On this date in 1889, the aspirations of thousands of citizens from Dakota Territory who had struggled so hard for self-government appeared to be finally bearing fruit in Congress. Beginning on the 15th of February, the House and Senate conference committee on Territories met to hammer out the differences in the Springer Omnibus Bill. Under the leadership of Representative Cox and a handful of other Democrats in the House, a resolution was drafted to instruct the House members of the Conference Committee, including William Springer, of what changes needed to be made to finally reach an agreement. They were to remove New Mexico from the bill and provide for the admission of South Dakota by presidential proclamation. This could occur once the constitution drafted at Huron in 1885 was submitted to a vote in May.
North Dakota, Montana, and Washington were each to elect delegates to their constitutional conventions, seventy-five for each territory. They were instructed to meet in their respective capital cities on July 4th to form constitutions and organize a state government. Once the constitutions were drafted, votes on ratification would be held on the first Tuesday in October, including, if desired, the election of state officials.
Although vigorously opposing these changes throughout the week, Springer and his friends eventually conceded to most of the points in the resolution. Two Democratic members refused to sign the committee report, but stated they would not block passage – a major concession.
On the afternoon of the 18th a stumbling block occurred when a provision was made in the bill to require South Dakota to hold a vote on the location of their state capitol, which had been set at Huron in the 1885 Constitution. Supporters for Huron finally relented when told that the bill would otherwise be returned to the House, jeopardizing any chance of passage that session.
Back in the Territory, tension was mounting as reports came off the telegraph wires out of St. Paul. The battle had been difficult and often disappointing. Dakota Congressman, Moses Armstrong had stated early in the battle, “All they ask is that Congress throw them … the shield and protection of local laws and self-government.”
Was a thirty-year odyssey really coming to an end? Through bitter battles and with enduring optimism, the fight had been waged. It was on January 4th 1882, that the Bismarck Tribune published its first article using the name “North Dakota,” and it now appeared that within the next forty-eight hours, the burden of creating the new states would pass from Congress to the people of Dakota … North and South.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune February 22, 1889
The Jamestown Weekly Alert February 21, 1889
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune March 1, 1889
Territory of Dakota, Journal of the Council of the Eighteenth Session of the Legislative Assembly, January 1889, Bismarck Tribune Printers. & Binders, 1889
Laws of the Eighteenth Session of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Dakota, Bismarck Tribune Printers & Binders, 1889