or at best, uncivilized. Thomas Jefferson wrote about “civilizing” Indians within a peculiar context–that of helping Americans extend their territory. Jefferson saw that Americans would need more land as the new country’s population grew. The best solution for this coming difficulty, he felt, would be forĀ  native peoples to give up their traditional practice of hunting across vast tracts of land in order to free up these spaces for whites.

In a letter to Congress in 1803, Jefferson suggested that Indians take up farming. He wanted to encourage native peoples to “apply to the raising of stock, to agriculture and domestic manufacture, and thereby prove to themselves that less land & labor will maintain them in this, better than in their former mode of living. The extensive forests necessary in the hunting life will then become useless.”

Jefferson hoped that Indians would then see an advantage in exchanging all this useless land for supplies and whatever else would help them to improve their farms and increase their “domestic comforts.” Ultimately, he hoped that his scenario would prepare Indians “to participate in the benefits of our government,” adding that “I trust and believe we are acting for their greatest good.”

Westward Expansion, 1803-1807, courtesy University of Texas Libraries

Native Americans Raising Corn

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American Philosophy

American Progress, a painting by John Gast (1872), Depicts the Idea of Manifest Destiny

People today often find it hard to understand how Americans and their government could have treated native peoples so badly. Americans were not alone in thinking that their particular race/religion/country/form of government/, etc., was superior to the rest of the world’s, but they also operated under a mentality that gave them seemingly rational reasons for pushing native peoples out of their way. Continue reading

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