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North Dakota History

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North Dakota was occupied for centuries before it became a state. Even before European settlers began coming to the area in the 19th century, there were villages of Native American tribes that lived in North Dakota. Archaeologists believe that big game hunting cultures lived in the area after the continental glacier area, about 10,000 years ago. After that, evidence of hunting, gathering and farming people is visible ranging from 2000 B.C. to 1860. Native American tribes that called this area home were Sioux, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. Also present in the area were Chippewa, Blackfeet and Crow tribes. Various archaeology sites are still active in North Dakota today, and visitors are welcome to view some of them.

These tribes depended heavily on the herds of American Bison found in the area, until horses arrived in the area in the 18th Century. The horse allowed the Native Americans to hunt for their food much more quickly (and easily) than before. Many of these tribes lived in earth lodges built near the Missouri River and became commercial hubs for fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of these earth lodge villages can be visited today in North Dakota’s many Historic Sites and Indian Villages.

During the 18th Century, these Native Americans began to encounter European settlers. A few settlers met these tribes in the 1700s, but the most famous in North Dakota were explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Commonly known as Lewis and Clark, these explorers were sent to travel a path along the Missouri River by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804. Lewis and Clark met the Native Americans of North Dakota, who helped them with their exploration. Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804-1805 in the area of North Dakota, and many historic landmarks and sites are seen today on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

The 1800s brought fur trade to North Dakota. Throughout the early part of the century, contact between the Native tribes, American traders, explorers and military in the area remained peaceful. Native Americans were highly involved with the fur trade, with large trading posts at Fort Union and Fort Clark. When the Natives would offer their furs, they were able to receive guns, metal tools, cloth, beads and other trade goods in exchange.

Though the relationship between the Native tribes and the new settlers began as a peaceful one, confrontations began in the 1860s and the military became involved in 1863. Natives were killed at Whitestone Hill in 1863 and Killdeer Mountain and the Badlands in 1864. Additional battles continued in 1857 through 1890, including a slaughter of the bison in 1870, which forced these tribes to surrender and move to reservations within the area. The Native tribes’ way of life on the plains diminished as North Dakota made way for settlements and civilization.

In 1803, the United States bought the Louisiana Purchase from France. The land of North Dakota was included in this purchase, and North Dakota entered the Union in 1889 as the 39th state in the country. Though there were initial political battles between Democratic, Republican and Independent parties when that began in 1889 when the Republican party gained control of the state, the Democratic party finally regained their control in 1905 and returned the state to political order. The movements performed by the Democratic party in 1905 pushed North Dakota into an economic boom and it began supporting its own state banking, insurances and processing plants, which enabled the state to bring competition, lower costs and offer better services to its residents.

Though North Dakota endured more difficult times beginning in 1915 when the Nonpartisan League was formed, and also in the Great Depression and World War I era of the 1930s, they enjoyed great prosperity following the war. Its abundant natural resources of the Missouri River and oil near Tioga provided for municipal water and electricity sources. Oil refineries were built in Williston and Mandan and coal plants were built in Velva and Mandan.

Communication and interstate transportation also increased greatly during the 1950s. The 50s also brought television, two Air Force bases and regular airline service. In the 1970s, national concern for energy efficiency brought several generating companies to western North Dakota, with its development of power plants and open-pit mining.

Throughout the rest of the century, beginning in 1943 and continuing through the 1980s, North Dakota was faced with additional political debates. Finally in 1960, all political parties joined into the two parties of today – Democratic and Republican. Today, North Dakota still faces some of the basic issues from its history, which include providing services to residents, offering adequate jobs and income for residents, and keeping a diversified economy.

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