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Mountrail County is Born

Like other counties in North Dakota, Mountrail County has a rocky history. The 1873 Dakota Territorial Legislature created the county and named it after a Metis voyageur, but the 1891 North Dakota Legislature eliminated the county and several others, largely due to a lack of settlement.

By 1908, however, the time seemed right to create more counties again, and two proposals were offered to the voters of Ward County. One would divide the county it in two parts, creating Lake County, but the one that moved forward was a plan to divide the county into four parts by adding Burke, Renville and Mountrail counties.

It was a contested vote, with some arguing that Mountrail County didn’t get a proper majority, but on this date, the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld the creation of the county.

In the end, the county was organized with Stanley as county seat, but the election drama didn’t end. The creation of Burke and Renville counties were in doubt, dragging on for over a year in court. It appeared they didn’t have enough votes, but the winning margin depended on whether the votes from Kenmare were allowed, and those votes were challenged on suspicion of illegal voting. Tossing the Kenmare vote would pass Burke and Renville counties on small majorities. Eventually, Kenmare’s entire vote was rejected on grounds of noncompliance with voter registration, with the Supreme Court in 1910 deciding that those counties were lawfully established by the 1908 election.

Kenmare had been jostling to be a county seat, and other towns feared a rivalry. But as Ward County was sliced and diced, Kenmare was gerrymandered into a gooseneck of the northwest corner of Ward County, leaving it out of contention for the county seat of Burke or Renville counties, and clearing the way for Bowbells in Burke County, and Mohall in Renville County.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Grand Forks Herald. 1910, June 2.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1909, Jan. 16.
Gavett, J.L. (2008). North Dakota: Counties, Towns & People, Part 2. Watchmaker Ltd. Publishing.