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The Sunshine State

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On a February day in 1908, the Ward County Independent touted the joys of a North Dakota winter, noting it was a time to relax and enjoy life. The newspaper went so far as to declare: “The farmer who has not had a good time this winter will not be happy in heaven.” A few years later the Oakes Times named North Dakota “the Sunshine State.” The newspaper declared that sunshine was the greatest factor in making North Dakota the most prosperous state in the union. This was not just the warm sunshine of summer. The newspaper said that the sunshine of winter “makes the zero atmosphere sparkle like myriads of diamonds.”

Winter does, indeed, offer invigorating activities for hardy North Dakotans like sledding and ice skating. At one time, sleighs were not only a necessary means of travel, but also a popular form of recreation. In 1910 the Dickinson Press reported that an unusual amount of snow made for excellent sleighing conditions. A sleigh was the perfect means of travel for a young couple out on a date, with the pair snuggled under buffalo robes and a driver for a chaperone.

But every North Dakotan knows that winter also has challenges, especially when it comes to travel. On this date in 1887, a terrible accident occurred on the Missouri River about twenty miles south of Bismarck. Charles Whalen was traveling with his wife and daughter. While driving their sleigh on the frozen river, it broke through the ice and the entire family drowned.

In 1883, a Cooperstown woman was sure she was within a short distance of her home when she got lost in the snow and her sleigh overturned. She decided to stay with the sleigh. She covered herself with her robes and began rubbing her extremities. She kept moving for fourteen hours until she was rescued. She arrived home safely.

Travel has become faster and more comfortable since sleighs gave way to automobiles. But winter travel advisories continue to be familiar in North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Oakes Times. “North Dakota, the Sunshine State.” Oakes ND. 2/1/17. Page 7.

Ward County Independent. “Editorial Comment. Minot ND. 2/27/1908. Page 2.

Dickinson Press. “Unusual Cold Weather Very Good Sleighing.” Dickinson ND. 1/8/1910. Page 5.

Jamestown Weekly Alert. Jamestown ND. 2/9/1883. Page 4.

Bismarck Historical Society. “It Happened in Bismarck.” Accessed 11/19/2021.

AP News. “Winter weather hits North Dakota roads.” Accessed 11/19/2021.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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