North Dakota

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North Dakota
Capital Bismarck
Nickname The Peace Garden State
Governor Doug Burgum, R
Senator Kevin Cramer, R
(202) 224-2043
Senator John Hoeven, R
(202) 224-2551
Population 770,000 (2020)
Ratification of Constitution/or statehood November 2, 1889 (39th)
Flag of North Dakota Motto: "Liberty and Union Now and Forever; One and Inseparable"

North Dakota is a conservative northern Midwestern state; it is part of the Great Plains and became the thirty-ninth state to enter into the union on November 2, 1889.[1] Rich in oil, its state capital is Bismarck, and the largest city is Fargo. North Dakota is the only state that has a state-owned bank in the nation.[2] North Dakota is located in the center of the North American continent. The exact geographical center is located 97 miles NE of Bismarck, 15 miles SW of Rugby.[3]

This state has long been strongly conservative, and in recent decades has been boosted by oil production.

The state Constitution of North Dakota, like all of the other 50 states, acknowledges God or our Creator or the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe. It says:

We, the people of North Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, do ordain and establish this constitution.


1958 map.

Since 1940 North Dakota has voted Republican for president (except in 1964), but elects many Democrats to Congress. The current governor of North Dakota is Jack Dalrymple, a Republican.[4]

Elected Officials




The original Native American tribes in what is now North Dakota were the Mandan, Sioux, Arikara, Chippewa, Cheyenne, Assiniboine, and Hidatsa. Today only the Sioux and Chippewa remain; they comprise about 4% of the population.

Fargo and other cities are growing steadily as they absorb the people leaving the declining rural areas.
Most settlers arrived from the 1880s to 1910, usually straight from Europe. Since then the population has held steady at about 650,000. Young people are moving out of rural areas to other states or to the few cities. The four urban counties (containing Fargo, Grand Forks Bismark and Minot) grew from 134,000 people in 1930 to 338,000 in 2007, while the other 49 counties—heavily rural—declined from 546,000 in 1930 to only 301,000 in 2007, and the decline continues. Thanks to high prices for oil and wheat, the state is prosperous and the state budget has a surplus. Higher education is a priority; he state ranks first in spending per capita on state colleges and universities.


Three out of four residents today are descended from German and Norwegian pioneers who arrived as farmers in growth years, 1880 to 1914. Many of the German speakers came from Russia, and are known as "Russian Germans." Yankees arrived too; they became townspeople, not farmers. Religion has always been strong, especially in Lutheran and Catholic churches.


Norwegian folk came to North Dakota with a reputation for honesty, hospitality, and thrift; they were modernizers and prohibitionists and soon acquired new traits involving good manners, a greater respect for women, more democratic ideas, and disregard for European class distinctions. "In Norway," one pioneer recalled, "we were in many respects a helpless tool in the hands of the state. There we had the state church. The child must be baptized or a fine must be paid." Ole Lima said that when his people came to America they became "a more wideawake people and more independent thinking. . . . The Norwegian, who has lived a while in America, is more civilized than if he had not been here. He has seen more, experienced more, thought more, and all this has opened his eyes and broadened his view."[5]

The town of Leal in Barnes County in 1920, when it had 88 people; only 36 remain today--it's typical of many fading villages.

Volga Germans

On the other hand, the "Russian Germans" or "Volga Germans" were traditionalists. They were Germans who had lived isolated lives for generations in the Volga River region of Russia. They settled mostly in the south-central part of the state, the so-called German-Russian triangle. They brought little money and so worked poorer land, and were not as well off as other groups. No educated Germans-speaking pastors, teachers, professional men, or tradesmen had joined the peasants who migrated to America. The older generation was still speaking German (they never spoke Russian) in the 1940s, while the next generation was bilingual. Negatively influenced by their miseries and isolation in Russia, they saw themselves a downtrodden class cheated by businessmen and railroads; they raised large families with harsh discipline; they wanted their children to be farmers so took them out of school around age 14; they treated their womenfolk as inferior, and were slow to diversify their farms. Many grew sugar beets. In World War I (1917–18) their patriotism was ambiguous; distrusted by their neighbors they rejected prohibition and Americanization efforts and supported radical far-left political movements such as the NPL ("Non-Partisan League") in state elections and Robert LaFollette in 1924.[6]


The climate is harsh winter and summer, with light rainfall. Eric Sevareid (1912-1992), who survived to become a famous newscaster, recalls growing up in a village north of Minot:

"It was a trial of the human spirit just to live there, and a triumph of faith and fortitude for those who stayed on through the terrible blasting of the summer winds, the merciless suns, through the frozen darkness of the winters when the deathly mourn of the coyote seemed at times the only signal of life."


