Dakota Territory History 

  The territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains was called Louisiana and had been discovered by the French.  LaSalle had made his famous voyage down the Mississippi in 1681-82 and had taken formal possession of this vast valley in the name of the king of France, Louis XIV.  The French controlled the territory except for a short period of time after the Seven Years'  War when Spain received the region.  In 1800, France again acquired this territory by secret treaty.

Jefferson, who was the president of the United States at this time, viewed these transactions with alarm, and directed our ministers, Livingston and Monroe, to France to enter into negotiations for the purchase of the strip of coast east of the Mississippi River and including New Orleans.  Livingston and Monroe exceeded their instructions and negotiated for the purchase of the vast area of all Louisiana for a total of $15,000,000 in 1803 when they became aware of the fact that Napoleon was eager to sell.  These great Americans had foresight for the expansion of our country.

The Ordinance of 1787 first gave definite form to the idea of territorial government, which was distinctly a product of American political genius.  The government of Louisiana was provided by an Act of Congress in 1805, and St. Louis was the capital of the territory thus formed.

Our  particular land area was included in the Territory of Missouri after Louisiana became  a state in 1812.  Subsequently, it became a part of Michigan Territory, Wisconsin Territory, Iowa Territory, and Minnesota Territory as new states entered the Union.  Dakota Territory, created in 1861, included territory that is now found in five states-portions of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and all of the two Dakotas.  In 1873, all except the two Dakotas had been cut from the region.  The land area of both North and South Dakota remained in Dakota Territory until the division was accomplished simultaneously with the admission of these states in 1889.  Dakota Territory had a legal existence for a period of twenty eight years.

Lewis and Clark made an expedition up the Missouri River and their first stop on Dakota soil was made near the present site of Elk Point on August 22, 1904.  The main motive for exploring the country and then settling it was found in the  profitable fur trading business at first.  It was not until 1851 that white men had any legal claim to territory with the limits of Dakota.  In that year, a treaty was made with the Sioux Indians for opening up the land, including a small area within the limits of Dakota, for settlement. The trading companies had opened the way for settlers to come in without legal warrants and establish themselves in desirable locations.  They later pleaded "squatter's rights" to the land thus pre-empted.

Yankton, Vermillion and Bon Homme were among the early pioneering settlements. The southern part of Union County also had some settlers come in this pre-territorial period.  According to one writer, the first settlement of our county may properly be dated from about 1855 when Christopher Malone settled in what is now Big Sioux Township and remained there until the time of his death.  Other authors indicate that the first permanent settlement may have been in 1859.  The early settlers concentrated in the area around Elk Point and Sioux Point at the junction of the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers. 

The early period of territorial life was characterized by all that goes to make up pioneer conditions--a primitive status of society, sparse settlement, absence of railroads, Indian hostilities, uncertain crop conditions and the unsettled conditions of political affairs.

At first many of the pioneers lived in dugouts or cellars with walls and floors of earth.  Poles and rails, brought from the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers, were covered with dirt and long grass and provided the roofs.  During the rainy season, it sometimes happened that both the walls and the roof united with the floor.  Their first houses were the much spoken of sod houses.  They were regarded as palaces compared to what they had first lived in.

Union County was first created and organized as Cole County in honor of a territorial legislator, Austin Cole, in 1 862.  January 7, 1864, the legislature rearranged the boundaries of Cole and Lincoln Counties, and the name Cole was changed to Union.  This name was probably chosen because of the strong sentiment existing at the time of the Civil War.

Dakota Territory Centennial, Alcester, South Dakota 1861-1961

First  Homestead Claim

  It was July, 1862, when Mahlon Gore and his brother, Albert, arrived in the Dakota Territory  from Michigan. They would be the first of a large number of early pioneers to this region from that state. They selected a beautiful spot overlooking the Sioux River bottom approximately 3 miles north of the present site of Richland, South Dakota. Gore was a printer by trade, but was none the less impressed with the beauty of this rich and fertile valley.

After selecting a homestead site and purchasing a few head of cattle and oxen, Albert Gore immediately returned to Michigan for his wife and two small children, as well as Mahlonís wife. Mahlon remained behind and began the difficult task of breaking ground for the next yearís planting and the building of some sort of shelter for the families when they returned. He had no tent of any kind and so slept in the open. By fall, he had constructed a small hut just below the bluff and had broken 5-10 acres of prairie. The log structure was 12x18 feet and covered with cottonwood boards that he had purchased in Elk Point.

