The journey of the Dakota militiaman began during the Civil War with Companies A and B of the Dakota Cavalry. On March 2, 1861, President James Buchanan signed the act establishing the Dakota Territory. By that time, Vermillion, Bon Homme and Elk Point were growing communities. The territory tended to be people who were genuine settlers, mostly immigrants from Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Earlier in the 1850s, the U.S. Army had established garrisons at Fort Pierre and Fort Randall on the Missouri River. Their mission was to protect the 5,000 settlers from the threat of attacks. When the Civil War started, the Army withdrew three companies from Fort Randall leaving it in an exposed position. This led to the Dec. 7, 1861, proclamation, by the Territorial Governor William Jayne, to raise two companies of volunteer militia.
Recruiting centers were established in Yankton, Vermillion and Bon Homme. The citizens were very patriotic with a lot of local pride, and in just over one month enough men had enlisted to assemble the first company of Citizen-Soldiers. On Jan. 27, 1862, Capt. Nelson Miner, company commander, formed the unit in Yankton, Company A, Dakota Cavalry. This was the first unit of the Dakota Territory Militia. This was the birth of the South Dakota National Guard.
Since that historic date in 1862, the SDNG has seen combat during the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Operation Just Cause and Operation Desert Storm. The National Guard was also called up during the Mexican Border Conflict, Korean War, Berlin Crisis and peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, each of South Dakota’s 22 National Guard communities has experienced a unit mobilization in support of Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. More than 8,000 Soldiers and Airmen have deployed in support of these operations and continue to deploy today.
Throughout the years, natural disasters have called forth the Guard’s spirit of teamwork and sacrifice to battle floods, fires, blizzards and tornado destruction. The Rapid City Flood of 1972, the 1998 Spencer Tornado, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and the 2011 Missouri River Flood are historic examples of when the SDNG mobilized to help its fellow South Dakotans and Americans in times of need.
The proud heirs of the great militia tradition can be found in the men and women of today’s SDNG. They stand ready to leave the comforts of home and family to help their friends and neighbors, defend the nation’s interests and bring peace and hope to people throughout the world.