The Baptist history of South Dakota dates from the earliest known record of missionary work, beginning in 1864. Religious and secular history, having a nearly common starting point, are to be traced along parallel lines. To follow the progress and growth of Baptist churches, beginning with the preliminary work of L. P. Judson, and the pioneer labors of J. E. Rockwood, G. W. Freeman and others, will require a sketch of most of the period of the history of Dakota Territory. A correct understanding of the work that has been accomplished, renders necessary a description of the field of operations. This was originally Dakota Territory, but it is now the state of South Dakota.
In 1803, President Jefferson purchased from France an immense region of country along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, extending from the Gulf of Mexico northward to the British Possessions, and westward to the Rocky Mountains. From this vast territory, which in the early part of the century was thought to be of little value, have been formed several of the most productive and promising states in the west and north¬west. It was at first called the Louisiana Territory. It soon after formed a part of the Missouri Territory, and was later annexed to Indiana Territory. As new states were formed it underwent several changes of name. After Indiana and Illinois were admitted to the Union, it formed a part of Michigan Territory, which then included Wisconsin, Minnesota, and all the country east of the Missouri river. When Michigan became a state in 1837, it was included in Wisconsin Territory, and after Wisconsin reached the dignity of statehood in 1848, it was attached to Minnesota Territory. After Minnesota became one of the states of the Union, May 11, 1858, the country afterwards known as Dakota was outside of any territory, and had no recognized existence until Dakota Territory was established, March 2, 1861. It was occupied only by Indians. The country over which they roamed came to be known as Dakota from the great confederation of Indian tribes called the Dakotas.
Dakota Territory came into existence by act of congress, approved by President Buchanan March 2, 1861. It then extended as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Its southern boundary was what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming, on the north line were the British Possessions, and on the east the states of Minnesota and Iowa. A few years later there were formed from it Wyoming, Montana and a portion of Idaho Territories. The present western boundary of what was Dakota Territory are the states of Montana and Wyoming.
It is interesting to notice how a dozen states, some of them larger in area than most of the empires and kingdoms of Europe, were carved out of the original "Louisiana Purchase" of 1803. The so-called statesmen who, at the beginning of the century, opposed the purchase of so vast a territory, on the ground that it was a desert country, and useless, did not have the ability to foresee that before its close, a population of thirteen millions of people would be occupying the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Indian Territory and Oklahoma. What were supposed, in an early day to be barren wastes, fit only for wild beasts and Indians, have proved to be fertile plains and valleys, and the "Great American Desert" of the early histories and geographies has become a source of incalculable wealth in the products of the field and of the mine.
Dakota Territory was larger in size than any state or territory in the United States, except Texas and California. Its area was 150,932 square miles. Its greatest length, from north to south, was four hundred and fifty miles, and its breadth, from east to west, was three hundred and eighty-five miles. With the exception of the Black Hills on the west, and Turtle Mountain on the north, the land is mainly rolling prairie and plain, with a rich and productive soil. The Indians, who were its first inhabitants, for more than two hundred years occupied the Black Hills, and roved over the prairies of Dakota comparatively undisturbed by white men until within the last generation. When Dakota Territory was organized in 1861, it included about thirty-two thousand Indians, and a white population of about two thousand five hundred.
The first known white settler was a French-Canadian trader, who established a trading post at Pembina, in 1780. He was still living there at the time of the visit of Major Long's exploring expedition in 1823. In 1784, David Thompson, the astronomer and scientific representative of the Hudson Bay Company, visited the valley of the Red River of the North, and other rivers, and ascertained the latitude and longitude of Pembina. That locality and the country further north and east, early in the century, was so little known to the world that it was referred to in the early editions of Morse's geography as "an unknown country." In 1805, when Lieutenant Zebulon Pike was on his way up the headwaters of the Mississippi river, to explore its source, on arriving at Red Lake he found a trading post, established in 1788, from whose flagstaff was still floating the British flag. The first building of a permanent character was erected in 1797, by a Frenchman, Charles Chabollier, on the south side of the Pembina river, near its junction with the Red River of the North. These were the fore-runners of representatives of the Hudson Bay Company, and several British and American Fur companies which were established near the close of the eighteenth and during the early years of the nineteenth century. Lord Selkirk built a fort at Pembina during the war of 1812. Several years later on finding that it was on the American side of the international boundary it was torn down and rebuilt on British territory. After the "Louisiana Purchase'' in 1803, it was deemed necessary for the government to know something of the character and value of its possessions in the northwest. The Lewis and Clark expedition across the continent, which was sent out by President Jefferson, on their way up the Missouri river, held numerous conferences with the various Dakota Indian tribes, and thus obtained the first general information concerning their number and condition. This was in 1804-5-6. In 1832 the American Fur Company, founded by John Jacob Astor, for the protection of their trading posts along the Missouri river and elsewhere, caused several forts to be erected. Port Pierre was built by Pierre Choteau in 1829; about the same time Port Lookout was erected near Chamberlain. Both of these ceased to be used as military posts in 1858. More than fifty years ago several trading-establishments were located along the James river. Previous to 1830 the only facilities for navigation were by means of canoes and barges. During that year Pierre Choteau was instrumental in bringing up the Missouri river, as far as Pierre, the steamers Antelope and Yellowstone.