North Dakota has always been a farm state. The most productive area is the eastern strip in the Red River Valley, where the soils are good and the water is abundant. Too abundant, sometimes, as the Red River (which flows north into Canada) often floods. Farming here is diversified, with wheat dominant, along with sugar beets and other crops.
There are few trees on the plains, so many pioneers built houses from sod and lived in them for years despite the dirt, darkness and insects. This hand-colored photo was taken about 1905.[7]

The East Central and West Central regions are dry and are given over to wheat and other grains.

The West region has considerable ranching, but there is so little moisture that crops are seldom grown.

Wheat farming boomed in the late 19th century, in part because of improvements in harvesting technology, particularly the automated reaper/binder that relied on twine to tie wheat into bundles for threshing. In 1899, to meet the rising demand for twine and confront International Harvester's monopolization of twine production, North Dakota and other Great Plains states set up their own twine factories using prison labor.

Wheat harvest in Benson county, 1910

Farmers Union

State headquarters of Farmers Union in Jamestown

The Farmers Union, the state branch of the National Farmers Union (NFU), was founded in 1927 and emerged from the NPL in the 1920s. The Union grew rapidly in the 1930s when the New Deal (through the Farm Security Administration) began funding rural cooperatives. The coops were businesses—grain elevators and retail stores—that are owned by the farmers collectively, and enjoy special tax privileges. Norwegians in particular favored the coops and the Farmers Union. The Union has always leaned to the left, as opposed to the conservative farm Bureau Federation. North Dakota is one of the few states where the Union has a much larger membership than the Bureau, thanks to those coops. In 1956 there were 58,000 farmers in the state, of whom 44,000 belonged to the Union In the 1956 the Union took over the remnants of the NPL and merged it into the Democratic Party, which is officially the Democratic-NPL Party. The Farmers Union in 2009 still has 42,000 members, because it is signing up town folk to join the coops. It still lobbies on the left on major state and national issues.


The Red River and the Missouri River are navigable, with steamships active by the 1840s. They provided the easiest transportation until the opening of the railroads in the 1880-1900 period. The Northern Pacific, Soo Line, Great Northern, and Milwaukee Road railroads served over 90% of the population, and sold land on very easy terms to immigrants. However, once they were settled in farmers and local merchants complained of high freight rates. The populated areas of east and central North Dakota are flat, making it easy for counties in the 1920s to build gravel roads to serve farmers.

Before the 1950s counties operated "Old People's Homes" like this one in Grand Forks County for welfare recipients; today welfare is in cash payments, rental allowances and food stamps.


Hunting, fishing and boating are popular pastimes and draw summer tourists. The 2,300 acre tract of the International Peace Garden straddling the Canadian border was located near the geographical center of the American continent in 1932. The land was given by the Province of Manitoba and the State of North Dakota, after four years of planning by a group of distinguished gardeners. A cairn of native stone bears the inscription, 'To God in His Glory, we two nations dedicate this garden and pledge ourselves that as long as men shall live, we will not take up arms against one another.' Articles of incorporation were filed in Manitoba and North Dakota. A 100 percent Federal grant was received from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works. A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was installed in 1934 and aided in the garden's development until 1941. Other organizations contributed. The garden houses an International Music camp, weekly encampments of the Royal Canadian Legion, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the North Dakota Farmers' Union, Boy Scouts, church groups, and other youth activities.[8]



North Dakota has considerable fossil fuel reserves. Coal is extracted from large surface mines in central North Dakota. Substantial crude oil and natural gas reserves are located in the Williston Basin, in the western part of the State. Although a low population largely accounts for the State's low total energy consumption, North Dakota's per capita energy consumption ranks among the highest in the Nation, in large part due to high demand for heating during cold winters and an energy-intensive economy. Industry accounts for nearly one-half of the State's total energy consumption.[9]


North Dakota is a substantial crude oil-producing State with an output typically equal to roughly 2% of total annual U.S. production. The State is also an entrance point for Canadian crude oil transported via pipeline to U.S. Midwest refining markets. A small petroleum refinery near Bismarck refines crude oil extracted from the Williston Basin, which covers eastern Montana and the western Dakotas, as well as a small amount of Canadian crude. The refinery produces transportation fuels primarily for the northern Great Plains States and the Twin Cities area. A small new refinery has been proposed on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation in western North Dakota. If constructed, it would be the first new crude oil refinery in the United States in decades.

Drilling for oil in 1963 in the Williston Basin, near the western border

Ethanol is produced at four ethanol plants in North Dakota, and a fifth is under construction, giving the State considerable ethanol production capacity. North Dakota is a moderate consumer of ethanol in blended motor gasoline, although it is one of the few states that allow the statewide use of conventional motor gasoline. (Most States require the use of specific gasoline blends in non-attainment areas due to air-quality considerations.) Ethanol is fast losing popularity because it is expensive and by taking crops out of the food chain it raises food prices.

