Oliver County has always been small. So has its county seat. Sanger was the county seat for fourteen years. It’s on the eastern edge of the county, right on the Missouri River. Two brothers named George and Charles Henry Sanger founded the town in 1879. They made their living selling chopped wood to passing steamboats. A post office came to Sanger in 1881. George Sanger was the first postmaster. Oliver County was established in 1885, when it split off from Mercer County. It was named for a Dakota Territory legislator.
Oliver County organized on this date. Raymond, North Dakota was the first county seat, just a few miles north from Sanger, also on the river. One of the county’s first orders of business was to change Raymond’s name to acquire a post office, as there was already a Raymond in southern Dakota Territory. The Oliver County commissioners thought about a name to honor Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, but in the end, residents renamed Raymond as “Sanger,” but their vote was determined to be illegal and unconstitutional. The Raymond name stuck for a few more years before the county seat went to the real Sanger in 1888. Then came another name change as a new postmaster changed Sanger’s name to Bentley, but George Sanger changed it back a year later when he became postmaster again.
Sanger grew throughout the years, but it was never very big—perhaps one hundred people at its peak. In 1909, Sanger relocated a few miles north near the new railroad siting. By 1917, a lumberyard, hotel, elevator, bank and pool hall were among the businesses that came to Sanger. The town also had a school and general store, and a branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1910.
But the area had bustled long before Sanger came on the scene. The Mandans and Hidatsas historically lived in the area, steamboats had plied the river, and in 1805 the Corps of Discovery had spent the winter nearby.
As homesteaders filled Oliver County, they wanted a more centrally located courthouse. And with that, Center, North Dakota, won the county seat in the 1902 election.
As for Sanger, it became a ghost town in 1985, but a while back, in 2013, it showed some new signs of life, with a home being restored and another being built. Population 2.
Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura
Center, N.D. Old Settlers’ 50th Anniversary Historical Committee. (1956). Oliver County History, 1906-1956. N.p.
Oliver County Historical Society (1985). Oliver County Centennial 1885-1985. N.p.