These facts are mentioned to indicate the early beginnings of immigration and civilization. Progress in taking possession of a country so fertile and so full of resources, was necessarily slow but sure. Numerous acts of hostility by Indians gave evidence that the original inhabitants resented the encroachments of white settlers and traders. A few settlements that started were abandoned, but here and there little communities of hardy and courageous pioneers were established. These were mainly in Yankton, Clay, Union and Minnehaha counties in the southeastern portion of the territory, and the Pembina settlement in the northeast.
According to the census of 1860, the population of the territory, not including hostile Indians, was only 4,837, and of these 2,261 were Indians not sustaining tribal relations. Repeated Indian raids, especially along the Sioux river in 1856-7-8, convinced the early settlers of the necessity for some kind of organization which would give them a claim on the general government for protection. The fact has been already shown that after Minnesota became a state, May 11, 1858, for nearly three years Dakota had no legal existence and consequently no recognized government. Notwithstanding the weakness, numerically, of the white population, a convention was held at Sioux Falls, September 18, 1858, various localities being represented. It was decided to form a provisional territorial organization, and an election was ordered to choose members of a territorial legislature. Henry Masters as president of the council was made acting governor, and A. G. Puller was sent as delegate to Washington, with a memorial asking Congress to establish a territorial government. This movement was unsuccessful. In 1859, another provisional legislature was elected. W. W. Brookings was chosen governor in place of Henry Masters, deceased, and J. P. Kidder was sent as delegate to Congress. Another memorial was presented, and this also resulted in failure.
The first treaty with the Dakota Indians was made at Traverse-de-Sioux in 1851, at which time the northern tribes ceded to the government a large portion of western Minnesota, and also a narrow strip on the east side of what is now South Dakota, between the Sioux river and the state line of Minnesota, and extending northward along the western shore of Big Stone Lake. The next important treaty was consummated April 19, 1858. At this time the Indians were prevailed upon to sell to the government a territory equal to about two-thirds of the present state of South Dakota, lying east of the Missouri river, and south of a line running from the north end of Lake Kampeska westward to the Missouri. In consideration of this cession of their land, the United States government agreed to pay to the Indians at stated times, covering a period of fifty years, an amount equal to $1,600,000, and the Indians were removed, some of them unwillingly, to their reservations north and west.
After these treaties, which encouraged immigration and promised greater safety to settlers, the way now seemed to be open for another movement towards securing a territorial government. Former efforts had been unsuccessful. A convention was held at Yankton, commencing December 27, 1860, and soon after an earnest memorial to Congress was adopted, January 15, 1861. A bill to establish Dakota Territory was passed in the closing days of President Buchanan's administration. It was approved by him March 2, 1861.
One of the first official acts of President Lincoln was the appointment of territorial officers, including William Jayne, of Illinois, as governor. At the beginning of his .administration Governor Jayne ordered a census of the territory to be taken. This was imperfectly done, and resulted as follows: Clay and Union districts, 696; Sioux Palls district, 40; Bon Homme district, 269; Yankton district, 287; Red River district, 500. Total, 1,776. Of these 560 were half breeds. Of the 1,216 white people, 757 were males and 459 were females. Another report, which was unofficial, made the total white population 2,402, and the total white and mixed population 2,879. The following" persons served as governors of Dakota Territory: William Jayne, Newton Edmunds, A. J. Faulk, John A. Burbank, John L. Pennington, William A. Howard, N. G. Ordway, Gilbert A. Pierce, Louis K. Church and A. C. Mellette.
The capital of the territory was located at Yankton in 1861, and remained there until it was removed to Bismarck in 1883. The first two or three sessions of the legislature were devoted mainly to getting the machinery of the territorial government in operation, establishing military posts, and public highways, and providing means of defense against Indian depredations. These continued to be of frequent occurrence, and kept the early settlers much of the time on the defensive, and on two or more occasions, caused many of them to abandon their new homes and growing crops. In 1862, two companies of volunteer cavalry were authorized by the Secretary of War for frontier defense. These companies, which were commanded by Captains Nelson Minor and William Tripp, were kept for the protection of the settlement in the southern portion of the territory. In 1853, after the massacre at New Ulm, Minn., the Indians became more hostile. General Sully was sent into Dakota with a force of nearly 2,500 troops, and rendered effective service in holding the southern tribes in check, and punishing them severely. Fort Sully was built by his command, and it was continued as a military post for nearly thirty years. General Sibley was also sent into the territory in command of an army of over 4,000 soldiers, and after several successful encounters with the northern tribes, they were compelled to submit to the authority of the government.
After 1866, Indian outbreaks were of comparatively rare occurrence, and peace and quietness generally prevailed. This resulted in the substantial growth of settlements already in existence, and the formation of new ones in various localities. The population rapidly increased, especially in seven or eight of the southeastern countries. According to the census of 1870 the total population of the territory was 14,182.
During the following decade, and especially near its close, the immigration to Dakota from eastern states and foreign countries was marvelous. The census of 1880 developed the fact that the population had increased to 135,180. At the close of 1883 the lowest estimate was 250,000. In the earlier years, with the exception of Pembina and a few localities along the Red river, nearly all of the settlements had been established in the southern counties of the territory. From this period onward many of the northern counties were rapidly occupied by courageous and enterprising settlers. Scores of thriving young cities and villages were created, and for several years they had a rapid growth. Railroads were constructed, churches and school houses were built, and all the signs of prosperity seemed to be abundant.
