A Note from Cottonwood Corners

The year of 1872 was in many respects a notable and memorable one in the history of the Dakota Territory and the area north of the Missouri River between Sioux City and west of Fort Randall.  It was the year of the first railway, the coming of the Hollanders, equine influenza, Jack Sully elected sheriff, and the founding of Yankton College.

On January 5th, General John B. Todd, the first delegate in Congress for several years passed away.  He had spent the winter of 1855-56 in the Army at Fort Pierre.  He resigned his commission from the Army in September of 1856 to begin a business career which resulted in the firm of Frost, Todd and Company being organized at Sioux City.

When Fort Randall was completed in 1856, he was appointed post sutler (post trader).  The central component at Fort Randall, as well as at the other posts around the country, was the trading post.  This is where officers, soldiers, and their families — as well as civilian transients, settlers, and Indians — could buy tobacco, clothing, and a wide variety of personal and household articles.

Todd was admitted to the bar in 1861 and commenced to practice law in Yankton.  He served as a delegate to the 37th and 38th United States Congress, between 1861 and 1865.  In 1864 he was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection to Congress and returned to Yankton where he served as speaker of the territorial House of Representatives in 1866 and 1867.  He was once again unsuccessful in running for the nomination for a seat in the U. S. Congress in 1868.

Todd, who was a fist cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln, graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1837.  He is interred in the Yankton Cemetery on the northern edge of that city.

An indication that more settlers were moving into the territory was the establishment of a postoffice at Scotland in April of 1872.  This was a clear indication of the spread of society into the interior; however, naturally of course keeping near water (James River).

For the earliest settlers along the river, conditions were tough.  Their struggles were unimaginable.  Doane Robinson, in his History of South Dakota wrote:

“It was God’s plan that Dakota should not be peopled by any race of weaklings, and with lash of hail and sting of blizzard and bite of blistering drought he drove out the fair weather faint hearts, preserving his splendid inheritance in the new land for the men and women with iron in their blood who had the courage and persistence to stick it out until Providence in its own good time gave them their reward.”

By the middle of June, the first of a large number of Holland immigrants began to settle in both Charles Mix and Douglas counties.  These were Hollanders from Michigan.

On July 31, 1872, Yankton Academy was organized with Joseph Ward as President.  At the time he was serving as pastor at the Congregational Church in Yankton.  This was the foundation for the establishment of Yankton College which was incorporated on August 30, 1881.  It was the first college established in Dakota Territory.  On June 15, 1882, the corner-stone for the first building was laid.

The previous year, Congress had legalized the railway bond act which resulted in the construction of the Dakota Southern Railroad west from Sioux City early in the season.  The railroad boom had begun and on October 23rd the construction train reached Elk Point.  It was in Vermillion on November 25, 1872.  The citizens of Yankton made every plan to give it a grand reception by New Year’s Day; however, weather did not permit.

The railroad was opened for traffic from Sioux City to Yankton early in February of 1873.  An excursion from Yankton to Sioux City took place on Thursday and Friday, February 11 and 14, 1873.  This was the first railroad to enter and operate in the Dakota Territory.  It was distinctly a Dakota project and the organizers deserved a lot of credit.

The long agony was now said to be over, which was largely true as to the great majority of the people of the settled portion of the territory.  They had been supplied with their most important material need at the time — ample transportation facilities for the shipment of their surplus agricultural products to a cash market.

The general election for 1872 was held on October 8th.  Jack Sully was elected sheriff of Charles Mix County.  He was supported by the Lamonte Organization which existed to see that the right Territorial delegate to Congress, the right governor, and their men were kept in office.  Even though there were only fifty-five eligible voters in the county, Jack received sixty-one votes!

An epizootic outbreak of equine influenza in North America became known as “The Great Epizootic of 1872.”  That outbreak which swept across the country weakened the horses and mules very seriously and incapacitated them for one to two weeks.  Not a horse or mule in the Dakota Territory escaped the disease.  It caused great inconvenience and alarm while it lasted.  About 1% of the animals died, and the rest fully recovered.

The tenth session of the territorial legislature convened on December 2, 1872 and adjourned on January 10, 1873.  The legislative campaign up to the election was only second in excitement to the congressional fight.

The entire legislative session in Yankton was occupied with petty politics and undignified conduct.


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on December 14, 2022

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