North Dakota History

North Dakota was first settled by Native Americans several thousand years ago. The first Europeans explored the area in the 1700s establishing some limited trade with the natives.

Much of the area was first organized by the United States as part of the Minnesota Territory and then the Dakota Territory in the 19th century. North Dakota gained statehood in 1889.

The railroads became the engine of settlement in the state. Its economy was since its early days has been heavily based on production of agricultural products such as wheat, flaxseed, and cattle.


Early history

North Dakota was first settled by Native Americans several thousand years ago. The major tribes in the area by the time of settlement were the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Sioux, and Chippewa.

By the time European trade goods were making their way through native trade routes, the Mandan had developed a notably advanced agricultural and trading society.

La VĂ©rendrye was one of the first Europeans to explore the area. He visited the Mandan area around 1738 and was astounded by their level of development. Limited trade with European powers followed through the end of the century.

The Mandan villages played a key role in the native trade networks because of their location and permanency. Their location at the northernmost reaches of the Missouri River placed them near the closest portages to the Hudson Bay basin and thus the fastest access to French and British traders. Additionally, valuable Knife River flint was produced not far from the villages.


Late 19th century

The railroads were the engine of settlement in the state. Major development occurred in the 1870s and 1880s. In 1861, the area that is now North Dakota was incorporated into the new Dakota Territory along with what is now South Dakota. On November 2, 1889, North Dakota and South Dakota became separate states.


20th century

During the early 20th century, North Dakota’s politics was generally dominated by the United States Republican Party. Progressive politics was not a factor in North Dakota politics until the 1910s, when a group known as the Non-Partisan League was formed, which ran Progressive candidates in the primaries against Republicans. These reformers succeeded in pushing through a well-defined socialist program, with features that remain in place to this day (i.e., a state-owned bank and state-owned mill and elevator). At least two governors were NPLers. By the 1950s, the NPL had developed into just another part of the political establishment in North Dakota. Had it not been for a group of youthful insurgents that swung the NPL into the Democratic column, the NPL would have lost touch entirely with its liberal roots.

While the governorship of the state has been held approximately the same amount of time by both parties since the Democratic-NPL party was formed in 1956, the state legislature has been dominated by Republicans. Both the North Dakota’s Senators (Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan) are members of the Democratic-NPL party as is North Dakota’s sole congressman, Earl Pomeroy.


21st century

At the beginning of the 21st century, North Dakota is experiencing demographic and economic decline. The population of the state is aging, both from a rise in life expectancy, and an exodus of younger people, particularly families. The state struggles with a lack of venture capital and high wage positions. However due to the oilfields high paying jobs are found just as easily as compared to any other place in the United States.