For Elwyn B. Robinson's 1966 book coving this topic, see History of North Dakota.

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First Nations in the region

1789: Louisiana and Rupert's Land

1803: US buys Louisiana

1812: Louisiana Territory renamed Missouri Territory

1861: Dakota Territory formed

1889: North Dakota statehood

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 Vérendrye 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.

Early 19th century[]

Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804-1805 in a fort they constructed near present-day Washburn.

In the 1820s, much of the native population was wiped out by a smallpox epidemic, forcing the Mandan and Hidatsa to live together. Later, the Arikara would be forced northward by the Sioux, and would join together with the Mandan and Hidatsa to form the Three Affiliated Tribes.

The first European settlement in the state was at Pembina. It was used as a trading post by Hudson's Bay Company, but the post was taken down in 1823 after the 49th parallel was surveyed following the Treaty of 1818. The area was later resettled by Métis.

Fur trading spurred the development of riverboat trade on the Missouri towards the middle of the century. Bismarck and Fort Union near present-day Williston became significant ports of call during the steamboat age. Most of North Dakota would be settled later.

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. North Dakota also struggles with its image, or lack thereof, in the United States as a whole.

Robinson's Themes in North Dakota History[]

In his History of North Dakota, historian Elwyn B. Robinson identified themes in North Dakota history:[1]

  • Remoteness
  • Dependence
  • Radicalism
  • Economic disadvantage
  • The "too-much mistake"
  • Adjustment

Robinson's history is to date the only comprehensive history of the state, but his analysis has drawn fire. His assertion of a "too-much mistake" in particular, is controversial; some politicians, including Joe Satrom, blame the book for (un)inspiring a generation of leaders to lower their expectations for the state's future.



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