The Great Divide: Creation of Jones County in 1916
We hope you enjoy the following weekly articles written by Lonis Wendt in honor of the 100th anniversary of Jones County.
By Lonis Wendt
This is an essay written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of Jones County. Jones County, South Dakota’s youngest County, was created by a majority vote in November of 1916 when voters were asked to; “vote for whichever you think is best for you and your family…” Beginning in 1908, and again in 1910, residents living in the western third of Lyman County had filed petitions to have a vote on county division, both of which were voted down. By 1916 however, a more knowledgeable and increased numbers of citizens wanting a change again presented the Lyman County Commission with petitions requesting another vote for division. In the November election of 1916, the voters approved the division and with the approval of the State Legislature, JONES COUNTY WAS BORN! To share this historical event with new generations of folks “raised South Dakotan,” is indeed, an honor! Jones County folks, always proud and defensive of their heritage, convey the statement of “WHERE I COME FROM” with pride!
We were part of the Louisiana Territory of Lewis and Clark fame, which, in 1803, was purchased from a desperate, nearly bankrupt Napoleon for just three cents per acre plus interest! Later, and at separate times, we were part of the territories; Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, and finally, in 1861, Dakota. Despite repeated petitions to become a “state,” we Dakotans (all of today’s North and South Dakota) languished for 28 years before admittance in 1889! We were also included within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation by the Treaty of 1868, which delayed growth in these parts. A large section of the reservation was opened to settlement by a second treaty in 1889. After the land was opened to settlement, fear of attacks and difficult accessibility affected relatively slow growth until the arrival of the Iron Horse and unleashed the now famous, Dakota land boom. In 1905, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad finally crossed the Missouri River and began inching its way westward over the mostly unclaimed prairies we now call home. After the railroads arrival, settlers emanated by the hundreds and soon post offices, villages and small towns dotted the endless prairies, bringing life to our various counties. In 1873, the territorial legislature conscientiously assigned county boundaries and names to the millions of un-surveyed acres in “West” River, Dakota Territory, though most had not seen or experienced its topography. Lyman County was named for Major W.P. Lyman, an early settler, who served as a member of the Dakota Militia and in the territorial legislature; Presho County was named for J.S. Presho, an influential settler and ferry operator; and Pratt had been named for an early fur-trader. Eventually, necessary changes to boundaries, additions, eliminations and county seat locations effected most western counties. Before its organization in 1893, Lyman County, which hugged the Missouri’s west bank for almost 100 miles, had, for a short time, been attached to Brule and Gregory County. After its “organization” in 1893 and over various time periods, Tripp, Meyer (today’s Mellette), Presho and Pratt Counties had been attached to Lyman County by the legislature for the purpose of conducting taxation, voting and judicial duties. In 1898, the boundary changes for our area saw the elimination of both Presho and Pratt counties and their absorption into Lyman, creating a large, elongated county. On January 1, 1917, the area previously known as Pratt County, but excluding the land south of the White River, would become today’s Jones County. Census population numbers show a rapidly changing frontier. In 1895, Lyman County contained 1,618 souls, Presho County-628, and Pratt County-186. By 1910, Lyman had jumped to 10,848. In 1920, Lyman contained 6,591, and Jones had 3,004 souls. In the 2010 census, Lyman County had 3,775 souls, with about one-third being Native American. Jones County had 1,006 souls, including 20 of Native American origin.
(To be continued in the Murdo Coyote next week)