Natural Gas

North Dakota typically produces roughly 1% of the Nation's annual natural gas production. The majority of the State's supply is transported via major pipelines originating in Montana and western Canada on their way to U.S. Midwest consumption markets. North Dakota has the distinction of being one of only two States that produce synthetic natural gas. The single largest source of synthetic gas in the United States is the Great Plains Synfuels Plant in Beulah, North Dakota, which annually produces more than 54 billion cubic feet of gas from coal. Overall State usage of natural gas is low, with the industrial sector leading State consumption. Over two-fifths of the households in North Dakota use natural gas as their primary source of energy for home heating.

Coal, Electricity, and Renewables

Electricity generation and demand are both low in North Dakota, commensurate with the State's population. Coal-fired plants provide nearly all of North Dakota's electricity generation. Most of the coal used for power generation is supplied by several large surface mines in the central part of the State. State coal production is substantial, and North Dakota brings in only small amounts of coal from other States. Hydroelectric dams account for most of the State's non-coal-generated electricity. The Garrison Dam, located about 75 miles northwest of Bismarck, is North Dakota's fifth largest plant in electricity generation capability. The vast majority of the State is rich in wind energy potential, a dozen wind power projects are currently operational, and the State has plans for further development. Nearly three-tenths of North Dakota households use electricity as their primary energy source for home heating.


Beginning in 1915, the Non-Partisan League (NPL) quickly developed from a protest movement into a political force in North Dakota and neighboring Alberta, Canada. Alienated farmers, especially Germans, demanded state government action to balance the widening gap between the price consumers paid and the amount producers received for their farm products, especially wheat. A. C. Townley and William Irvine rallied farmers into the Non-Partisan League's ranks with the organization's commitment to voting and democracy that were not influenced by traditional party politics. Conservative Republicans and Democrats formed an alliance to stope the NPL radicalism.

Notable people from North Dakota

Badlands in western N.D.
  • Dick Armey, a former US Representative who played a significant role in the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994, was born in Cando, then moved to Texas.
  • Louis L'Amour, an author who specialized in writing Westerns, was born in Jamestown.
  • Sacagawea, who served as a guide on Lewis and Clark's expedition, spent several years living in a village in what is now North Dakota.
  • Lawrence Welk, band leader; his parents were Volga German Catholics who left Russia in 1893 and migrated to Strasburg
  • Roger Maris, from Fargo; playing with the New York Yankees, he broke Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1961


