A Note from Cottonwood Corners

The second session of the legislative assembly of the Territory of Dakota convened at Yankton on Monday, December 1, 1862.  A new edifice had been erected during the fall for the accommodation of the Legislature.  The two Houses met at noon.

The Council (Senate) was made up of the old members who had been elected for two years.  Legislative officials for the Council were elected for president, secretary, sergeant-at-arms, messenger, fireman (responsible for stoking the big stove in the chambers — paid $3.00 per day), and chaplain.

The House of Representatives convened under the most troublesome influence and support possible.  The election in Bon Homme, Charles Mix, and Cole (Union) counties had been characterized by gross irregularities and definitely unlawful methods.  This resulted in contesting claimants for all the legislative seats from those districts.

It became the duty of the secretary of the Dakota Territory, Mr. Hutchinson, to prepare the roll of the members of the House.  He declined to place any name on the roll except those whose seats were not contested.  He called the roll, omitting the names of the six members claiming seats from Bon Homme, Charles Mix, and Cole counties.

As called by the secretary, the House was made up of eight members.  The Attorney General administered the required oath of office and the election of a temporary organization was completed.  No further business was done and the House adjourned until next day.  It reassembled and failed to establish a permanent organization.

On the third day the House made no attempt at all to permanently organize.  Instead, a number of petitions and affidavits bearing on the contested House seats were presented.

On the fourth day, the list of temporary officers for the House was completed by electing a messenger and fireman.  The committee in charge of the documents on the contested seats did nothing.  An effort was made to create a permanent organization, but it failed.

Upon reassembling on the sixth day, the House immediately took up the contested seat matter.  A motion was made to seat two individuals from each of the three counties in which the election procedures were determined to be illegal.  This action was a temporary compromise.  It served the purpose, however, of giving the districts their full representative vote in the Legislature.  They adjourned until next Monday at 10 A. M.

Monday the House standing committees were appointed and immediately a skirmish took place between the coalitions caused by the effort to seat F. D. Pease of Charles Mix, who had strong opposition.  A heated and ferocious debate followed with the Speaker of the House actively participating.  When it finally came to a vote all the affirmative motions failed.  The House finally adjourned.

The next day, there was another stormy session in which actions became dangerous.  One side went after the other “in a pitchfork fashion” and the other side retaliated “with accusations that threatened physical combat.”  A motion and ruling in the House brought matters to a crisis — the side which learned that they would be outvoted, quietly withdrew from the House.  This left that body without a quorum.  The House then adjourned.

When the House convened Wednesday morning, the credentials of a representative from Charles Mix and Minnehaha counties were presented and they were sworn in by the Attorney General.  It was well known by everyone that no election had been held in Minnehaha County.  Every white settler had left the county and the town of Sioux Falls on the 30th of August, two days before the election.  For safety, they came to Yankton.

Finally, two representatives were sworn in as members, bringing the House membership to eleven.  The next ceremony for the legislature was the joint convention and message from of the governor.  This was nine days after the legislature first met on December 1st.

Mr. Armstrong from the House and Councilman Shober (Senate) were appointed as a committee to wait on the governor and inform him that the two houses were ready to receive his communication.  The governor replied to the committee that he had no communication to make at the present time.  He also stated “that he did not recognize the branch of the Legislature to which M. K. Armstrong belongs.”

When the joint convention received the blunt communication from the governor, that body dissolved, each returning to their respective chambers.  The three officers of the House who were in sympathy with the members who withdrew, now absented themselves.  Their vacant positions were filled and the House adjourned.

The House continued its sessions but did nothing in the way of legislation.  It was clear that the leaders of the House were uneasy and dissatisfied with their position.  The Council (Senate) was going along with its business, introducing and passing bills, and apparently paying no attention to the House troubles.  The governor had not recognized this Legislature.  He had absolute power under the organic act and there was no appeal.

Finally, on the seventeenth day of the legislative session, the two Houses met in joint convention and received the governor’s message.  The Legislature adjourned on the 9th of January, 1863, after an exciting and unusual legislative session.  It cannot be said that all was peace and good will among the members at the end.  Everyone was glad that the second session had finally come to a close.

The problem of voter fraud is as old as the country itself.

 

Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on December 7, 2022

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