Dakotas governors greet wagon train

Farm Forum

PIERRE — On a bluebird Saturday with leaves turning gold, the governors of the Dakotas gathered at the front of the Capitol to honor the wagon train teams that traveled from Yankton to Pierre, marking 125 years of statehood.

“Happy birthday, North Dakota! Happy birthday, South Dakota!” South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard exclaimed as the event began.

Wagon master Gerald Kessler of Fort Pierre spoke of the generosity and interest shown by community after community during the 17-day ride.

“Every section line had three to 20 cars with people taking pictures,” he said.

The wagons averaged 15 to 17 miles per day.

“It really is an historic occasion,” North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said. He led the hundreds of people in the audience and with the wagons in singing “Happy Birthday, South Dakota.”

No horse or mule within earshot was heard to join in, however.

The wagon train rolled into the Pierre area on Friday evening. Yankton served as the original capital for Dakota Territory starting in 1861.

Territorial legislators decided in 1883 to move the capital somewhere other than Yankton. Of 11 communities vying for the prize, Bismarck, N.D., prevailed on the thirteenth ballot.

South Dakota historian Herbert Schell said, in his 1975 book, History of South Dakota, that the Bismarck decision changed the dynamics of statehood. He said the territory split became north and south rather than east and west.

President Benjamin Harrison signed the admission of the two Dakotas as states Nov. 2, 1889. One year later, South Dakota voters chose Pierre as their permanent capital over Huron 41,969 to 34,610.

“We fought hard for it,” Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill said Saturday.

Dalrymple described the territorial move to Bismarck as “one rip” that led to the separation into two Dakotas as states.

“I know we have remained twins in many ways,” he said.

Dalrymple said the weekend marked his first visit to the Pierre area.

On Aug. 16, Daugaard participated in an all-day event at Bismarck with Dalrymple for the sesquicentennial there.

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