The Supreme Court of the Dakota Territory

Territorial Supreme Court, 1885.
Territorial Supreme Court, 1885.

In 1861, the Supreme Court of the Dakota Territory was established in Yankton, the Territorial capital. At that time, the population of the Territory was approximately 4,800, however, the demographics of the area did not facilitate an accurate census.

The first Supreme Court of the Dakota Territory convened with chief justice, Philemon Bliss, and two associate justices, George P. Williston and Joseph L. Williams. It is interesting to note that the President of the United States was empowered to appoint the justices of the Dakota Territory; therefore, many of the early justices were directly appointed by Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.

The Supreme Court of the Dakota Territory continued with three justices until 1879 when another associate justice was added. The total number of justices then increased to six in 1884 and eight in 1888. A listing of the Territorial chief justices and associate justices and the dates they served follows.

Territorial Justices

Chief Justices
Philemon Bliss 1861 - 1864
Ara Bartlett 1865 - 1869
George W. French 1869 - 1873
Peter C. Shannon 1874 - 1881
Alonzo J. Edgerton 1882 - 1886
Bartlett Tripp 1886 - 1889
Associate Justices
George P. Williston 1861 - 1864
Joseph L. Williams 1861 - 1863
Ara Bartlett 1864 - 1865
William E. Gleason 1865 - 1866
Jefferson P. Kidder 1865 - 1875
John W. Boyle 1867 - 1869
Wilmot W. Brookings 1869 - 1873
Alanson H. Barnes 1873 - 1881
Granville G. Bennett 1875 - 1877
Gideon C. Moody 1878 - 1882
Jefferson P. Kidder 1879 - 1883
Sanford A. Hudson 1881 - 1885
William E. Church 1883 - 1886
Cornelius S. Palmer 1884 - 1888
Seward Smith 1884
Louis K. Church 1886 - 1887
William F. Francis 1886 - 1888
William B. McConnell 1886 - 1889
John E. Carland 1888 - 1889
Frank R. Aikens 1889
Roderick Rose 1888 - 1889
Charles M. Thomas 1888 - 1889
James Spencer 1888 - 1889
Charles F. Templeton 1889 - 1889
(apptd. Aug. 9, '88, did not sit until Feb. 1889)
Louis W. Crofoot 1889 - 1889
(apptd. Aug. 9, '88, did not sit until Feb. 1889)

A bill known as the "omnibus bill" which was an act dividing the Dakota Territory into the states of North and South Dakota, and enabling the two Dakotas to formulate constitutions was approved February 22, 1889, and a constitutional convention was held at Bismarck beginning July 4, 1889. A constitution was formulated and submitted to a vote of the people of the State of North Dakota on October 1, 1889, and was adopted.