Albert Gore shipped their household good to New Hartford, Iowa, where he purchased oxen teams and drove the remaining distance. In October, near Ida Grove, Iowa, Albert and the other family members met stampeders leaving the country due to the Indian uprising. Albert was informed that Mahlon had perished and was advised to turn back with the women and children. He somehow learned that this was not true and proceeded on.  With winter approaching, there wasnít much to be accomplished on the land in the Sioux Valley. Mahlon was offered and accepted the management of a small weekly newspaper. The Dakota Republican, In Vermillion. At that time, there was only one other newspaper being published in the Dakota Territory, that being The Dakotan in Yankton.

The Homestead Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln, went into effect January 1, 1863. The printing office, land office and two or three small houses, one of which Gore was staying in, were located on the bluff on the south end of Vermillion. The land officers, Hon. J. M. Allen, register, and Major Mahlon Wilkinson, receiver, slept in their offices, but took their meals with Gore at his house. Mahlon worked until approximately 11:30 P.M. at the printing office. On his way home, he noticed a light in the land office and stopped in. He informed Major Wilkinson that he would return at first light to file his homestead application, in order to avoid the rush later in the day. Since it was nearly midnight, Wilkinson suggested that he wait a few minutes and the application could be filed before he went home. Gore agreed, within five minutes past midnight the application was complete, and  proceeded home with the receipt in his pocket.

It is believed that Gore made the first filing in Dakota Territory under the new Homestead Act. A similar claim recorded in Nebraska by Daniel Freeman casts the only shadow across the belief that Goreís account shows that Freemanís transaction was completed by 1:00 A.M., thus likely making it a few minutes later than Goreís. Freeman did secure a final patent on his claim, while Mahlon Gore did not.

In the spring of 1863, Albert put up a small board house on his claim about 300 yards north of Mahlonís and the two families lived and worked there during that summer. The area was very sparsely settled and their only neighbors were to the south in Richland.  In the fall of 1863, Albert was elected as a representative from the County to the legislature. At the opening of that meeting, Mahlon was elected chief clerk of the house. These positions took the brothers to Yankton, then the capitol, during the winter of 1863-1864. In the spring, Albert decided to remain in Yankton but Mahlon returned to the homestead.

This left Mahlon and his wife very much alone. Many nights, usually near a full moon, smoke signals would rise from the distant hills. Fearing an attack by Indians, they would take their blankets and guns and retreat to the ravines behind the house under the cover of darkness. Hidden in the tall grasses, they felt much safer. The Indians stole horses from their neighbors in Richland and Brule, but never bothered the Gore homestead. In the spring of 1864, Mahlon planted seven acres of corn and five acres of Irish potatoes, onions, cabbages and squashes with the intent to market his goods among the soldiers then stationed at Sioux City, Fort Randall and other nearby forts. Life on the prairie rarely went as planned and so was the case in this instance.  On the morning of August 11, 1864, grasshoppers swept down the valley and by nightfall his entire crop was gone. As if this wasnít enough, Mahlonís wife had become ill and for weeks he nursed her. As soon as she was able to travel, he sent her back to Michigan, where food was plentiful and life was easier.

Gore fully intended to make the claim his home, and when funds could be raised, to go on with this plan. In the fall of 1864 he made arrangements to manage the Sioux City Journal. He kept up his improvements on the claim, but allowed a fellow by the name of Henry H. Fisher to occupy the house.  Fisher, rather unappreciatively, contested his landlordís claim to the property in January 1868, and in the trial was successful. Fate struck back at the Fishers, as a contagious disease, thought to be diphtheria or yellow fever, claimed 10 members of the Fisher family, including Henry. They were buried on the grassy bluff above the claim shack. This was the beginning of what has become known as "Goreís Bluff" Cemetery. Henryís widow, Celia Fisher, did manage to obtain final patent on the homestead, signed by President Ulysses S, Grant. Records show that she made the second half of the compensation payment of registration on 159.5 acres in the amount of $3.99 on May 18, 1873.

In a letter dated September 18, 1901, Orlando, Florida, and addressed to the Hon. E. Morris, Elk Point, a member of the Old Settlersí Association, Gore writes..."Yet while memory lasts, I will look back to those eventful days as among the brightest of a somewhat checkered career. And for those old neighbors, associates the hardships and dangers which beset our paths, there is a wealth of love that only death can terminate. They proved their metal by their deeds, proved their worth by their loyalty and their heroism by the fidelity to the purpose to which they had set themselves, and which has ripened into such glorious results. God grant them a ripe and happy old age, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, the development to which they had so largely contributed. Some day I hope to meet the remaining remnant of the old guard, a guard of honor to whom the present generation is so much indebted. They laid the foundation, in trials and in blood, and made the erection of the superstructure a possibility."

A lone tree marks the spot atop the bluff and stands sentinel over the final resting place of these early pioneers.

Gore's Bluff

Original Midi Composition by Bruce DeBoer
Compositions are copyright 1999 by Bruce DeBoer
 "Katie's Tears" from Illusions