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November 24: North Dakota Thanksgivings

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Happy Thanksgiving! Today’s story is a sampling of how the holiday was observed in North Dakota more than 100 years ago.

Dakota Territorial Governor Newton Edmunds issued the territory’s first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1863, during the Civil War. He said: “Let us thank God for the immortal triumphs of our arms in this great struggle for our national preservation, and let us thank him also for the bravery, indomitable energy and perseverance of our citizen soldiers.”

A couple who homesteaded near Petersburg in 1883 shared a Thanksgiving Day dinner of two wild geese with seven bachelors who had homestead claims in their neighborhood. They stayed up until 1 o’clock in the morning playing music and games.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1892, the Weston House hotel in Hillsboro served more than 200 patrons who had dinner options of roast, sirloin beef with brown gravy, ribs of beef with brown potatoes, pork with apple sauce, mutton with jelly, turkey with cranberry sauce, roast goose with dressing, and stewed chicken with dumplings. Other dinner fare included New England-style baked beans and coconut ribbon cake.

North Dakotans on Thanksgiving Day in 1896 contended with a three-day blizzard that brought deep snow drifts and buried railroads. Several people died in the blizzard. LaMoure residents dug tunnels to move about the streets.

The Bismarck Tribune noted that Thanksgiving Day in 1918 “will be more solemnly observed than ever before.” The Great War had ended weeks before, but the terrible flu pandemic continued to rage, leading Bismarck High School to cancel its traditional football game. But churches still held Thanksgiving worship services.

Thanksgiving is not universally celebrated. Since 1970, Indigenous Peoples have gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts on the 4th Thursday of the month for an alternative event – the National Day of Mourning, acknowledging the genocide, the theft of land, and the oppression that followed the arrival of Europeans.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


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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