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First Territorial Capital


PIERRE, S.D. – When Dakota Territory was created on March 2, 1861, it stretched north to the Canadian border and west to the summit of the Rocky Mountains. Roughly a year later, the first legislature met in present-day Yankton, in the southeast corner of the territory, and named the city the permanent capital. However, this did not last.

In 1883, a man named Alexander Mackenzie organized a capital removal commission in order to vote in a different capital. Other cities being considered for territorial capital included Aberdeen, Bismarck, Canton, Frankfort, Huron, Mitchell, Odessa, Ordway, Pierre, Redfield and Steele. 

After a series of events, Bismarck was decreed capital of Dakota Territory on June 3, 1883, and remained capital until the territory, by that time reduced to the area of North and South Dakota, split in 1889 and Bismarck became capital of North Dakota.

Although Yankton was voted out as capital, it will always be remembered as the “MotherCity of the Dakotas” and the first capital of Dakota Territory. A historical marker noting these events may be found along SD Hwy 50, on the northeast corner of the highway’s intersection with Capitol Avenue. A monument is also nearby.

The Marks of History series is a project of the South Dakota Office of Tourism designed to highlight historical markers all across South Dakota. Click on the special “Marks of History” link at to access the complete list of articles.

The Marks of History series is part of Goal 1 of the 2010 Initiative to double visitor spending in South Dakota and Goal 4 to enhance history and arts as a tool for economic development and cultural tourism in South Dakota. The Office of Tourism serves under the direction of Richard Benda, Secretary of the Department of Tourism and State Development.


Note: The South Dakota Office of Tourism is not responsible for the text included on these markers. Some of the language used at the time of production may not be appropriate by today’s standards. Please view the markers at your own discretion.