One Hundred and Thirty Eight Thanksgivings Ago
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
November 17, 2017
Linda and I are thankful for many things this year. We are thankful for our children and grandchildren, for the friends old and new we’ve made across the state, and for the opportunity to serve as governor and first lady.
I am also thankful for a Yankton dinner table conversation that took place 138 Thanksgivings ago. John Andrews recounted the story in a South Dakota Magazine article released prior to South Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood.
A few of Dakota Territory’s most prominent leaders gathered around the dinner table that Thanksgiving Day in 1879 to do more than break bread. The home belonged to a local Congregational minister, Rev. Stewart Sheldon, and among his guests were territorial Gov. William Howard, U.S. Attorney Hugh Campbell, General William H.H. Beadle, Edward P. Wilcox and his brother-in-law Rev. Joseph Ward.
The conversation began around a school lands question. The men present wanted to ensure school lands would be valued and sold at a high enough price, at no less than $10 per acre. Some residents thought the land should be sold for $2.25 per acre to a large syndicate. This was of particular concern to General Beadle who was the superintendent of public instruction.
As they discussed the issue, the idea arose to divide Dakota Territory into northern and southern portions to protect the value of the lands, and to make the southern part of Dakota its own state. It is believed this was the conversation that sparked serious statehood efforts, as these men spent the next few years leading the movement.
Nearly 10 more years passed before South Dakota became its own state. It took three bills passed by the territorial legislature, two constitutional conventions, two votes from the people and two congressional bills. Finally, a newly-elected president with Republican majorities in Congress signed South Dakota into statehood. As Andrews noted in his article, the dinner discussion served as a catalyst of the statehood movement. As he put it, “We owe a debt of gratitude to the men who shared ideas around the Thanksgiving table and committed themselves to creating a new and better home.”
Considering where our state is today, I think that’s true. There’s no better place to live, work and raise a family. In fact, Site Selection named South Dakota as the number one state for achieving the American dream. With our low tax burden and reasonable regulatory environment, you can make a good living in South Dakota and you can rest assured that your tax dollars are being well managed. We have balanced the budget every year since statehood and our sound financial practices are affirmed by all three credit rating agencies, which have awarded us with AAA status. We also have a high quality of life: an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, safe communities, good schools and post-secondary opportunities, and clean air and water.
More than anything though, our state is made up of good people. South Dakotans are friendly, humble and hardworking. Here, we still hold open doors, say hello to passing strangers and shovel our neighbors’ driveways. For these things and for the individuals who made South Dakota what it is today, we have reason to be very, very thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, South Dakota.