Bennett County, South Dakota Diamond Jubilee
A Journey Into the Past 1911-1986
The Bennett County Retired Teachers Association
The Bennett County Genealogical Society
Transcribed by Roseanna L. Renaud
Before the Organization of Bennett County - Submitted by Grace Hammer
What, two cents an acre, the price of land? That was the price paid to France for the Louisiana Territory by the U.S. Government in 1803. The area included what is now North and South Dakota and parts of Wyoming and Montana. Spain first claimed all of the interior of this part of North America due to the exploration by Columbus and by Coronado, later. The French explored and claimed the area by 1671; the claim was reinforced by La Salle in 1682. The Seven Year War was about to end when France ceded the region to Spain, who in turn ceded it to France in 1800. About this time our government became anxious about the possibility of losing access to the port of New Orleans, which was used as a port for products sent down the Mississippi River. So, President Thomas Jefferson sent Robert L. Livingston and James Monroe to France to buy the desired area. Napoleon, much in need of money for war commitments, after much negotiating offered the entire territory for the price of 15 million dollars and the deal was made. There was much criticism of the deal by citizens of the United States. The exploration in 1804 by Lewis and Clark is an interesting story.
Dakota Territory was created in 1861. It extended from the state of Minnesota to the crest of the Rocky Mountains and included what later became the states of North and South Dakota and parts of Montana and Wyoming. The Montana area was placed into the Idaho Territory in 1863; the Wyoming area was established as a territory in 1860. The remaining land became the states of North and South Dakota in November 1889.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was established in 1874. In the early 1900s allotments were made to Indian families. After the allotments were completed the map was made by Charlie Bates and Mark Markston, giving the names of the allottee and the number of the allotment. This was done in 1910. Then the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted to have the unalloted land of the Pine Ridge Reservation opened for white settlement and the homesteaders and other settlers came.
Bennett County in its present form consists of 762, 698.14 acres; 1,173 square miles as created by the South Dakota Legislature in 1903. Before it was called by its present name it was named Lugenbeel in honor of a colonel at Fort Randall.
There is a difference of opinion as to whether Bennett County was named for John E. Bennett, Judge of the S.D. Supreme Court, or Granville C. Bennett, who was prominent in politics at the time. Until the organization of this county took place the legal affairs of the area were administered by Fall River County.
CHAPTER TWO Excerpts from page 1
A map of the county was made in 1910 by Charlie Bates and Mark Markston, giving names of allotees and number of allotments. After the allotments were completed the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted to have the unallotted land open for white settlement and the homesteaders and others came.
In 1909 an act by the South Dakota Legislature established Bennett County. Boundaries were set at that time as they are today. In 1910 Congressional acts established a lottery procedure which allowed homesteaders whose names were drawn to select land in Bennett County. By 1911, with the prospect of the new homesteaders settling in the county, many residents felt it was time to organize. At this time Bennett County was attached to Fall River County for judicial purposes, and taxes were paid to that county. Although there was some opposition to organization, many felt it was imperative to organize so that tax money could be used in their own county where they could have a say in government.
On January 17, 1912, petitions for organization with 150 valid signatures were presented to Governor Robert S. Vessey. The governor then set April 9, 1912, as a special election day. Since this was a special election only a temporary county seat and temporary officers could be elected. A regular election would have to be held in the fall.
The most heated issue of the special election was the location of the county seat. The voters chose the Martin townsite over Lacreek by a 151 to 61 vote. In the regular election held that fall Lacreek again made a bid to become the county seat, but lost again to Martin 194 to 82.
The first County Commissioners elected were Edgar Fire Thunder, E. G. Ward and Joseph E. Livermont. They held their first meeting on April 27, 1912, at which time commissioner districts and school districts were established. They also passed a resolution that a court house should be built. Of special interest is that the building was to be built so it could be moved in case the location of the county seat would be changed. Also at that time, lots at the present county court house site were deeded to the county at no cost (*from the family of Charles Wesley Allen and Emma Hawkins Allen). The contract price for the first court house was $1,839.00.
County officers were able to move into the building that fall. The first county officers elected were: Edward G. Bettelyoun, auditor; Frank Bullard, treasurer; Robert C. Allen, register of deeds; E. C. Means, Clerk of courts; George Stover, county Judge; Joe Ecoffey, assessor; Oscar Amiotte, coroner; and George Boesl, sheriff. Charles Milner was elected states attorney but did not qualify. Clarence Three Stars was appointed. Minnie Lessert was appointed county superintendent.
A vault was built on the north side of the court house in 1914 at the cost of $293.80. In 1933 an addition was built onto the building that included a vault, entryway and room on the second floor for the sheriff.
On June 7, 1967, the old court house was burned down to make way for a new building. The new court house was built at a cost of about $210,000. No bonds were needed since the county had sufficient funds to pay for the building.
Dedication of the new Bennett County court house took place on May 27, 1968, with Fredric C. Cozad as master of ceremonies. George McGovern, United States Senator, gave the dedication address. County commissioners at the time of the dedication were Jerry J. Donovan, J.H. Dickinson and Harold B. Popplewell.
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