The wonderful increase in population and the possession of all the elements of strength and prosperity, led the people to desire something better than a territorial form of government. The territory was so large that the successful administration of any form of government was difficult. For several years there was a practically unanimous desire for the division of the territory and admission to the union as two states. Efforts and appeals for the accomplishment of this end were begun in 1871, and several times renewed. In 1883 an attempt was made to bring about a division of the territory and the admission of the southern half of it as a state. Three hundred and fifty delegates representing the southern half of the counties in the territory assembled in convention at Huron, June 19,1883, to consider the needs and possibilities of statehood. This resulted in the calling of a constitutional convention at Sioux Palls, September 4, at which time a carefully prepared constitution was approved and submitted to the voters of the proposed new state. The result of this election was the adoption of the constitution by a majority of 5,522, out of a total vote of 19,150. The portion of the territory out of which it was proposed to form the new state was practically the same as that which is included in the present state of South Dakota. It had an area of over 76,000 square miles, a population of 200,000, and over 1,500 miles of railroad lines. It had numerous prosperous cities and villages, and there were among its inhabitants all the resources of wealth, energy and enterprise necessary to constitute a flourishing state. The appeal to congress was ignored and the hopes of the people were disappointed. The question of statehood had become one of supreme importance, for it deeply concerned all the people of the territory. The persistent failure of congress to admit Dakota into the union either as one state or two, was the result, not of statesmanship, but of partisanship. The appeals of the people were deliberately disregarded, and they were denied the rights of citizenship, though they had long met all the conditions prerequisite to admission.
After the failure to secure recognition in 1883, the provisional legislature, elected under the constitution that had been adopted, provided for holding a constitutional convention, September 8, 1885, at Sioux Falls. The constitution submitted by that convention and soon afterward adopted, is substantially the same as the present constitution of the state of South Dakota. A legislature was elected and state officers chosen. The legislature met in Huron, the place agreed upon for temporary capital. The provisional governor, A. C. Mellette, presented his message, bills were passed in the interest of prospective statehood, and G. C. Moody and A. C. Edgerton were elected United States Senators. This effort to secure a recognition of the rights of the people was also ignored. Four years more of uncertainty and tedious waiting were necessary before justice was done to a long-suffering and not always patient people. Relief came in 1889. A bill passed both houses of congress, and was approved by President Cleveland February 22, 1889, by which Dakota Territory was divided, and the necessary conditions of statehood were specified, including the election of state officers and the adoption of a constitution. These conditions having been fully met, by proclamation of President Harrison, dated November 2, 1889, the two states of South Dakota and North Dakota were formally admitted into the Union.
The history of Dakota Territory, briefly summarized in the preceding chapter, is practically the history of the early events and experiences in South Dakota. The first settlements in the territory began in the southeastern portion and extended in a northwesterly direction along the Missouri river, and northward along the valley of the Sioux river. With the exception of the early settlement at Pembina, in the extreme northeast corner of the territory, the entire northern portion was for many years practically unoccupied by white people. A few resolute pioneers ventured to settle along the fertile valley of the Red River of the North, but the entire population of what is now the state of North Dakota, did not exceed five hundred until sometime after 1870.
On the division of the territory in 1889, the dividing line was the seventh standard parallel. The state of South Dakota has an area of 76,620 square miles, or 29, 036,800 acres. The greatest length, from east to west, is three hundred and sixty miles; its breath, from north to south, is nearly two hundred and fifty miles. Its natural divisions are the valleys of the Missouri. Sioux and James rivers, the Sioux Indian reservation and the Black Hills. It has seventy-nine counties; some of these are unusually large. The Black Hills, occupying an area of about six thousand square miles, are located on the west of the state. The portion of the state that has been longest settled and brought under cultivation is the eastern half, lying east of the Missouri river.
Some of the difficulties and dangers connected with the early settlement of South Dakota have been already mentioned. Occasional venturesome explorers gave in-formation to the outside world of the boundless prairies and seemingly fertile soil of this desirable but unoccupied portion of the great northwest. Though having no right of settlement, for the title of the land was vested in the Indians, yet little bands of pioneers began to appear along the borders, and, in anticipation of the treaties that were afterwards made, they risked the location of homes on the frontier of the territory.
The first attempts to establish settlements were made at Sioux Falls and Flandreau in 1857, though preliminary visits were made in 1856. About the same time a town site was located in the southern part of Brookings county, which was called Medary. It was intended by its originators to make this the capital of a territory yet to be organized. The prime movers in these plans to occupy Dakota were the Western Town Site Company of Dubuque, Iowa, and the Dakota Land Company of St. Paul, Minnesota. Within a few months Indian hostilities began, the little village of Medary was burned, and all of the small settlements along the Sioux river were temporarily abandoned. Near the close of that year a few buildings were erected at Sioux Palls. The population consisted of sixteen men. This number had increased to sixty or more in June, 1858. On the renewal of hostilities they built a fort for their protection. For several years the peace of the future metropolis of South Dakota was frequently disturbed by real and threatened attacks by the Indians.
