Monday, July 30, 2012
William Jayne, the first Governor of Dakota Territory, issued a proclamation dividing the territory into three judicial districts on this date in 1861. Jayne, Abraham Lincoln’s personal physician from Springfield, Illinois, was only thirty-five years old when President Lincoln appointed him to be Territorial Governor of Dakota. The tremendous task of creating a territorial government within the newly organized territory fell to the young physician.
One of Jayne’s earliest and most important tasks was to organize a system of courts by which to impose law and order on the new territory, but his first official act was to appoint several men to take a census of the new territory; these numbers were employed to set up legislative districts and apportion representatives to each. Although the official census count returned a number of 2,376 persons living in Dakota, it was believed that the actual number was closer to 3,000, it being the case that many residents were gone on annual buffalo hunts during the taking of the census.
The territory was divided into eight legislative districts, with each district receiving between one and two representatives. From these districts, Governor Jayne carved out three judicial districts, based at Vermillion, Yankton, and Bon Homme. No provision, however, was made for a court system within the Red River Valley, forcing all northern Dakota land filings to be made at Vermillion. Apparently, Jayne, and many governors thereafter, believed those in the northern territory had no need of courts.
After the divisions, Jayne appointed judges to each district. According to Bernard Hyatt in his 1987 doctoral dissertation, the system of appointment within the territory was largely based upon favoritism, with laws “…construed to encourage railroad, land, and mining development…” Obviously, there were some problems with the initial divisions, and so it was not surprising when, two years later, the districts were reorganized.
However, it took ten years and the Northern Pacific crossing the Red River for northern Dakota to be designated as one of the territory’s three judicial districts. It was most likely a rude awakening to many northern residents, as “complex laws and codes were brought into Dakota [replacing] existing systems of informal pre-Territorial law” of the frontier justice sort.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme Job
Hyatt, Bernard Floyd. 1987.A Legal Legacy for Statehood: the Development of the Territorial Judicial System in Dakota Territory, 1861-1889. PhD Dissertation, Texas Tech University.
Lounsberry, Clement Augustus. 1919 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines
of American History. Liberty Press: New York: pp. 276-8.