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The Dakota Territory was created by an Act of Congress on March 2, 1861. Boundaries of the Dakota Territory changed on a number of occasions. Originally, the territory comprised an area that included the present states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and much of Montana and Wyoming. From 1863 to 1864, the area of the territory was limited to the present day Dakotas. The territory included most of the present state of Wyoming and the Dakotas from 1864 to 1868. And from 1868 to 1889 the territory comprised the present states of North Dakota and South Dakota. The territorial capital was established in Yankton in 1861 and later removed to Bismarck in 1883.

The Organic Law that created Dakota Territory provided the framework for the structure and administration of the territory. Conforming generally to the structure of state government, the Organic Law called for a Governor to administer the territory. The Governor was appointed by the President of the United States, served a four-year term, was commander-in-chief of the militia, was superintendent of Indian affairs until 1871, had the power to appoint and commission territorial officials, and could veto bills passed by the Territorial Legislature. In addition, the Governor and the Territorial Secretary had the authority to set taxes for the territory. The Governor, Territorial Secretary, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had the responsibility of canvassing elections and declaring winners of elective contests. The Governor served on various boards and commissions, including the Territorial Board of Education (1864-1887); Board of Equalization (1865-1889); Board of Trustees of Public Property (1887-1889); and the Board of Regents of the Agricultural College in Brookings (1883-1889).

The office of the Territorial Secretary, also provided in the Organic Law, was appointed by the President of the United States to serve a four-year term. The Secretary had responsibility for maintaining all territorial legislative records and acts of the Governor; served as acting Governor in the event of a vacancy; reported to the President and Congress on territorial affairs; maintained the territorial library; had authority for canvassing elections; maintained registrations of corporations operating in the territory; and served on the Board of Trustees of Public Property (1887-1889).

The Territorial Legislature was bicameral. The upper house or Council ranged in size from nine to twenty-four members. The House of Representatives ranged in size from thirteen to forty-eight members. All legislators were elected for two-year terms. The Territorial Legislature met annually from 1862 to 1868 and biennially until statehood in 1889. The Territorial Legislature had the power to override the Governor's veto by a two-thirds vote of both houses.

The judiciary created by the Organic Law consisted of a three-member Supreme Court appointed by the President of the United States to serve four-year terms. The Organic Law also provided for district courts, each presided over by a Territorial Supreme Court justice. The Supreme Court had jurisdiction over cases under both federal and territorial law. Decisions of the Territorial Supreme Court could be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. A fourth associate justice was added to the Supreme Court and an additional district court was created in 1875. The lower court system consisted of probate courts and justices of the peace.

The Organic Law also provided for a Territorial Delegate to be elected by the voters of the territory and seated as a non-voting member of the United State House of Representatives. The office of the Territorial Delegate was much coveted as a result of the power wielded both in Washington and in the territory.

The Dakota Territory was a creature of Congress, as were other United States territories established under provision of the Ordinance of 1787. The actual affairs of the territory were handled by the Department of State until administration of territories was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1873.

The Enabling Act creating the states of North Dakota and South Dakota required the equitable division of territorial property between the two states. A 14 member Joint Committee for the Division of Property was established in July, 1889, consisting of seven members from each state's constitutional convention. Meeting in Bismarck, the Commission adopted a formula to divide the records of the government of Dakota Territory. It was decided that records of value to both states should be transcribed, other records should be distributed by locality (such as court cases and records of institutions), and the remaining records should be divided into two groups "of equal importance and value." Drawing lots then determined which state would receive which group of records. By this method, North Dakota acquired the records of the Territorial Governors and Secretaries and South Dakota acquired records of all other offices. The majority of the records, however, remained in Bismarck.


1787 Organic law allows Congress, during the westward expansion of territories, to appoint a Governor, Secretary, and three Judges.

1861 Dakota Territory created by an Act of Congress on March 2, 1861.

1861 Yankton becomes Territorial Capitol.

1862-1868 Legislature meets annually.

1863-1864 Territorial boundaries limited to present day Dakota.

1864-1868 Dakota Territory expands to include Dakotas and Wyoming.

1868-1889 Legislature meets biennially.

1868-1889 Territory boundaries return to North and South Dakota.

1875 Congress adds an extra Associate Justice and creates District Courts.

1878 Responsibilities of Territory given to Department of the Interior.

1889 A fourteen-member Joint Committee for Division of Property meets in Bismarck at Constitutional Convention and divides the records of the Territory.


Attorney General
30068 Records of the Attorney General.

30069 Correspondence and Reports of Various Territorial Officials and Boards.
30070 Correspondence Concerning the Organization of Counties and Townships.
30071 Abstract of Assessment Rolls.
30072 Dakota Militia Account Book.
30073 Warrant Register.
30074 Vouchers.

