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Too Cold

North Dakota and South Dakota have been rivals for a long, long time. Congress created Dakota Territory in 1861, and Yankton eventually wrestled with Bismarck over being the territorial capital. The two states’ sports teams have also competed for supremacy for over 100 years. Oddly, in 1880 the rivalry ran fiercely hot over which state had the coldest climate.

Yankton’s newspaper editor wrote that northern Dakota had worse ice, snow and cold than balmy southern Dakota and the names of the two future states accurately reflected those chilling climate facts. From Yankton’s viewpoint, northern Dakota created bad publicity for all of Dakota, because eastern newspapers stereotyped Dakota’s “blizzards and ice bound prairies.” The editor said those stories about northern Dakota’s “frigid blasts” sent shivers “to the very marrow of the nation,” so it seemed that only Laplanders and Eskimos could possibly live in “Dakota.” Settlers, it was feared, would wisely choose warmer locales to avoid becoming “frozen statues.” The southern Dakota writer recommended re-naming “Northern Dakota” as “Arctic Dakota,” because every man in Bismarck invariably had a perpetual icicle hanging [from] his nose.

Conversely, a Southern-Dakota winter was a called “season of delight, with open windows, shirt sleeves and meadowlarks in abundance.” Its “sunny hills and plains” were always “basking in winter’s warmest smiles.”

These cold-hearted words did not sit well in Bismarck. The Tribune’s editor insisted that “the climate throughout [all] Dakota” was “generally the same” and “delightful,” however, it was “an undeniable fact that Yankton” suffered “more severe [snow]-storms than Bismarck.” Yankton’s blizzards were so terrible that people routinely got lost while “crossing the street,” and snow-bound businesses there would oftentimes shut down for two or three days to dig out of massive snow drifts.

On this date, in 1880, the Bismarck Tribune chastised those who were “harping about the immense amount of snow” and “perpetual blizzard[s]” in Northern Dakota as dead wrong, for there was “less snowfall . . . than in the southern portion.” Northern Dakota held an “unquestionable superiority” over Southern, because its people could endure more fearfully-freezing weather, even if they did not have it.

According to W.E. Dodge, who moved to Jamestown from Vermont, the people of northern Dakota would take no notice of what’s considered a hurricane back East. He said blizzards were so commonplace that Northern Dakotans only noticed those that were “unusually severe.”

So, even before the two Dakotas were separated by statehood, they had already developed a friendly rivalry in a “raging whirl” over “freezing snow.”

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department


“A Great Many Southern Dakota Exchanges,” Bismarck Tribune, March 26, 1880, p. 5.

“That Insignificant Fuzz,” Bismarck Tribune, March 19, 1880, p. 4.

“Letter From Dakota,” Orleans County [Barton, VT] Monitor, November 8, 1880, p. 2.

“Carry The News Back East,” Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times, March 5, 1880, p. 2.

“The Newspapers Along the Boreas Belt,” [Yankton, SD] Daily Press and Dakotaian, February 24, 1880, p. 2.

“The Black Blizzard,” Louisville [KY] Courier-Journal, January 14, 1888, p. 2.

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