Territorial Supreme Court
On March 2, 1861, the United States created the Dakota Territory with three branches of government: executive,
legislative, and judicial. The judicial power of the territory was vested in a Supreme Court, district courts,
probate courts, and justices of the peace.
That same year, President Lincoln appointed Philemon Bliss, Joseph L. Williams, and George P. Willisfon as the
first Territorial Supreme Court. The early Court had little business and, in fact, the first time it met as a
supreme bench to hear appeals was on December 3, 1867, in Yankton.
Between 1861 and 1889, when South Dakota become a state, thirty presidential appointees served as judges of the
Territorial Supreme Court. Their decisions, cited as "Dakota Reports", cover six volumes. The Territorial
Supreme Court was dissolved in 1889, when President Harrison proclaimed statehood for South Dakota.
The 1867 Territorial Supreme Court conducting business of its first meeting as an appeals bench in Yankton.
The members of that court were Jefferson P. Kidder, Ara Bartlett, and John W Boyle.