The Dakota Territory

With the creation of the territory of Dakota in 1861, population began to move into the new wheat lands of the Dakotas, west of the Mississippi and Red Rivers. The Iowa Grand Lodge was soon called upon to issue charters for the new lodges in the southern part of Dakota Territory. Six charters were issued altogether to lodges in Yankton, June 3, 1863; Vermillion, June 2, 1869; Elk Point, June 3, 1875; Springfield, June 3, 1875; and Canton, June 3, 1875. On July 21, 1875, delegations from the six just – named lodges met in a convention at Vermillion, SD. Here the Grand Lodge of Dakota was organized with the aid of a Past Grand Master of the Iowa Grand Lodge, Theo. S. Parvin of Iowa City, Iowa. The Grand Lodge officers elected at this time were as follows:

Grand Master ……………… Thos. H. Brown, Sioux Falls
Deputy Grand Master ……………… F.J. DeWitt, Yankton
Grand Senior Warden ………… Calvin G. Shaw, Vermillion
Grand Junior Warden……………… H.H. Blair, Elk Point
Grand Treasurer……………… Geo. H. Hand, Yankton
Grand Secretary ………………… Mark W. Bailey, Canton

While this development was taking place in the south, the Grand Lodge of Minnesota had begun to issue charters to lodges in the northern part of Dakota Territory. The first of these was Northern Light Lodge at Fort Pembina on the Red River, an army post established by the U.S. Government in November, 1863. An officer in Hatch’s Battalion was stationed here, Capt. C.W. Nash, had received a dispensation for a lodge at Pembina while he was still at Fort Abercrombie. Upon arriving at Fort Pembina, he secured the cooperation of a group of Masons in the garrison and applied to Minnesota Grand Lodge for a charter. In January, 1864, while still under dispensation, the lodge was transferred to Fort Garry, or Winnipeg, upon the recall of the garrison from Fort Pembina the same year. Northern Light Lodge continued its existence (U.D.) in Manitoba, Canada, under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Grand Lodge for some years.

The second lodge to be organized by the Minnesota Grand Lodge in Dakota Territory was Yellowstone Lodge, at Fort Buford, a U.S. Army Post on the upper Missouri River near the Montana line. This lodge was chartered January 6, 1872, and was composed largely of the officers and soldiers of the garrison. On account of the transfer of the regiment to another point, the lodge surrendered the charter June 6, 1874. The records were transferred to Bismarck where they were destroyed by fire many years later.

The first permanent Masonic lodge to be established in northern Dakota Territory was at Fargo on the Red River. The charter was secured from the Minnesota Grand Lodge, January 14, 1874. The officers were installed and the lodge formally constituted February 9, 1874, by Benj. L Perry, W.M. of Aurora Lodge (100) of Brainerd, MN. The second permanent lodge to be set up by Minnesota Grand Lodge in northern Dakota Territory was the Bismarck Lodge. The charter was granted on January 12, 1876. When the Grand Forks Lodge of Dakota was organized, invitations were sent to Fargo and Bismarck to join in the creation of the new Grand Lodge. By some misunderstanding or oversight, neither of these lodges accepted the invitation and, after the Grand Lodge of Dakota had assumed jurisdiction, the Minnesota Grand Lodge was asked to cooperate in having Fargo and Bismarck join the new organization. This was finally effected at the cost of some sharp exchanges between the officers of the two organizations. Fargo had her charter reissued by the Grand Lodge of Dakota on June 7, 1879, and Bismarck on June 9, 1880. The following year, the Committee on Masonic Jurisprudence of the Minnesota Grand Lodge reported in favor of recognizing the claims of the Dakota Grand Lodge. Grand Master Wells said in his annual address of January 12, 1881: “After much research I am convinced that the great weight of authority is against our position and in favor of establishing, as the governing law in such cases, the American rule of absolute, exclusive, territorial jurisdiction.” After the granting of the first charters, 1879-80, at Fargo, Pembina, Casselton, Grand Forks and Bismarck, the growth in the northern portion of the Dakota Grand Lodge jurisdiction kept pace with the steady increase in population. The building of two main lines of railroad across the state and the discovery of the possibilities of the Red River Valley as a wheat growing area, served to bring about a rapid increase in the migration to the Dakotas. Eight lodges were chartered, 1881-83 (at Jamestown, Mandan, Valley City, Tower City, Hillsboro, Grafton, Lisbon and Ellendale); nine in 1884-85(Sanborn, Wahpeton, Larimore, Minto, LaMoure, Portland, Page, Devils Lake and Cavalier); and eight in 1886-89 (Bathgate, Lakota, Milnor, Park River, Hope, Inkster, Oakes and St. Thomas). In the northern part of the jurisdiction, when Dakota Grand Lodge came to an end in 1889, the total membership, including Forman Lodge (U.D.) was 1,322. In the southern part of the jurisdiction there were 75 lodges with a membership of 3,162.

The separation of the Grand Lodge of Dakota into the North and South Dakota Grand Lodges took place on June 13, 1889, at Mitchell, Dakota Territory.


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