Expositions and Conventions
30075 Register of Visitors, to the Dakota Exhibit at the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana.

30076 Official Papers of the Governor.
30077 Correspondence Concerning the Capitol.
30078 Transcripts of Testimony and Correspondence Concerning Murder Cases.
30079 Correspondence Concerning Schools and College.
30080 Correspondence Concerning the Hospital for the Insane.
30081 Correspondence Concerning Conventions and Expositions.
30082 Letters from Foreign Consulates in the United States.
30083 Department of the Interior and the Department of State Correspondence.
30084 Department of the Treasury Correspondence.
30085 US Post Office Correspondence.
30086 Certificates of the Final Entry and Purchase.
30087 Extradition Requisitions.
30088 Records of the Penitentiary.
30089 Records Concerning Military Affairs.
30090 Commissioner of Deed Records.
30091 Reports to the Governor.
30092 Proclamations.
30093 Abstracts of Disbursements.
30094 Miscellaneous.
30095 Petitions and Memorials.
Andrew Faulk Papers. (University of North Dakota, no. 62)
Louis Church Papers. (University of North Dakota, no. 72)

Hospital for the Insane
30096 Payroll Record.
30097 Abstracts of Disbursements.

30098 Record of Action on House and Council Bills.
30099 Petitions and Memorials.

30100 Muster Rolls.

30101 Financial Reports.
30102 Inmate Roster.
30141 Statement of Accounts.
30103 Payroll Record.

Public Examiner
30104 Reports.

Department of Public Instruction
30105 Records.
30106 Annual Report of the County Superintendent of Schools.

30107 Incoming Letters.
30108 Outgoing Letters.
30109 General Correspondence.
30110 Correspondence Concerning the Census.
30111 Census Schedules. 1885
30112 Correspondence Concerning Railroad Companies.
30113 Correspondence Concerning Legislation.
30114 Articles of Incorporation for Foreign and Domestic Corporations.
30115 Articles of Incorporation for Municipalities.
30116 House and Council Bills and Resolutions.
30690 Record of House and Council Bills and Resolutions Received from the Governor.
30117 Proceedings of the Joint Committee for the Division of Property.
30118 Militia Census.
30119 Certification of Election.

31118 Dakota Territorial Papers
Consists of records received by the Department of the Interior from the Governor and Secretary of Dakota Territory. Records include executive proceedings (copies of official acts of the Governor, proclamations, executive orders, extraditions, oaths of office, pardons, offers of rewards, speeches) and letters. The records relate to the condition of Territorial affairs, appointments and recommendations, legislation, maintenance and construction of public buildings, removal of the Territorial Capitol, statehood, maintenance of law and order, and administration of the federal prison in the Territory. (3r. #4249-4251)

31126 Dakota Territory Papers
Consists of petitions, memorials, legislative bills, resolutions, reports from executive departments, and letters received by the U.S. Senate relating to Dakota Territory. Series includes U.S. Senate records relating to Arizona Territory, 1857-1865. (1r. #4237)

30120 Records of Contested Elections.
30121 Abstract of Votes for the Election of Delegates to the South Dakota Constitutional Convention.
30123 Abstracts of Votes for the “Sioux Falls Constitution”.
30124 Abstracts of Votes.
30125 Oaths and Bonds.
30126 List of Civil War Veterans.
30127 Receipts for Books and Publications.
30128 Record of Books Borrowed from the Territorial Library.
30129 Notary Public Records.
30067 Stock Brand Certificates.
30130 Insurance Reports and Policies.
30131 Insurance Policies on the Capitol.
30132 Legislative Mileage Reports.
30133 Affidavits of Publications.
30134 Architectural Drawings of the Insane Asylum.
30135 Bank Statements.
Oscar Whitney Papers. (University of North Dakota, no. 228)
Letters of the Secretary of the Dakota Territory.(University of North Dakota, microfilm)

Supreme Court
32396 Supreme Court Cases. (University of North Dakota, microfilm)
31117 U.S. District Court Journals, Dockets. (University of North Dakota, microfilm, and National Archives, Kansas City Regional Archives, 1970)

30136 School District Number One Bonds.
30137 Penitentiary Bonds.
30138 North Dakota Hospital for the Insane Bonds.
30139 University of North Dakota Bonds.

Veterinary Surgeon
30140 Records.

Dakota Territorial Records. (University of North Dakota, microfilm-some available at the North Dakota State Archives)
Records of the Dakota Territory.
Miscellaneous Documents Relating to the Constitution of the State of North Dakota.


Gray, David P. Guide to North Dakota State Archives, 1985.

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