North Dakota, state in the N central United States. It is bordered by Minnesota, across the Red River of the North (E), South Dakota (S), Montana (W), and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (N).
Facts and Figures
Area, 70,665 sq mi (183,022 sq km). Pop. (2010) 672,591, a 4.7% increase from the 2000 census. Capital, Bismarck. Largest city, Fargo. Statehood, Nov. 2, 1889 (39th state), simultaneously with South Dakota. Highest pt., White Butte, 3,506 ft (1,069 m); lowest pt., Red River, 750 ft (229 m). Nicknames, Sioux State; Flickertail State. Motto, Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable. State bird, Western meadowlark. State flower, wild prairie rose. State tree, American elm. Abbr., N.Dak.; ND
Situated in the geographical center of North America, North Dakota is subject to the extremes of a continental climate. Semiarid conditions prevail in the western half of the state, but in the east an average annual rainfall of 22 in. (55 cm), much of it falling in the crop-growing spring and summer months, enables the rich soil to yield abundantly. North Dakota is one of the most rural states in the nation; the cities and towns supply the needs of neighboring farms, and industry is largely devoted to the processing of agricultural products.
The eastern half of the state is in the central lowlands, a belt of black earth covered in spring by the soft green of sprouting grain and later by the bronze of flowering wheat or the blue of flax. Along the banks of the Red River lies a wedge of land, c.40 mi (60 km) wide at the Canadian border and tapering to 10 mi (16 km) in the south, that is the floor of the former glacial Lake Agassiz. Treeless, except along the rivers, and without surface rocks, this flat land was transformed into the bonanza wheat fields of the 1870s and 80s, with farms ranging in size from 3,000 to 65,000 acres (1,200–26,000 hectares). Today the average farm in the Red River valley is about 450 acres (180 hectares); the state average is about 1,300 acres (525 hectares). Its major crop, wheat, is varied with such crops as flax and seed potatoes.
To the west of the valley a series of escarpments rises some 300 ft (91 m) to meet the drift prairies, where rolling hills, scattered lakes, and occasional moraines form a pleasant and fertile countryside. The productivity of the soil makes North Dakota a leader in wheat (ranking second in the nation), barley, sugar beets, oats, soybeans, and sunflowers. In income earned, however, cattle and cattle products exceed all the crops except wheat.
In the western part of the state a combination of unfavorable topography and scant rainfall precludes intensive cultivation except in the river valleys. An area some 50 mi (80 km) E of the Missouri River is a farm and grazing belt, separated from the drift prairies by the Missouri escarpment. Westward from the Missouri rolls an irregular plateau, covered with short prairie grasses and cut by deep gullies. Where wind and rain have eroded the hillsides there are unusual formations of sand and clay, glowing in yellows, reds, browns, and grays. Along the Little Missouri this section is called the Badlands, so named because the region (once described as "hell with the fires out" ) was difficult to traverse in early days. Situated there, where from 1883 to 1886 the young Theodore Roosevelt spent part of each year ranching, are the three units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Bismarck, on the eastern bank of the Missouri River, is the capital and Fargo is the largest city.
On the plateau cattle graze, finding shelter in the many ravines, and large ranges are an economic necessity. In the northwestern area of the state oil was discovered in 1951, and petroleum is now North Dakota's leading mineral product, ahead of sand and gravel, lime, and salt. There are also natural-gas fields. Underlying the western counties are lignite reserves; close to the lignite beds are deposits of clay of such varied types that they serve as both construction and pottery materials.
Despite mineral production and some manufacturing, agriculture continues to be North Dakota's principal pursuit, and the processing of grain, meat, and dairy products is vital to such cities as Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot, and Bismarck. The Missouri and Red rivers, once the major transportation routes, are more important now for their irrigation potential. Several dams have been built, notably Garrison Dam, and a number of federal reclamation projects have been completed as part of the Missouri River basin project. There has also been reforestation. With such attractions as the Badlands, the International Peace Garden on the Canadian border, and recreational facilities provided by reservoirs (resulting from dam building in the 1950s), tourism has become North Dakota's third-ranking source of income, behind agriculture and mineral production.
Government and Higher Education
The state is governed under its 1889 constitution, often amended. The legislature consists of 49 senators and 98 representatives. The governor is elected for a four-year term; Republican Edward Schafer, elected in 1992 and reelected in 1996, was succeeded by fellow Republican John Hoeven, elected in 2000 and reelected in 2004 and 2008. Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple succeeded Hoeven when the latter resigned in 2010; he was elected to the office in 2012. North Dakota elects two U.S. senators and one representative; it has three electoral votes.
The state's institutions of higher education include Jamestown College, at Jamestown; North Dakota State Univ., at Fargo; and the Univ. of North Dakota, at Grand Forks.
Native Americans and the Fur Traders
The first farmers in the region of whom there is definite knowledge were Native Americans of the Mandan tribe. Other agricultural tribes were the Arikara and the Hidatsa. Seminomadic and nomadic tribes were the Cheyenne, Cree, Sioux, Assiniboin, Crow, and Ojibwa (Chippewa).
