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Unit 5


Notable Dakotans, 1850-1900


Lesson 1
John B. S. Todd and Gabriel Renville


In 1850, few white people lived in South Dakota. The grassy prairies went on for miles. They had never been plowed. Only Sioux (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota) Indians and fur traders lived here. To others, it was the frontier.


John B. S. Todd and the Making of Dakota Territory

     John B. S. Todd came to Dakota in 1855. He was a soldier with General William S. Harney. Todd liked what he saw here. He started a trading post. He sold supplies to soldiers at Fort Randall. Todd’s company was named Frost, Todd and Company.

     Todd saw that he could make more money if there were farms on the prairie. First, the Indians had to say it was okay for people to live in Dakota. Todd helped the Yankton Nakotas negotiate a treaty (you learned about this in Unit 4). The treaty opened part of eastern South Dakota to American settlers. The land was between the Big Sioux River and the Missouri River. Todd’s company bought some of the land. Then he sold it to farmers. He also started the town of Yankton. He sold town lots to people who wanted to start a business.

John B. S. Todd
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Todd wanted more people to buy land. More settlers would come if the land were part of the United States. First it had to be a territory. Todd got settlers to sign a paper. The paper asked the government to make Dakota Territory. Todd was the cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln. She was the wife of President Abraham Lincoln. This relationship may have been why the president was willing to talk to Congress. He asked them to make Dakota Territory. The year was 1861. Todd went to Washington, D.C., to talk for the settlers. He also helped to make Yankton the capital.

Todd's Document Case
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Later Todd went back to the army for awhile. He was a general during the Civil War. Afterwards he came back to Yankton. He was elected to the territorial legislature. Todd died at Yankton in 1872.


Gabriel Renville and Fort Sisseton

     Life changed for the Indians. Once they had moved freely. They had followed the buffalo and the changing seasons. Now they had to stay on reservations. The Indians had to adapt to a new lifestyle. They needed strong leaders to help them.

     Gabriel Renville was born on the shores of Big Stone Lake. It was about 1824. His father was a French and Sisseton Dakota fur trader. His mother was of Dakota and British ancestry. When he grew up, Gabriel Renville would work hard to keep his Dakota people together.

Gabriel Renville
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


     The Dakotas, or eastern Sioux, lived on reservations in Minnesota first. They were not happy there. Some of them left the reservation (you read about this in Unit 4). Many settlers were killed. Renville and his band did not join the fighting. Instead, they helped white people get away from the raiding Dakotas. The raiders then burned the homes of Renville and his people. They were left with "no lands, no homes, no means of support."

     The United States government was thankful for what Renville and his people had done. The government made Renville an army scout. Other men in Renville’s band were also scouts. It was a way to support themselves.

Fort Sisseton
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Four years later, Renville became head of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. He signed the treaty that set up Lake Traverse Indian Reservation. This was in northern Dakota Territory. Renville became chief of scouts at Fort Sisseton. He taught his people new skills. He taught them how to farm. He taught them to take care of themselves in a white man’s world. He led his people until his death in 1892.

adapt (v.), to adjust or change to fit something new

ancestry (n.), the people from whom one comes; forefathers and foremothers

frontier (n.), the region just beyond or at the edge of a settled area

scout (n.), a person sent out from a larger group to gather information