Freemasonry was established in the Dakota Territory by the Grand Lodge of Iowa. The first lodge, St. John’s, was established at Yankton on December 5, 1862. By 1875, further lodges were chartered at Vermillion (Incense), Elk Point (Elk Point), Canton (Silver Star), Sioux Falls (Minnehaha) and, under dispensation, at Springfield (Mt. Zion). On July 21, 1875, representatives from these lodges formed the Grand Lodge of the Dakota Territory.
The Grand Lodge of the Dakota Territory worked and chartered lodges until 1889 when the territory was divided and admitted to the United States as South and North Dakota. At that time, the Grand Lodge also split in two with 73 lodges under the Grand Lodge of South Dakota and 23 coming under the authority of the Grand Lodge of North Dakota.
South Dakota Masonic charity began with the second Grand Master in 1890. M.W. George V. Ayers, a successful hardware businessman in Deadwood, created the Grand Lodge Charity Fund with a donation of $75. He also established a Masonic Widows’ & Orphans’ Fund with a $25 donation. In 1934, it was reported that the funds had grown to nearly $214,000 with more than $94,000 having been paid to the needy. In 1920 alone, over $10,500 was dispersed to brethren and families. Besides countless local activities, South Dakota Freemasons also support the Masonic Model Student Assistants Training and Child Identification Program.
Today, Grand Master Daniel A. Nace presides over the Grand Lodge of South Dakota comprised of more than 70 lodges with a membership of more than 5,000 brothers. South Dakota Freemasonry has had such prominent members as Richard F. Pettigrew (1848 – 1926), philanthropist and South Dakota’s first U.S. Senator; Governor, Medal of Honor recipient and commissioner of the American Football League Joseph P. Foss (1915-2003); and Gutzon Borglum (1867–1941), sculptor of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.