With the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 the northwestern half of North Dakota became part of the United States. The southeastern half was acquired from Great Britain in 1818 when the international line with Canada was fixed at the 49th parallel. Earlier the Lewis and Clark expedition had wintered (1804–5) with the Mandan and the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company had established trading posts in the Red River valley. These ventures introduced an industry that dominated the region for more than half a century. Within that era the buffalo vanished from the plains and the beaver from the rivers.
From its post at Fort Union, which was established in 1828, John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company gradually gained monopolistic control for a time over the region's trade. Supply and transport were greatly facilitated when a paddlewheel steamer, the Yellowstone, inaugurated steamboat travel on the turbulent upper Missouri in 1832. Additional transportation was provided by the supply caravans of Red River carts, which went westward across the Minnesota prairies and returned to the Mississippi loaded with valuable pelts. In 1837, the introduction of smallpox by settlers decimated the Mandan tribe.
Early Settlers and the Sioux
An attempt at agricultural colonization was made at Pembina in 1812 (see Red River Settlement), but the first permanent farming community was not established until 1851, when another group settled at Pembina. This was still the only farm settlement in the future state in 1851 when the Dakota Territory was organized. The territory included lands that would eventually became North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.
Several military posts had been established starting in 1857 to protect travelers and railroad workers. Even when free land was opened in 1863 and the Northern Pacific RR was chartered in 1864, concern with the Civil War and the eruption of open warfare with Native Americans discouraged any appreciable settlement. Gen. Alfred H. Sully joined Gen. Henry H. Sibley of Minnesota in campaigns against the Sioux in 1863–66. A treaty was signed in 1868. In 1876, after gold was discovered on Native American land in the Black Hills, the unwillingness of the whites to respect treaty agreements led to further war, and the force of George A. Custer was annihilated at the battle of the Little Bighorn in present-day Montana. Ultimately, however, the Sioux under Chief Sitting Bull fled to Canada, where they surrendered voluntarily; they were returned to reservations in the United States.
Immigration and Agrarian Discontent
The first cattle ranch in North Dakota was established in 1878. With the construction of railroads in the 1870s and 80s, thousands of European immigrants, principally Scandinavians, Germans, and Czechs, arrived. They worked the land on their own homesteads or on the large Eastern-financed bonanza wheat fields of the low central prairies. Borrowing the idea from Europe, they founded agricultural cooperatives.
Local politics were rapidly reduced to a struggle between the agrarian groups and the corporate interests. Alexander McKenzie of the Northern Pacific was for many years the most important figure in the state. Republicans held the elective offices. Agrarian groups formed the Farmers' Alliance and in 1892, three years after North Dakota had achieved statehood, the Farmers' Alliance combined with the Democrats and Populists to elect Eli Shortridge, a Populist, as governor. Later, when the success of the La Follette Progressives in Wisconsin encouraged the growth of the Republican Progressive movement in North Dakota, a fusion with the Democrats elected "Honest John" Burke as governor for three terms (1906–12).
The Nonpartisan League
Much of the agrarian discontent was focused on marketing practices of the large grain interests. Although many small cooperative grain elevators were established, they did not prove effective, and the farmers pressed for state-owned grain elevators. When this movement failed in the legislature of 1915, the Nonpartisan League, directed in North Dakota by Arthur C. Townley, was organized on a platform that included state ownership of terminal elevators and flour mills, state inspection of grain and grain dockage, relief of farm improvements from taxation, and rural credit banks operated at cost.
Working primarily with the Republican party because it was the majority party in North Dakota, the league captured the state legislature in 1919 and proceeded to enact virtually its entire platform. This included the establishment of an industrial commission to manage state-owned enterprises and the creation of the Bank of North Dakota to handle public funds and provide low-cost rural credit. The right of recall was also enacted, by which voters could remove an elected official. However, the reforms were disappointing in operation.
Dissension arose within the league, and the Independent Voters Association was organized to represent the conservative Republican position. The industrial commission was accused of maladministration, and the provision of recall was exercised three times, the first against Gov. L. J. Frazier in 1921. William Langer, who had been active with both the Nonpartisan League and the Independent Voters Association, was elected governor in 1932 running as a Nonpartisan. Langer was convicted on a federal charge of misconduct in office in 1934, although the conviction was later reversed. Langer again became governor in 1936, running as an individual candidate and not on the ticket of either party; subsequently he was elected to the U.S. Senate four times.
Present-day North Dakota
The state's heavy dependence on wheat and petroleum has made it unusually vulnerable to fluctuations in those markets; North Dakota has undergone a number of booms and busts in its petroleum industry. Red River flooding in 1997 devastated Grand Forks, adding to economic problems. In recent years North Dakota has become more urbanized, and telecommunications and high-tech manufacturing have created jobs, but between 1990 and 2000 it had the slowest rate of population growth of all the states.
See E. L. Waldo, Dakota: An Informal Study of Territorial Days (2d ed. 1936); Federal Writers' Project, North Dakota: A Guide to the North Prairie State (1938, rev. ed. 1980); M. E. Kazeck, North Dakota (1956); E. B. Robinson, History of North Dakota (1966); L. R. Goodman and R. J. Eidem, Atlas of North Dakota (1976); F. M. Berg, Ethnic Heritage in North Dakota (1983).