If you're anything like us, you've looked up at the vast night sky and wondered: "Why are there 2 Dakotas?"
Back in 1880, there was still just 1 Dakota, a territory with about 140,000 people that was ready to become a state. However, over two-thirds of the territory's population was in the south, the capitol was way down in Yankton, and the southern Dakotans, according to UND history professor Kimberly Porter, considered the north, "too much controlled by the wild folks, cattle ranchers, fur traders."
So the southern part tried to enter the union by itself as a state called "Dakota" while the northern part would become a territory called "Pembina" -- and, ultimately, the state of "Lincoln."
The northern part, however, also wanted the name Dakota, and not only disputed the southern part's request for statehood, but STOLE the capital!
(Side-bar: capital- and county-seat-stealing was pretty common back then.)
Nehemiah Ordway (put that on your baby name list, expecting parents) was a corrupt Dakota Territory Governor who conspired with Northern Pacific Railroad lobbyist Alexander McKenzie to move the territorial capitol from Yankton all the way to Bismarck.
Because of disagreements like this, the Federal government said Dakota would have to come in as one state, or wait until both north and south had big enough populations to come in as two states.
By 1889, both sides had reached the population threshold, and on November 2nd, were signed into statehood by Benjamin Harrison.
However, Harrison mixed up the papers and couldn't remember which state actually came in first. So while the north is considered the 39th state and the south the 40th, it might be the other way around.
Whoops! The struggle goes on...
Too Many Dakotas? OR NOT ENOUGH?!
With a combined population of only 1.6 million people (764k in the north, 884k in the south), they are, even together, only half the population of Iowa.
Do we need so many Dakotas?
However, each Dakota still about the same size in population as tiny states like Vermont (600k) and Delaware (900k), so maybe we need MORE Dakotas?
Back in the 30s, America almost (not really) got a third Dakota of sorts, the proposed 49th state of Absaroka, which would have taken the western part of South Dakota and combined with the the northern and southeaster parts of Wyoming and Montana. The "secession" craze peaked with car license plates bearing the name Absaroka and also the crowning of "Miss Absaroka 1939." Buuuuuut, the movement petered out after that.
And Absaroka is added to the long list of Midwestern states that never came to be, the largest crop of which were Thomas Jefferson's sketches for states in the then Northwest Territory:
Some of these don't really "roll off the tongue." Polypotamia? Pelisipia?
Midwestern music history would be a bit different if Jefferson had gotten his way, with Madonna hailing from Bay City, Cherronesus; Diana Ross from Detroit, Metropotamia; Kanye West from Chicago, Assenisipia.
But when Jefferson's proposal came out, the US Senate (then comprised of only 13 states) did the math and realized that this 10-state-block would almost certainly become the most powerful political force in the country.
So the 10 state proposal was whittled down to 5, and those 5 were kept in line with leadership that emphasized control from back east. Back in 1788, the Ohio Company's first director reported that, "I am happy in being able to assure you that the anti-federalism is daily becoming more unpopular in this part of the commonwealth."
Though it wasn't all smooth sailing.
In 1835, as statehood approached for Michigan and Ohio, a dispute arose around which one controlled "The Toledo Strip."
The mostly bloodless "Toledo War" broke out between the 2 territories, and was settled in December of 1836 at "The Frostbitten Convention", when Michigan gave up its claim in exchange for about three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula.
Thus, the Yoopers have toiled ever since under the yoke of downstate control. Although in 1858, a convention pushing secession from Michigan was held in Ontonagon, with the proposal to take the UP, and parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota and create the state of Superior or Ontonagon.
That effort came to nothing, but other pushes for statehood came in 1897 (a proposal for the state of Superior) again in 1962 with the "Upper Peninsula Independence Association" formation that rounded up signatures for a referendum -- but, alas, not enough (they need about 60,000 and got 20,000).
The 1970s saw an even more half-assed movement, with "North Michigan" bumper stickers, calling for "North Michigan" become the 51st state.
So, we've got a North Dakota and South Dakota, but we could have also had a North Michigan and South Michigan.