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.