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History of United Tribes And Fort Lincoln

North Dakota Great Seal

State History

North Dakota is located in the glaciated and unglaciated sections of the Missouri Plateau of the Great Plains Physiographic Province. The state is composed primarily of flat or rolling prairie and grasslands. Native people were the first to inhabit the area. The Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Dakota and Anishinabe formed complex and rewarding societies, hunted, fished, and farmed, and interacted with one another over long periods of time prior to the arrival of European peoples. Many village and habitation sites throughout the region are evidence of life ways that allowed tribal people to be successful in a place that experiences a wide range of challenging climatic conditions and geography.

The fur trade brought French, Scots, English, Canadian, and American settlers into the area in the early 1700s. In addition to fur trading, Native Americans and early settlers established farms and raised small grains such as rye, barley and canola. Hunting and ranching were important parts of life on the plains.

When Dakota Territory was divided in 1889, the state of North Dakota retained the symbols of the Territorial Great Seal, which included the image of an “Indian on horseback pursuing a buffalo toward the setting sun.” Founders took the additional step of writing the seal’s description, including the phrase about Indians, into the state’s constitution. Sentiment in the popular press of the day made it clear that settlers heralded the removal of Native people and their way of life from the new state’s landscape:

Sitting Bull is Matched
And so at last the treaty’s signed:
Though Sitting Bull has done his best
To thwart us in our grand design,
He could not quite control the rest,
For names enough are now attached,
And Sitting Bull for once is matched.

It won’t be very long before
Industrious whitemen till the ground
Where ages upon ages gone
The Indians have loafed around;
Nor bettered self nor bettered land,
Now let the pale face try his hand.

Our many people need the lands,
And these few people worked them not,
They’ll never use what they have left;
But are at best a shiftless lot,
And blessed indeed will be the day,
When every one shall pass away.

Fargo Argus, August 17, 1889

Located along well-traveled transportation routes, the area near present-day Bismarck/Mandan was visited by explorers, including Lewis and Clark traveling up the Missouri River in 1804. Their exploratory mission on behalf of the Federal government was a significant event in the long decline of the tribal way of life experienced by indigenous people during the 19th Century. American settlement and military force had a dire impact on Native people. Much of the local Mandan tribe’s population died in a smallpox epidemic in 1837. Formation of Dakota Territory and the Homestead Act, both in 1862, opened the region to hopeful settlers who began claiming acreage for farming. Arrival of the frontier military hastened the removal of tribal people through armed conflict and warfare. Treaties led to a diminished tribal land base and forced Native people onto reservations in mostly remote and arid locations unattractive to settlers. In 1889, Dakota Territory was divided into the states of North Dakota and South Dakota. Statehood coincided with an additional land cession and the final military actions against tribal people in the region. With their culture and life ways also under attack from education and religion, tribal people struggled to adapt to reservation life.

The new state and its settler population focused on farming and ranching and building up its many small towns. In the 1950s, North Dakota became an oil- producing state. Hydroelectric power was introduced in 1954 with the creation of Garrison Dam and Lake Sakakawea. Along with a later and similar dam in South Dakota, the man-made lake waters flooded hundreds of thousands of acres of Native American land on two reservations along the Missouri River, causing the inundation of villages and communities, farms and ranches, sacred sites, and the displacement and relocation of thousands of tribal people from their most fertile and productive lands. In the 1960s, air bases and missile sites were established in North Dakota. During the 1970s, the Interstate Highway system was completed. Today, North Dakota’s economy relies primarily on agriculture, the extraction of fossil fuels, and tourism.

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