North Dakota History

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The following important events in the history of North Dakota affected political boundaries, record keeping, and family movements. 1600's Cheyenne, Dakota-Sioux, Mandans and Hidatsas lived in the land which is now North Dakota.

1610 Henry Hudson claimed part of eastern North Dakota for the English.

1682 LaSalle claimed parts of North Dakota for France.

1700's The area now known as North Dakota was passed between the French, Spanish, and English while fur traders hunted the rich river lands for furs.

1800 Alexander Henry Jr. established a post at Park River which soon became the site of the first white settlement in North Dakota.

1803-1818: The United States acquired the southwestern half of North Dakota as part of the Louisiana Purchase from France. The northeastern half was acquired in 1818 by treaty with Britain.

1804-1806: The Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the area of present-day North Dakota.

1812: The first permanent white settlement in present-day North Dakota was made at Pembina by Scottish pioneers from Canada.

1818, following the War of 1812, what is now North Dakota became part of the Missouri Territory when the 49th parallel was agreed to as the boundary between the U.S. and Great Britain.

1823: Arickara (Riccaree) Indian ceded land

1830's Saw the area divided between the territories of Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.

1849 Land east of the Missouri River became part of the Minnesota Territory.

1851: Santee Sioux ceded land

1854 Became part of the Nebraska Territory.

1855: Teton Sioux ceded land

1861-1868: The Dakota Territory was organized. Its boundaries were reduced to include the area of the two Dakotas of today when the Montana Territory was created in 1864 and the Wyoming Territory in 1868.

1863: Free land was offered under the first Homestead Act, but the Civil War and Indian Wars delayed settlement.

1866: (December 21,) Fetterman massacre, Capt. William J. Fetterman of the U.S. army, often boasted he could whip the whole Sioux Indian nation with eighty men, led that exact number into an ambush by Sioux Indians  along the Bozeman Trail.

1868: Fort Laramie Treaty

1870 After much contention between the native residents and white settlers, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation was established and treaties between the Sioux and Chippewa nations and the U.S. government ceded most of eastern North Dakota to the Federal government.

1871: White settlement began in earnest in northern Dakota when railroads reached the Red River from St. Paul and Duluth, Minnesota.

1876: Cheyenne and Sioux Wars

1878-1879: Cheyenne ceded land

1878-1886: The eastern region was settled in the first Dakota boom era.

1879 Marked the Great Dakota Land Boom.

1885 First Dakota Territorial Census taken.

1889: The Dakota Territory was divided, and both North and South Dakota were admitted to the Union.

1898-1915: Additional lands were settled in a second Dakota boom. The peak year for new homesteads was 1906.

1890: (December 29,) About three hundred Sioux Indians, mostly women and children =, under Chief Big Foot, were massacred at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry.

Helpful sources for studying the history of North Dakota are:

  • Robinson, Elwyn B. History of North Dakota. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1966. (Family History Library book 978.4 H2r.)
  • Lounsberry, Clement A. Early History of North Dakota. Washington, DC: Liberty Press, 1919. (Family History Library book 978.4 H2L; film 1036397; North Dakota history and people, outlines of American history,1916 edition with biographical volumes is on Family History Library book 978.4 H2Lc v. 1; films 982024-5.)
  • A bibliography of local histories for North Dakota is included in Daniel Rylance and J.F.S. Smeall, Reference Guide to North Dakota History and North Dakota Literature (Grand Forks, North Dakota: Chester Fritz Library of the University of North Dakota, 1979; Family History Library book 978.4 A3r).