Dakota Datebook

Dakota Territory Governor Jayne

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Today, in 1920, lightning killed the cow that Amidon farmer, Thorvald Olstad, was milking, but he escaped without injury. And in Embden, lightning struck and killed three horses hitched to a plow just moments after the driver walked away on an errand.

Today also marks the birthday of the first governor of Dakota Territory, William Jayne, who was born in 1826.

Days before President Buchanen left office in March of 1861, he signed an order that created the Dakota Territory, which comprised present-day North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and the northern half of Wyoming. The new president, Abe Lincoln, was dealing with the Civil War and didn’t have a lot of resources to devote to the new territory. He needed a regional Governor, and Captain J. B. S. Todd, a Yankton lawyer, was the most obvious choice. But Todd was a cousin of

Mary Todd-Lincoln, and the president didn’t want to show favoritism. So instead he chose his 36-year-old personal physician, Dr. William Jayne.

Dr. Jayne had never been to Dakota Territory and neither had any of Lincoln’s other newly appointed officials. They had no idea where the new capital would be, but set out for Sioux City, Iowa, which was in the general direction of Dakota. On the way, Governor Jayne selected Yankton, “Captain Todd’s Town,” as the temporary capital of the new territory.

Land speculators, Native Americans, trappers, lawyers and soldiers greeted the Easterners when they arrived. Yankton was a settlement of tents, sod houses and log huts sheltering about three hundred people, mostly bearded young bachelors armed with pistols, rifles and knives.

The officials booked rooms on Broadway at the Ash Hotel, which was little more than a large room with dirt floors. Blankets and hides divided the sleeping quarters into private compartments, and two or three men shared each bed.

For the first six months in Dakota Territory, Governor Jayne shared a bed with Attorney General Gleason, and a cramped log cabin served as the governor’s executive office.

The first political campaigns included mass meetings, torchlight parades, fierce debates and free-for-all fights, but finally the members of the first Dakota Assembly members were elected. That March, the Legislature convened in a clapboard house and the Senate in a small church. Of the thirteen members of the House, only six were over thirty years old. Few legislators were farmers, and in fact, not many of the first Dakota lawmakers believed farming would be of much importance in the Territory.

Parliamentary procedure of the Assembly allowed pistol shots for getting the Speaker’s attention, and the meetings soon got out of hand. When the first Speaker of the House, George Pinney, learned that his political enemies planned to throw him out the window, he asked Governor Jayne to station soldiers in the House. The House members resented the restrictions on their powers and walked out in protest. Speaker Pinney resigned, and a 22-year old army officer took his place.

By the following year, Governor Jayne had had enough. He resigned as territorial governor and went back to Illinois, where he later became Mayor of Springfield.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from North Dakota Public Radio.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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