When Arthur C. Mellette was confirmed by the US Senate on March 12, 1889 he became Dakota Territory’s tenth and last governor. Mellette was from Indiana and was a personal friend of President Harrison. Unlike Governor Church, Mellette was a resident of Dakota Territory having moved to Watertown a number of years before his appointment. In South Dakota’s bid for statehood in 1884, he had been unanimously chosen to head the new state. He was also a Republican, and his appointment was widely favored throughout the territory. It should be noted that in a surprising move, his confirmation was sent to a Senate subcommittee on the 12th, with a number of other names, but only Mellette’s name was returned and confirmed on the same day.
Governor appointee Mellette reached Watertown on the 17th of March and the following day he took the oath of office. On his journey to Bismarck, the document witnessing his oath was lost, so it became necessary for a second swearing-in ceremony. On Friday, March 20th, he entered the Governor’s Office at the Capitol in Bismarck, and in the presence of Gov. Church, Secretary McCormack, and a number of Republican legislators, the oath of office was again administered by Justice Roderick Rose. Also present was Tom Church, son of ex-Governor Church, who was seeing his clerkship slipping away.
After the ceremony, Gov. Church picked up his hat, and flipping it jauntily on his head, he said goodbye to everyone in the office. He stated, “May the Lord be merciful to a poor, miserable sinner,” and with that, left the office he had occupied for the past twenty-five months.
On this date, Gov. Mellette’s first official action was to sign all of the notary certificates. Gov. Church had ignored these after the Republicans had passed a bill authorizing the $5.00 fee be given to the Secretary of the Territory instead of the Governor.
Even though he was a resident of the state, Arthur C. Mellette, looked upon the position as being a carpet bagger. He promised to do only what was necessary to administer to the needs of the territory and to smooth the road to statehood. With Church looked upon as a tyrant ruler, perhaps Mellette looked upon himself as a sort of Moses figure when he stated, “We feel that we shall soon be out of the Wilderness where we have wandered, lo, these many years.” With an indirect reference to Church, he also commented, “I shall be the last appointed governor that will ever curse Dakota.”
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune April 5, 1889
Jamestown Weekly Alert March 28, 1889
Grand Forks Weekly Herald March 29, 1889
History of Dakota Territory by George W. Kingsbury; S. J. Clarke Publishing 1915