Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Newton Edmunds, the second governor of Dakota Territory, was appointed on this date in 1863. Edmunds took office after the resignation of Governor William Jayne.
Born in New York in 1819, Edmunds and his family moved to Michigan while he was still a boy. His family became heavily involved with politics, specifically the Free Soilers. The Free Soil Party opposed the spread of slavery into the western territories and worked to end discrimination of freed African Americans. Most Free Soilers were absorbed into the Republican Party in 1854. Newton’s brother, commissioner of the United States Land Office, later appointed Newton to work in the Surveyor-General’s office, and, while surveying, Newton traveled to Dakota Territory in 1861. The following year, Edmunds made a name for himself during the Santee Sioux uprising along Dakota’s eastern border, later becoming acquainted with Territorial Governor William Jayne. Jayne served as territorial governor only two years before resigning to return to Missouri to practice medicine. He recommended to President Lincoln, then engaged in the Civil War, that Edmunds be his successor. Jayne’s enthusiastic recommendation secured the governorship for Edmunds in 1863.
Based out of Yankton, the territorial government was extremely primitive. Edmunds began to improve the territory by establishing a public school system, creating a tax system, instituting a system of law enforcement, and working on the construction of roads. Essentially starting from scratch, Edmunds was often frustrated by his inability to attract qualified officials, who felt that Dakota was not “…an appealing place to work.” He worked tirelessly to improve the territory’s image to both settlers and businessmen.
Realizing the importance of agriculture to Dakota early on, he introduced sheep to the territory, and a variety of advanced farming techniques. He also believed that peace between the white settlers and the Indians would be essential to improving Dakota’s image. Although able to reach treaty agreements with thirteen different tribes living along the Missouri River, many politicians disagreed with his peace mission and petitioned for his removal. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson dismissed Edmunds, but he continued tribal negotiations and went on to establish rail service between Yankton and Sioux City, and he founded the Yankton National Bank. He even participated in Dakota’s move toward statehood, attending the first constitutional convention in Sioux Falls in 1883. He remained active in both politics and business until his death in 1908.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job