While the first movements towards the location of colonies were made in the valley of the Sioux river, these were soon after followed by pioneers who were scattered along- the Missouri river, in what are now Union, Clay and Yankton counties. For greater safety against their common foe they were collected tog-ether in settlements at what are now the cities of Elk Point, Vermillion and Yankton. The settlers at and near Vermillion appear to have been the first to establish homes along the fertile valley of the Missouri, in the autumn of 1857 and the spring of 1858. Others came to Yankton in 1858 and to Elk Point in 1859.
For the first few years the dangers and risks of pioneer life in Dakota were too great to encourage rapid immigration. It required courage to come, and perseverance in the face of innumerable hardships and obstacles to maintain homes in a new country, away from the comforts and advantages of older civilizations, under conditions where one's life and family and possessions were in constant danger. In consequence of the privations and sacrifices which were the necessary experience of those early days, the pioneer settlers were not crowded by white neighbors. In 1860 the total white population of Yankton county consisted of nine families, and thirty bachelors living in claim shanties.
On account of the disturbed condition of these colonies for several years the tide of immigration moved slowly until 1866. From that year onward Indian hostilities were of rare occurrence, and the southern counties began to fill up rapidly with settlers. The drift of population was northward along the Sioux, Vermillion and James rivers, and northwestward along the Missouri. Bon Homme county was first settled in 1858, by a colony from Mankato, Minnesota. Lincoln county was first occupied in 1861. McCook and Hutchinson counties received their first settlers in 1870, Hanson county in 1872, Brule county in 1873, and Hughes county in 1876. As the attractions of soil and climate became better known, and the peace and safety of the people were no longer threatened, immigration flowed westward into Brookings, Grant, Deuel, Codington and other counties, until it reached the valley of the James river, and in later years still further westward to the Missouri river. The census of 1870, which showed a population of 14,182, was nominally the population of Dakota Territory, but it was practically the census of South Dakota, since the statement has been frequently made, that until after 1870, there were not to exceed five hundred white inhabitants in what is now the state of North Dakota.
Reference has been made to the fact that the earliest pioneers in Dakota could establish no claim to the land on which they settled, since the title was vested in the Indians, who were the original and rightful possessors. By the treaty of 1851 only a narrow strip, near the Minnesota line, was ceded to the government. The treaty of 1859 secured to the government a large region of country, but the Indians remained in possession, and resisted the encroachments of the white race, until they were compelled to submit, after the military demonstrations led by Generals Sully and Sibley. Later treaties opened nearly all of the territory to settlement, most of the Indians being removed to reservations lying west of the Missouri river. The latest treaties were made since statehood was reached in 1889, and extinguished the Indian title to lands included in the Sisseton and Yankton reservations.
The way was now open for the coming thousands of pioneers from this and other countries to establish homes on the rich prairies of South Dakota. The obstacles that had hindered the progress of civilization were in large measure removed. Indian hostilities were no longer to be feared. The axe of the woodman was little needed. Instead of forests to be destroyed, the hardy settler found an open prairie ready for the plow, and a rich soil ready to produce a crop. There were still sacrifices to be made, and burdens to be borne, but they were those incident to pioneer life, and they were endured with remarkable courage and perseverance. The early courageous settlers along- the valleys of the Missouri and the Sioux, who risked their lives, and suffered untold hardships and privations, were the fore-runners of a mighty host who were afterwards to follow them.
"We hear the tread of pioneers, Of nations yet to be; the first low wash of waves, where soon Will roll a human sea."
The population of Dakota Territory, which in 1860 was less than 2,500, and in 1870 was 14,182, had grown to 135,180 in 1880. The tide of immigration in the first decade really began its perceptible flow after 1866. Its volume rapidly increased during the second decade, but the marvelous progress in the third decade has rarely, if ever, been equaled in the settlement of any new state or territory. The population in 1890, of what had been, until 1889, Dakota Territory, was 511,527.
Several things contributed to this extraordinary growth. The advantageous location of Dakota, about midway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, its fertile soil, its pure, dry atmosphere, and unusually healthy climate, the favorable conditions and the easy terms of payment provided by the government for those who desired to establish homes, and the general drift of population westward, were among the things that helped to bring about such a wonderful movement. Another important factor was the coming of thousands of hardy and industrious people from European countries, where there were limitations and restrictions on their liberty, both civil and religious, to enjoy the rights and blessings of a free government in America.
A liberty loving people who have courageously endured the hardships and made the sacrifices necessary in the early settlement and development of a new country, may safely be entrusted with the responsibility of moulding and shaping the destiny of the state. Many of the present citizens of the two states of South Dakota and North Dakota, were among those who, in the beginning, helped to set in motion the influences that have brought about the present conditions of prosperity, and tokens of future progress and growth. A large proportion of those who are now citizens of these two states have seen the retreating steps of the Indians to their present reservations, and watched the growing wave of population coming in to cover with permanent homes the land so recently covered with teepees.
For the purposes to be accomplished in recording the items of history that will be given in succeeding chapters, it has been deemed advisable to furnish a record of early events in the settlement and development of the country. The missionary came with the pioneer settler. The religious history of Dakota began with its early settlement. It is necessary, therefore, to trace both lines of development and progress. The field to be surveyed in this historical sketch is Dakota Territory in its beginning, but mainly the state of South Dakota. As the settlement of the territory, with a single exception, began along its southern borders, its religious history, especially in its early years, is practically identical with that of. South Dakota.
