Zac McDorrThose of us from Bath are proud that William King, first governor of Maine, came from our city.

But Woolwich, on the other side of the river, has more to brag about. It is the birthplace of Sir William Phips, who was the first governor of Massachusetts (including Maine). And the first governor of the Dakota Territory was a double-amputee from Woolwich named Wilmot W. Brookings.

Brookings was born in 1830 and attended Bowdoin College. He took teaching jobs around Maine until he was admitted to the bar in 1857, and then he moved to Sioux Falls in what would become South Dakota.

The following year he took a horse from Sioux Falls to Yankton in a snowstorm. His horse stumbled and fell into Split Rock Creek. By the time he reached his destination, Brookings had terrible frostbite damage to both legs, which had to be amputated.

The uncomfortable wooden legs Brookings wore did not hold back his political ambitions. The Dakota Territory would not become official until 1861, but in the meantime, the people who lived there formed a provisional government.

Brookings was elected to the upper house of the territorial legislature, and was appointed governor of Dakota Territory. His term of service lasted three years, until 1861, when the territory became official. Sadly, the federal government did not recognize the provisional government or its governor, so Brookings role as “first governor” is somewhat unofficial.

Brookings carried on in the Dakota government, serving in several capacities, including Speaker of the House. Ulysses S. Grant appointed him associate justice of the Dakota supreme court.
Brookings was an executive for the Southern Dakota Railroad, and owned a newspaper. Brookings County and the towns of Brookings and Wilmot are named after him.

Unfortunately, Brookings chose to visit Woolwich one last time in 1905. On his way home, he died in a streetcar accident in Boston.


filed under: