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Cow Counties

On this date in 1904 the Washburn Leader reported that the presidential election was a measure of North Dakota’s progress. Incumbent Republican President Theodore Roosevelt defeated his Democratic challenger by over two million votes. Roosevelt was wildly popular in North Dakota and won the state with over 75% of the vote. Three North Dakota counties made the top five list nationally for the highest margin of victory. Roosevelt won some counties with over 90% of the vote.

But election results told much more about North Dakota than just who would become president. According to results by county, the state was moving ahead “by leaps and bounds.” But the Red River Valley no longer led the way. At one time, the population of North Dakota tended to huddle on the eastern border along the Red River. But election results clearly showed that the “cow counties” to the west were growing rapidly.

North Dakota’s total vote count was 67,000. In past elections, Cass County led the state in the number of votes. But the 1904 election had Ward County beating Cass by 900 votes. And 38% of the vote came from the counties west of Stutsman.

The newspaper observed that those with faith in the “cow counties” had correctly predicted that North Dakota’s future would not be dominated by the Red River Valley. Only a few years earlier the Fargo mayor had ventured to Mandan and called it a “Wild West Show.” But by 1904, the fairs of western counties would outshine Cass County in quality and variety of the products on display.

If anyone had any doubts, the newspaper pointed to the local Iverson homestead. The Iversons were representative of those who were attracted to western North Dakota. They and their five sons took adjoining claims, erecting a house and barn on each claim. In 1904 they brought in 20 bushels of wheat per acre, successfully developing profitable farms in only three years.

The Washburn Leader, of course, was not an unbiased news source. The newspaper asserted that a time had come “when the western part of the state needs no longer beg the populous counties of the Red for our rights.”

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher.


Washburn Leader. “The Valley Counties.” 24 December 1904. Washburn ND. Page 1.

American Presidency Project. “Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections.”  Accessed 17 November 2018.

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