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Happy Birthday North Dakota

Posted 11/06/23 (Mon)

Katie Leier, October 31,2023, The Spectrum

Celebrating 139 years of our state

Author’s Note: Research is credited to State Historical Society of North Dakota,, Only in Your State, The Chicago Tribune, The National Weather Service, and Discover Walks.

Happy birthday, North Dakota!

November 2nd marks the 134th anniversary of North and South Dakota’s statehood. Back in 1889, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison approved the admittance of both North and South Dakota to the Union, distinguishing what was formerly referred to as the Dakota Territory into two different states.

The area of North Dakota was originally gained by the U.S. in what is known as the Louisiana Purchase. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from France. Approximately 828,000 acres were obtained in the deal, nearly doubling the size of the nation thus far.

The addition of all this new land led to the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, with their Corps of Discovery Expedition in 1804. For over two years, the two led a band of forty-five men across an 8,000-mile journey, charting maps and learning the geography and culture of the newest land to the U.S. Mostly, they were in search of a “Northwest Passage”, or a water channel that may travel across the continent for trading.

The winter of 1804 landed the group among the Mandan and Minitari Native American tribes near present-day Washburn, North Dakota. The Native Americans graciously welcomed their visitors, who built a fort on the land, christened Fort Mandan. 

Here, they were able to build up supplies and prepare for the next steps in their journey, as well as safely survive the winter.

The following year and a half took the group across the continent. While they never found a Northwest Passage, their explorations opened up the opportunity for Americans to homestead in the new land.

States were slowly added as the enormous Louisiana Purchase broke into smaller territories that petitioned for statehood. Dakota Territory was organized in March of 1861, including all of North and South Dakota, most of Montana, and parts of Minnesota, Wyoming, and Nebraska. 

The territory continued to grow and shrink as new states and territories were created.

The creation of South and North Dakota was a political game. The territory was a Republican Party stronghold, and by creating two separate states, the Republicans were able to gain more votes with more representatives and senators. 

When the time came to sign the bills into statehood, President Harrison signed in secret and never told anyone which state he signed first. The tradition of North Dakota being the 39th and South Dakota the 40th comes from alphabetical order, having nothing to do with which was actually admitted first.

To this day, it remains a mystery.

The state has played its own key role in history. The 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, lived in the Badlands in western North Dakota and credited the time he spent there as a key to his journey to the presidency. Theodore Roosevelt National Park was created and named in his honor.

The geographical center of all of North America is landmarked in Rugby, North Dakota. 

The Peace Gardens, shared with both the U.S. and Canada, were established as a memorial of the permanent peace between the two countries. The park was dedicated on July 14th, 1932.

In the summer of 1969, not only did Bryan Adams credit a song in honor of these few months, but the famous Zip to Zap took place. College students originally hatched the notion as a spring break getaway, but the event turned into the first riot that the National Guard was called in for in North Dakota.

Until 2010, North Dakota housed the tallest man-made structure in the entire world. The KVLY TV Tower still stands at 2,063 feet just outside the town of Blanchard. The Burj Khalifa building in Dubai broke the record at 2,722 feet, but our tower continues to be the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere. 

North Dakota also once nearly experienced their own Chernobyl disaster. On September 15th, 1980, a fire broke out at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Due to the top security status, the fire did not receive major publicity, but the fact was that if the wind changed and sent the fire in another direction, it would touch off the thermonuclear stores on base at the time. 

The blast could have desecrated the surrounding sixty-mile area and been devastating for the residents living anywhere near the incident. The soil itself would have been radioactive for thousands of years. The lasting effects would have been worse than Chernobyl, but all it took was the wind blowing the right way to avoid such a catastrophe. 

North Dakota weather is just as crazy, believe it or not. While we all know and joke about the inconsistent weather patterns, the extreme hot and cold, did you know that our record high and low temperatures were set the same year? 

In 1936, the record high ever recorded in the state was 121 degrees Fahrenheit in Steele on July 6th. The low was recorded in Parshall at -60 degrees Fahrenheit on February 15th.

Lastly, North Dakota has produced several celebrities of our own. One of the most acclaimed currently is Josh Duhamel, an actor born in Minot. He also currently owns a restaurant in his hometown in addition to his modeling and acting successes.

Did you also know that the rappers Wiz Khalifa and Eminem lived in North Dakota? Wiz Khalifa was also born in Minot, and Eminem, although born in Missouri, spent a year in Williston as a child.

Actress and singer/songwriter Peggy Lee was born in Jamestown. She composed over 270 songs by the time she died in 2002, in addition to her three Grammys and singing with the Benny Goodman band.

And, of course, Lawrence Welk, born in Strasburg, hosted a musical variety hour whose fame lasted for over three decades.

North Dakota has a rich history spanning over a century. From presidents to crazy weather, the state is definitely more than a flat space between the rest of the country and Canada.