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Revised 27 December 2010


The word Dakota means "friend" or "ally".  for the first 9,000 years of its existence, North Dakota was the land of Indians.  Around 1300, the Mandan tribes established farming communities along the Missouri River.  They were joined in the 17th century by the Hidasta and Arikara tribes.  With the beginning encroachment of the white man and other tribes to the east, the Sioux (also called the Dakota) joined these bands.  In 1837, the Mandan Indian tribes were all but decimated by a Smallpox epidemic.  

North Dakota was visited by the explorer, Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, who claimed this territory in the name of France. In 1738, Pierre La V�rendrye explored the central section of North Dakota.  The United States acquired the southwestern portion of North Dakota in 1803 as part of the Louisiana purchase but it remained unsettled for many years and was  left primarily to the Indians until some time in 1851, when the region was officially opened for settlement.  In 1804, Lewis and Clark built Fort Mandan on the Missouri River while crossing the area.  The rich soil of the Red River region drew settlers to that area.  This is the boundary line between North Dakota and Minnesota.

The first settlers to move into that region were the Scotch, who built the settlement at Pembina in 1812, led by the earl of Selkirk, a British subject.  In the middle 1800s, farmers started claiming the land, coming from Norway.  Land disputes between the Indian Tribes and the settlers were a common occurrence.  In 1818, through an agreement with Britain, the United States gained the remaining portion of North Dakota.  For the next 71 years, the jurisdiction for this area fell under nine different U. S. territories.  This area became known as the Dakota Territory in 1861 and comprised of both North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.  Wyoming and Montana broke off from this section in 1864.  The remaining section was divided equally between what is now North Dakota and South Dakota in about 1873.

The Dakota Territory was created in 1861.  It was opened to settlers by the Homestead Act of 1863.  By1868, the last of the Dakota people were removed to reservations and by 1870, the Arikara, Hidasta and remaining Mandan peoples were sent to the Fort Berthold Reservation.

The Northern Pacific Railroad finally reached Fargo in 1871, connecting it to the east coast.  In 1883, Bismarck was declared to be the territorial capital.  On 2 November 1889, North Carolina ratified the Constitution of the United States and became its 39th state and one of the primary wheat, sugar beet and sunflower producers in America.   

The ethnic groups attracted to that area over the years were Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, Czechs, Poles and Dutch.  French-Canadian citizens came down from the north, following the Red River.  Other Europeans and many Germans settled around the Bismarck area.    

Name Date formed Parent County County Seat
Adams 1907 Hettinger Hettinger
Alfred   It was designated as a county, but never organized.  Eventually it became part of McKenzie county (approx. 1905)  
Barnes 1875 Cass Valley City
Benson 1883 Ramsey Minnewaukan
Billings 1879 Unorganized Territory Medora
Bottineau 1873 Unorganized Territory Bottineau
Bowman 1883 Billings Bowman
Buffalo   Disorganized in 1873 and divided to form the Burleigh, Kidder, Logan, McHenry, Rolette and parts of Gringras and Sheridan Counties  
Burke 1910 Ward Bowbells
Burbank   disorganized.  This area later became parts of Traill and Griggs counties.  
Burleigh 1873 Buffalo (part of the discontinued county) Bismarck
Cass 1873 Original County Fargo
Cavalier 1873 Pembina Langdon
Dickey 1881 Lamoure Ellendale
Divide 1910 Williams Crosby
Dunn 1883 formed from parts of Howard County, then annexed to Start County in 1897 and reformed as Dunn County in 1909 Manning
Eddy 1885 Foster New Roxford
Emmons 1879 Unorganized Territory Linton
Foster 1873 Pembina Carrington
Golden Valley 1912 Billings Beach
Grand Forks 1873 Pembina Grand Forks
Grant 1916 Morton Carson
Griggs 1881 Foster Cooperstown
Gringras 1872 created from parts of Buffalo County and the Dakota territory.  Renamed Wells in 1882  
Hettinger 1883 Stark Mott
Kidder 1873 Buffalo Steele
La Moure 1873 Pembina La Moure
Logan 1873 Buffalo Napoleon
McHenry 1873 Buffalo Towner
McIntosh 1873 Buffalo Ashley
McKenzie 1883 Howard (transferred to Billings in 1897, then Reformed as McKenzie County in 1905.) Watford City
McLean 1883 Stevens Washburn
Mercer 1875 Original County Stanton
Morton 1878 Original County Mandan
Mountrail 1909 Ward Stanley
Nelson 1883 Foster, Grand Forks Lakota
Oliver 1885 Mercer Center
Pembina 1867 Indian Lands Cavalier
Pierce 1887 De Smet Rugby
Ramsey 1873 Pembina Devils Lake
Ransom 1873 Pembina Lisbon
Renville 1873 Deuel, Pembina (created in 1873 from parts of Buffalo County and the Dakota Territory.  Part of this was taken to form Ward County in 1885.  More was taken for Bottineau and Ward counties in 1894 and Renville County was re-formed from part of Ward County in 1910.) Mohall
Richland 1873 Original County Wahpeton
Rolette 1873 Buffalo Rolla
Sargent 1883 Ransom Forman
Sheridan 1873 Buffalo (Created in 1873 from parts of Buffalo County and the Dakota Territory.  McLean County annexed land in both 1887 and 1891.  The County was re-formed in 1909. McClusky
Sioux 1914 Standing Rock Reservation Fort Yates
Slope 1915 Billings Amidon
Stark 1879 Unorganized Territory Dickinson
Steele 1883 Grand Forks Finley
Stutsman 1873 Pembina Jamestown
Towner 1885 Rolette Cando
Traill 1875 Grand Forks Hillsboro
Wallace   Disorganized and became part of McKenzie County.  
Walsh 1881 Grand Forks Grafton
Ward 1885 Renville Minot
Wells 1881 Sheridan Pessenden
Williams 1890 Mountrail Williston