Among the pioneer settlers in Dakota, especially after some of them risked the danger involved in bringing their families with them, early attention was given to laying plans for the establishment of churches and schools. The unsettled condition of things, due to frequent and often expected raids by hostile Indians, at first delayed the carrying out of these plans. Religious services, however, were frequently held in the settlers' cabins, or in groves along the water courses.
The earliest known religious organization was in the northeast corner of what afterwards became Dakota Territory. There was a small Roman Catholic church near the beginning of the century among the French Canadian trappers and half-breed Indians employed at the post of the Hudson Bay Company, located at Pembina. A chapel was built there in 1812. At the time of Major Long's expedition to that region in 1823, this chapel was rapidly falling into decay. In 1845 Father Belcourt, a zealous Catholic priest, built a chapel and also a small convent at St. Joseph, afterwards known as Walhalla. The following year he built a chapel at Pembina, and for several years he had charge of both districts. In 1846 he secured for the chapel at Walhalla the first church bell ever brought into the territory. In May, 1853, a company of missionaries, including Alonzo Barnard and D. B. Spencer and their wives arrived at Walhalla. They were members of the "Oberlin Band,'* from Oberlin college. They had been engaged in missionary work among the Indians at Cass Lake and other points on the upper waters of the Mississippi river, and when missionary operations there were abandoned they came to Walhalla to labor among the Indians there. We have no knowledge of the extent of their work or its results, and can find only a record of martyrdom while engaged zealously in the effort to evangelize the wild and uncivilized inhabitants of the prairie. Mrs. Barnard died October 21, 1853, as the result of exposure and suffering incident to her missionary labors, and Mrs. Spencer was killed August 23, 1854, by the Indians whom she was trying to lead to a higher moral and spiritual life.
For the first religious movements in the south we look to three of the earliest settlements, those at Vermillion, Yankton and Elk Point. The pioneers at and near Vermillion came in the autumn of 1858. There was a trading house and a steamboat landing where Yankton is located in 1857, but the first settlers arrived there in March, 1858. Eli Wixom, the first white inhabitant of Elk Point, established his home there in July, 1859. So far as can be ascertained the first sermon preached in Yankton was by Rev. C. D. Martin, in February, 1859. He also preached the first sermon in Elk Point early in 1860. The first sermon preached in Vermillion was by Rev. S. W. Ingham, October 14, 1860.
The first known religious organization in any of these settlements was a Baptist church established at Yankton, in the summer of 1864, by Rev. L. P. Judson. Its existence continued until the end of 1865, when, on account of the disturbed condition of the settlement, the members were scattered and it became extinct. The first Methodist Episcopal churches were organized at Yankton in the autumn of 1865; at Elk Point in January, 1867, and at Vermillion, September 11, 1871. The earliest organization of Congregational churches was at Yankton, April 6, 1868; at Vermillion, September 11, 1870, and at Elk Point in 1872. Leaving out of consideration the temporary organization at Yankton in 1864-5, the first Baptist churches were organized at Yankton, February 3, 1867; at Vermillion, February 16, 1868; at Big Springs early in July, 1869. A preliminary organization was began at Elk Point, April 26, 1868, but it was not completed on account of sickness. The present Baptist church in that city was organized March 11, 1871.
The first missionary work done by the Presbyterians in South Dakota was among the Sioux Indians. It was under the supervision of Rev. J. P. Williamson, D. D., and was began in July, 1863. Within three years the number of members had grown to 236. The mission was then transferred to Niobrara, Neb. The oldest continuous Presbyterian organization is an Indian church, at Long Hollow, near Sisseton. It was established August 21, 1868. It is in charge of an Indian pastor, Rev. Isaac Renville. Another Indian church called Ascension, near Sisseton, organized August 27, 1868, is distinguished for having had only one pastor, Rev. John B. Renville, an Indian. He has served as pastor of this church over thirty years, and still abides in strength and efficiency, and unwaning favor among his people. The first missionary work done in South Dakota among white people was by a pastor in Nebraska, who made occasional visits to Vermillion in 1862. The first Presbyterian church organized among the white settlements was at Canton in the summer of 1872. A few years later this church became extinct. The first white organization to maintain a continuous existence is the church at Dell Rapids, since August 18, 1872. The first Presbyterian house of worship was built by the German church of Turner county, in 1880.
The early churches found it necessary for a time to meet in private dwellings and schoolhouses, but as soon as it was possible they responded to the call to "arise and build." The first house of worship was erected by the Episcopal church at Yankton in 1866, and at Elk Point in 1868. The Methodists dedicated their earliest church homes at Elk Point in 1870, and at Yankton and Vermillion in 1873. The Congregationalists dedicated their first three church homes at Yankton July 17, 1870, at Canton in March, 1872, and at Vermillion in 1873. Their house of worship at Elk Point was not completed until 1889. The first church buildings erected by Baptists were dedicated at Vermillion June 4, 1872, at Elk Point in October, 1873, and at Yankton in 1879. Putting the foregoing facts in chronological order, we find that the denominations named rank as follows:
First, Organization of Churches.—Baptists lead all other evangelical denominations in Dakota, if we take into the list the temporary organization of 1864-5, at Yankton. Omitting this from the list, since it became extinct, the order is as here given. At Yankton— Methodists, 1865; Baptists, February 3, 1867; Congregationalists, April 6, 1868. At Vermillion—Baptists, February 16, 1868; Congregationalists, September 11, 1870; Methodists, September, 1871. At Elk Point— Methodists, January, 1867; Baptists, April 26, 1868; Congregationalists, 1870. At Big- Springs—Baptists, July, 1889.