  • Anderson, Kathie Ryckman. Dakota: The Literary Heritage of the Northern Prairie State. (1990), quick look at 200 authors
  • Arends, Shirley Fischer. The Central Dakota Germans: Their History, Language, and Culture. (1989). 289 pp.; the state's largest ethnic group
  • Berg, Francie M., ed. Ethnic Heritage in North Dakota. (1983). 174 pp.
  • Blackorby, Edward C. Prairie Rebel: The Public Life of William Lemke (1963), radical leader in 1930s online edition
  • Bochert, John R. America's Northern Heartland (1987), regional geography
  • Collins, Michael L. That Damned Cowboy: Theodore Roosevelt and the American West, 1883-1898 (1989). Teddy was a rancher here in the 1880s
  • Cooper, Jerry and Smith, Glen. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the North Dakota National Guard. (1986). 447 pp.
  • Crawford, Lewis F. History of North Dakota (3 vol 1931), excellent history in vol 1; biographies in vol. 2-3
  • Danbom, David B. "Our Purpose Is to Serve": The First Century of the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. (1990). 237 pp.
  • Danbom, David B. "North Dakota: The Most Midwestern State," in Heartland: Comparative Histories of the Midwestern States, ed. by James H. Madison, (1988) pp 107–126
  • Drache, Hiram M. The Day of the Bonanza: A History of Bonanza Farming in the Red River Valley of the North. (1964), giant wheat farms with many employees
  • Eisenberg, C. G. History of the First Dakota-District of the Evangelical-Lutheran Synod of Iowa and Other States. (1982). 268 pp. now part of ELCA
  • Ginsburg, Faye D. Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community. (1989). 315 pp. the issue in Fargo
  • Hampsten, Elizabeth. Settlers' Children: Growing Up on the Great Plains (1991)
  • Hargreaves, Mary W. M. Dry Farming in the Northern Great Plains: Years of Readjustment, 1920-1990. (1993). 386 pp.
  • Howard, Thomas W., ed. The North Dakota Political Tradition. (1981). 220 pp.; essays on on Alexander McKenzie, Governor John Burke, Senator William Langer, Governor Fred G. Aandahl, Elizabeth Preston Anderson, NPL and the Independent Voters' Association.
  • Hudson, John C. Plains Country Towns. (1985). 189 pp. geographer studies small towns
  • Junker, Rozanne Enerson. The Bank of North Dakota: An Experiment in State Ownership. (1989). 185 pp.
  • Lamar, Howard R. Dakota Territory, 1861-1889: A Study of Frontier Politics (1956).
  • Lounsberry, Clement A. Early history of North Dakota (1919) excellent history by editor of Bismark Tribune; 645pp online edition
  • Lysengen, Janet Daley and Rathke, Ann M., eds. The Centennial Anthology of "North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains." (1996). 526 pp. articles from state history journal covering all major topics in the state's history
  • Morlan, Robert L. Political Prairie Fire: The Nonpartisan League, 1915-1922. (1955). 414 pp. radical-left NPL came to power briefly
  • Murray, Stanley Norman. The Valley Comes of Age: A History of Agriculture in the Valley of the Red River of the North, 1812-1920 (1967)
  • Peirce, Neal R. The Great Plains States of America: People, Politics, and Power in the Nine Great Plains States (1973) excerpt and text ssearch, chapter on North Dakota
  • Robinson, Elwyn B., D. Jerome Tweton, and David B. Danbom. History of North Dakota (2nd ed. 1995) standard history, by leading scholars; extensive bibliography
  • Schneider, Mary Jane. North Dakota Indians: An Introduction. (1986). 276 pp.
  • Sherman, William C. and Playford V. Thorson, eds. Plains Folk: North Dakota's Ethnic History. (1988). 419 pp.
  • Sherman, William C. Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota. (1983). 152 pp.
  • Smith, Glen H. Langer of North Dakota: A Study in Isolationism, 1940-1959. (1979). 238 pp. biography of influential conservative Senator
  • Snortland, J. Signe, ed. A Traveler's Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites. (1996). 155 pp.
  • Stock, Catherine McNicol. Main Street in Crisis: The Great Depression and the Old Middle Class on the Northern Plains. (1992). 305pp. online edition
  • Stradley, Scot A. The Broken Circle: An Economic History of North Dakota (1993)
  • Tauxe, Caroline S. Farms, Mines and Main Streets: Uneven Development in a Dakota County. (1993). 276 pp. coal and grain in Mercer county
  • Tweton, D. Jerome, and Daniel F. Rylance. The Years of Despair: North Dakota in the Depression. (1973) politics of 1920s
  • Tweton, D. Jerome and Jelliff, Theodore B. North Dakota: The Heritage of a People. (1976). 242 pp. basic textbook
  • Wilkins, Robert P. and Wilkins, Wynona Hutchette. North Dakota: A Bicentennial History. (1977) 218 pp. popular history
  • Wishart, David J. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains (2004), many articles by scholars on many topics

Primary sources

  • Benson, Bjorn; Hampsten, Elizabeth; and Sweney, Kathryn, eds. Day In, Day Out: Women's Lives in North Dakota. (1988). 326 pp.
  • Maximilian, Prince of Wied. Travels in the Interior of North America in the rears 1832 to 1834 (Vols. XXII-XXIV of "Early Western Travels, 1748-1846," ed. by Reuben Gold Thwaites; 1905- 1906). Maximilian spent the winter of 1833-1834 at Fort Clark.
  • Meek, Martha, and Jay Meek, eds. Prairie Volcano: An Anthology of North Dakota Writing. (1995), short works by 50 recent authors
  • Raaen, Aagot. Grass of the Earth (1950) true, highly revealing story of one Norwegian family in 1880s
  • University of North Dakota, Bureau of Governmental Affairs, ed., A Compilation of North Dakota Political Party Platforms, 1884-1978. (1979). 388 pp.
  • WPA. North Dakota: A Guide to the Northern Prairie State (2nd ed. 1950), the classic guide online edition
  • Woiwode, Larry. Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album (1975) novel about growing up in N.D.
  • Young, Carrie. Prairie Cooks: Glorified Rice, Three-Day Buns, and Other Reminiscences. (1993). 136 pp.

External links


  1. It entered on the same day as South Dakota, but is given status first because of alphabetical order.
  5. Quoted in Robinson (1966) p 548
  6. Robinson (1966) pp. 285-87, 557; Gordon L. Iseminger, "The McIntosh County German-Russians: the First Fifty Years," North Dakota History 1984 51(3): 4-23; Iseminger, "Are We Germans, or Russians, or Americans? The McIntosh County German-Russians During World War I," North Dakota History 1992 59(2): 2-16.
  7. See Everett Dick, Sod-House Frontier (1937)
  8. John A. Stormon, "A History of the International Peace Garden," North Dakota History 1964 31(4): 205-215,
  9. See Energy Information Administration, State Report 2009