Trivia 043: Which came first?

Before I started doing this trivia newsletter, I was running a mini trivia game on my friend’s Discord server. At that time, I started curating a list of good trivia facts to use. Whenever I find something I think would make a good topic, I add it to my list. Currently, my list has almost 100 items on it. Not all of these make for good posts in this format, but they may perhaps be rolled in as bits on other entries. Some of these topics I also have saved on my calendar, because of their relevance to particular dates. Today’s trivia is an excellent example both of these. So with that peek behind the curtains out of the way, let’s get on with the show.

On November 2, 1899, a set of two bills was placed on President Benjamin Harrison’s desk in the Oval Office.These two bills, recently passed by Congress, were due to be signed into law. However, when President Harrison went to sign the documents, he did something strange. He picked up the two papers, shuffled them around, then placed them so that their text was obscured, before picking up his pen and signing them both. And with these two signatures, the territories of North and South Dakota officially became states.

North and South Dakota had been at odds with each other since they were both territories. Of course, their history goes back much further than that, as the land they now occupy was primarily the territory of many different tribes of Sioux Native Americans. The name “Dakota” actually means “ally” in the Dakota language. In fact, 26 out of the 50 states have names originating from the languages of the Native Americans.

During the mid-1800s, following wars with the Sioux people who were being displaced by ranchers and farmers, the Dakota territory was officially created out of parts of the Nebraska Territory and Minnesota Territory, both parts of the Louisiana Purchase. However, as the southern part of the territory grew in population much more rapidly than the northern part, their populations came to be increasingly at odds with each other. Throughout the 1880s, various provisions were attempted to admit either part of the whole of the Dakota Territory as a state (or states). In 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill which divided the Territory of Dakota in half. And then, as already stated, President Harrison admitted the two simultaneously (?) on November 2, 1889.

So there you have it. How North and South Dakota became states (in a nutshell). Or was it South and North Dakota? Because President Harrison shuffled the papers and signed them blindly, we will never know.

At this juncture, in a post about territories becoming states, I find it fitting to take a moment to urge my readers to make sure to go out and vote. In recent years, we have had to come to grips with the fact that our democracy is a delicate garden that needs careful tending. Remember the old proverb – “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” Let’s guide the world to be one which those who come after us will thank us for.

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