Second, Dedication of Houses of Worship.—At Yank-ton—Episcopalians in 1866; Methodists, 1868; Congregationalists, July 7, 1870; Baptists, 1879. At Vermillion—Baptists, June 4, 1872; Congregationalists in 1873, and Methodists, August 31,1873. At Elk Point-Episcopalians, 1868; Methodists, 1870; Baptists, October, 1873; Congregationalists, 1889.
The first Baptist minister who is known to have lived or labored in Dakota was Rev. L. P. Judson. He came under appointment of the American Baptist Home Mission Society as missionary "at Yankton and vicinity." He served nine months and left Dakota January 24, 1865. His successor was Rev. Albert Gore, whose appointment was for twelve months from February 1, 1865. He remained until the following December. Neither of these men lived at Yankton, but on claims located some distance from their designated field of labor. While doing more or less missionary work at Yankton, and among the scattered settlements, they were both interested in other matters. Mr. Judson / was identified with what was known as the New York colony and was active in advancing its interests. Mr. Gore had been engaged for a time in secular business and politics. He was a member of the territorial legislature in 1863-4.
The annual report of the American Baptist Home Mission Society for 1864-5, makes the following statement: "In Dakota a Baptist church and Sunday school have been organized at Yankton, the capital of the territory. This movement, which dates from the summer of 1864, was the pioneer religious organization among evangelical denominations. How long it continued to exist after MP. Gore left the field, at the close of 1865, is unknown. It was a period of trials and hardships in those pioneer settlements. The privations of the early settlers, and the dread of Indian hostilities, which had not yet entirely ceased, caused frequent removals, and many becoming discouraged, returned to their former homes in older and safer communities. Under such conditions, a new and feeble organization, having limited pastoral oversight, could hardly be expected to maintain its existence. After much difficulty, detailed information has recently been secured concerning the labors and experiences of the first two Baptist missionaries in Dakota. These are fully recorded in Chapter VI.
The first Baptist missionary whose work in Dakota left a permanent impress, was not a resident of the territory. In October, 1864, Rev. J. E. Rockwood became the first pastor of the Baptist church in Sioux City, Iowa. He was the only Baptist pastor in a large region of country in northwestern Iowa. While responding to appeals for help from many sources, he felt deeply moved to ascertain the needs and prospects of the opening fields in Dakota Territory, along the valley of the Missouri river. Missionary tours up the river to Elk Point, Vermillion and Yankton, which began March 25, 1866, were continued as frequently as practicable, until failing health compelled him to cease this work in August, 1869.
! During this period churches were organized, converts were baptized, scattered Baptists were gathered together, and foundations were laid for future work by those who were to come at a later period. The first Baptist church organized by Mr. Rockwood was at Yankton, February 3, 1867. The second organization was effected at Vermillion, February 16, 1868. The services were held in the historic log schoolhouse at the foot of the ravine. Each of these churches were fully organized, and they became members of the Northwestern Iowa Baptist Association. An organization was also begun at Elk Point, April 26, 1868, but this, owing to failing health, was not completed. A detailed report of the missionary work done in Dakota by Mr. Rockwood will be given in Chapter VII.
For a year and a half there were no Baptist ministers in Dakota except Chaplain G. D. Crocker, of the regular army, who was stationed at Fort Sully, and Rev. P. A. Ring, who, with a colony of Swedes, had settled at Big Springs. The Swedish Baptist church at Big Springs was organized early in July, 1869. In December, 1870, Rev. George W. Freeman visited Dakota. He had been in charge of missionary work in Nebraska and along the rapidly extending lines of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, following them to the coast. He reported to the Board of the American Baptist Home Mission Society the result of his study of the needs of this field, and soon after he was appointed general missionary for Dakota Territory. His appointment continued a little more than two years and a half, from March 1, 1871, to October 1, 1873.
For the first time Baptist missionary work in Dakota had a superintendent who could devote all his time to the field, and minister to its rapidly growing needs. He began his work at Elk Point, where he established his home. In place of the incomplete organization begun there by Mr. Rockwood, he organized a church March 11, 1871. A few days later, March 25, he organized a church at Sioux Valley. This was at first called LeRoy. Afterwards the location was moved further north, and the name was changed to Portlandville. This was a small village started on the Dakota side of the Sioux river. When the railroad was afterwards built from Sioux City to Sioux Palls, a station named Akron was established opposite Portlandville, on the Iowa side of the river. As Akron grew the location and name of the church were changed to Akron. During the term of service rendered by Mr. Freeman as general missionary, ten or more churches were organized, some of them by others, but most of them by himself.
