My great uncle, Richard F. Lyons, son of Irish immigrants, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Sioux Falls, July 4, 1889, which created Sen. Mike Round’s South Dakota as part of an organized plan by the Republicans to cement their power in Congress.
The intent to divide the Dakotas was not a mystery at the time. A Minnesota newspaper editorialized that the Dakotas should remain “one and inseparable,” and not create two separate states simply to give politicians twice as much opportunity to hold office.
There was great excitement about naming the new state. Richard Lyons’ son, Thomas, wrote* about a letter his father received in 1889 from the secretary of the New York and New England Society for the Preservation of Indian Place Names:
“Now, Mr. Lyons, I have read with absolute horror that the seamless garment of the great name of Dakota is to be divided and that we are to have North Dakota and South Dakota. What folly and what incongruity. … You should have three states, the region between the Missouri and the Big Sioux should be given the name of Dakota and its capitol should be your own county seat of DeSmet, named for the famous missionary Jesuit the friend of the Indian, and the able unofficial diplomat.”
The letter continued: “The region ‘West of the River,’ of the Territory west of the Missouri should be the historic name of Mandan, which the fur traders and frontiersmen baptized it with when Minnesota was a territory. Its capital of course should bear the beautiful name of Belle Fourche.
The region remaining, lying between the Missouri and the Red River of the North should bear the great historic name of Pembina which it bore before Dakota Territory was thought of. Its capital, of course, should be Grand Forks, but the name should be written ‘Grand Forks of the Red River.’”
Sen. Mike Rounds owes his job to partisan machinations of Republicans who gave birth to the new State of South Dakota in 1889.
*First Dakotans. The Lyons Experience. Essays by Thomas D. Lyons. Edited by Robert F. Lyons. Published 1991.