Pastors and houses of worship were becoming necessary. The first Baptist pastor in Dakota was Rev. P. A. Ring, at Big Springs, July, 1889. The first American pastor was Rev. J. H. Young, who settled at Elk Point in October, 1871. He was ordained there January 7, 1872, and soon after became pastor at Yank-ton. This was the first Baptist ordination service in Dakota. Before the end of the year he proved to be unworthy of a place in the ranks of the ministry, and was deposed November 12, 1872. Other pastors came in rapid succession. Rev. E. H. Hurlbutt settled at Vermillion in September, 1871, and remained on that field one year and a half. Rev. J. J. McIntyre reached Dakota October 17, 1871, and settled where soon after the Swan Lake and Finlay churches were organized. The names and locations of these two churches were changed, in later years, to Hurley and Parker. A church was organized at Lodi July 23, 1871, and in the following November Rev. J. L. Coppoc became the pastor. The Bloomingdale Swedish church was organized June 25, 1871. Its pastor was Rev. J. Peterson, whowas soon after ordained. The Blooming-dale American church, now known as Spirit Mound, was organized July, 1871. Rev. T. H. Judson became pastor at Elk Point October 23, 1872, and a year later settled at Vermillion. He was succeeded at Elk Point by Rev. J. P. Coffman, January 9, 1874. Danish churches were organized at Lodi March 25, 1872, and at Daneville, December 31, 1833.
Church organizations followed the establishment of settlements north and northwest from the early starting points. A church was organized at Canton March 18, 1872. Its first pastor was Rev. J. J. McIntyre, who supplied that field in connection with several other points. He was succeeded at Canton October 1, 1872, by Rev. V. B. Conklin, who became missionary for Lincoln county. The church at Dell Rapids was organized July 15, 1872, and its first pastor was Rev. Wm. T. Hill. Churches were organized at Swan Lake (now Hurley), December 9, 1872, and at Pinley (now Parker), December 25, 1872. The leading spirit in these organizations was Rev. J. J. McIntyre, and he became their pastor.
Beginning with the organization at Big Springs in July, 1889, the Scandinavians were early on the field at other points. They had four churches, at Big Springs, Bloomingdale, Lodi and Daneville, with numerous out-stations. In later years some of these stations became separate churches. There were German Baptists among the pioneer settlers in South Dakota, especially in Yankton, Hutchinson, Hanson and Bon Homme counties. In different sections of the state they have now fifteen strong and influential churches. A detailed account of the work done among and by these nationalities will be recorded in later chapters.
For two or three years the progress of the work was encouraging-. During most of this, period it was under the careful and experienced leadership of Rev. G. W. Freeman, as general missionary. Under his supervision was a band of faithful and self-sacrificing pastors. But discouragements were coming in the approaching financial crisis, which began in 1873, and swept over the country. With this was associated the "grasshopper raid," which was so destructive to all kinds of vegetation in 1874, and returned, with somewhat diminished force in 1875. In a country where almost the only dependence for support was upon crops, when these were totally destroyed, the outlook was disheartening. The heroic spirit with which the people endured these hardships and privations, the courage exhibited in remaining on their newly acquired homes, and their unfaltering faith in the future of Dakota are deserving of the highest praise.
The first Baptist house of worship built in Dakota was at Vermillion. It was dedicated June 4, 1872. It cost $2,200. On the day following the dedication, the first Baptist association was organized at Vermillion. Pastors and delegates were present from the nine Baptist churches then in existence in the territory. Rev. G. W. Freeman was elected moderator, Deacon M. D. Weston, treasurer; Martin J. Lewis, secretary; and Rev. T. H. Judson, corresponding secretary of the new organization, which was henceforth known as the Southern Dakota Baptist Association. The second Baptist house of worship dedicated was at Elk Point, in October, 1873.
The church at Yankton, the first one organized in Dakota, ought to have become a tower of strength. It started under favorable conditions, but it was unforunate in the selection of some of its pastors. After a few years it contained in its membership elements of weakness. A rule or ruin policy actuated some of its members. Its first pastor, Rev. J. H. Young, was deposed from the ministry. One or two others were unfit to be chosen as spiritual leaders and guides. A majority of the members were devoted and faithful, and the church had some good consecrated pastors. A house of worship was completed after a long and hard struggle. There were occasional indications of a spiritual uplift, but there was a disturbing element often in control, and the general tendency was downward. The church has been extinct for several years. The house of worship is used by the German Baptist church of Yankton. The title of the property is in the American Baptist Home Mission society.
Rev. William M. Haigh, D. D., of Chicago, who was for many years western superintendent of missions, early became interested in the progress of Baptist missionary work and workers in South Dakota. A few days before his sudden death the writer of this history wrote to him requesting him to furnish a statement of his early relation to the field and his observations concerning it. He evidently began its preparation, but had got no further than a report of his first visit to South Dakota in 1879. From an unfinished letter to the author, found on his desk, the following extract is given:
"In accordance with the resolution of the Board, I made arrangements for an early visit to Dakota. I reached Yankton Saturday evening, August 9, 1879. Rev. J. P. Coffman, who resides forty miles away, was unable to be present on account of sickness, but Rev. A. W. Hilton met me in his place, and aided in laying out a brief tour to the principal points, to end in a general meeting at Sioux Falls. The Sabbath was spent at Yankton, services morning and evening, and a protracted conference in the afternoon. On Monday I visited Elk Point, where Rev. G. W. Freeman, formerly our general missionary for the territory, is pastor. Then I proceeded to Portlandville, Vermillion, Bloomingdale, Finley, Lincoln Centre, Sioux Falls, and Dell Rapids, where I spent the second Sabbath. A visit to Flandreau was prevented by unavoidable causes. On Tuesday I went to Sioux Falls, spent the day in conference with the pastors, reviewing their fields and expressing their views of the work to be done. At night I preached.
"The next day I came down to Canton, where I was met by Rev. V. B. Conklin, and after surveying- the new town, I took the cars at midnight for Chicago, having traveled in the territory 300 miles, chiefly by stage and private conveyances,—preached six times, held and addressed several conferences with churches and brethren, and studied as thoroughly as circumstances would permit, the condition and necessities of our churches and the cause in Dakota.
"To appreciate the condition of these churches, it is necessary to consider the method by which most of them have been built up. Southeastern Dakota has been largely settled under the homestead and timber culture laws, and of course chiefly by persons of very limited means. Almost every minister who has come here has found it necessary, even if he did not come on purpose, as most have done, to take a homestead and a claim, and working as hard as the people during the week, has preached for them on the Sabbath. Many of these men have thus endured a great deal of hardship, receiving very little help from the church, and that little very irregularly. Of course they look to the valuable farms they will have by and by as their material compensation. It is evident, however, that such a process, going on for a few years, will produce a secularized ministry and a non-contributing people. To a certain, and in some cases, a material extent,this has been done, and of all the pastors in Dakota, not more than one or two even profess to derive their support exclusively from the ministry. The grasshopper scourge which has afflicted the region so grievously in past years has of course aggravated the hardships of the situation, and checked the progress of both church and people. The recent visitation has extended to Union and Clay counties wholly, and Yankton, Turner, and Lincoln, partially; about equal to four whole counties. The wheat in these parts was utterly destroyed, and vast fields, except where the people have taken fresh heart, and put in late corn, are now one stretch of towering weeds. Some are becoming so discouraged that they are leaving these parts, and some would leave if they could sell their property. But the most of the people are confident that they can rise above their trouble, and by giving themselves to the raising of stock, instead of grain, will ultimately win a victory over this enemy of their progress.
"The immigration of course is in the direction of government lands, on which claims can be made. Most of the land between the Sioux and Vermillion rivers is taken up; between the Vermillion and James it is being rapidly taken. In the western part, especially, the people have not yet come on, but they will do so next spring, so as to make good their claims. Settlements are also rapidly projected beyond the James river towards the Missouri, and will soon be made. Further north, brought in through Minnesota by the Southern Minnesota & Northwestern railroads, the people are pouring into the country between Minnesota and the James.
"The Northwestern railroad is moving to Lake Kampeska.—the Southern Minnesota is just being completed to Flandreau, and is laid out and is to be completed to Sioux Falls by November, from which a branch is projected to Yankton."
This chapter has been devoted to a history of early beginnings in missionary work. It began with a record of the earliest known religious organization in the entire field embraced in what afterward became known as Dakota Territory. It was a small Roman Catholic church established nearly a century ago at Pembina, in the northeast corner of the present state of North Dakota. The chapter will close with a mention of the earliest known religious movement by Protestants in North Dakota.
Reference has been made to a mission established among the Indians at Walhalla, by missionaries Barnard and Spencer and their wives in June, 1853. But an earlier movement for their evangelization was begun by Baptists. In 1852 there were two Baptists in what is now Pembina county. They were Benjamin Terry and James Tanner, The former was a member of the First Baptist church in St. Paul, Minnesota. The latter was a half-breed, whose father was stolen in childhood by a band of Shawnee Indians, in Kentucky, in 1789. Having been adopted into their tribe, he married an Indian, and spent his life among them. His son, James Tanner, was educated in the best schools available for Indians. He served for several years as interpreter and assistant in Methodist missions at Sandy Lake and other stations among the Indians along the upper Mississippi river.
As the result of a careful study of the Bible, he became a Baptist. During a severe winter he walked to the nearest Baptist church and minister, probably at St. Paul, in order to be scripturally baptized. He then went east, and by his earnestness and zeal he enlisted the interest of some wealthy Baptists in Philadelphia and elsewhere, in his desire to give the gospel to the Indians. On his return Benjamin Terry accompanied him to Walhalla. It was their plan to erect a log building in which they could both teach the Indians and half-breeds, and conduct religious services. While Mr. Terry was entering the woods to cut down some trees for the proposed building-, he was killed and scalped by a company of Sioux Indians. He was an educated young- man, and an earnest Christian worker. He deserved a better fate than to suffer martyrdom at the beginning" of a promising-career. It was with difficulty that his survivor secured permission from the Catholic priest to have his remains buried in the only cemetery then in the settlement. A few years ago they were removed by the Baptists of North Dakota, and a suitable monument placed over his grave in the Presbyterian cemetery at Walhalla. In the same enclosure other monuments mark the graves of Mrs. Barnard and Mrs. Spencer, who, with similar devotion, gave their lives in the cause of Indian evangelization. On account of the continued hostility of the Indians, James Tanner abandoned that station. The cruel death of his co-worker and his own disappointments disheartened him. He roamed about from place to place trying to accomplish good, but with discouraging results. In 1864 he lost his life in Manitoba.
The first known religious organization by any evangelical denomination in North Dakota was a Presbyterian church, established in 1876, at Pembina. A couple of years later the first Baptist church in that state was organized at Fargo, January 27, 1879. A Congregational church was located at Mandan, July 26, 1880. This was the first Congregational church organized in North Dakota, and the first church organization of any denomination in the state west of the Missouri river.
South Dakota Genealogy Trails | Email Me
All data on this website is © Copyright 2008 by Genealogy Trails
with full rights reserved for original submitters.