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January 31: Governor Shafer Turns Back Time

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It’s not every day that one can turn back time, but it happened on this date in 1931.

Two years before, in 1929, Senator William E. (“Bill”) Martin of Morton County introduced a bill that would put all of North Dakota in the Central time zone. This would mainly affect the portion of North Dakota west of the Missouri River that was in Mountain Time. The bill passed the House, 99-11, and the Senate, 43-2. One voting in the negative, Representative Ira Standley of Hope, stated: “I think it’s not right to change other people’s time,” but on February 5th, Governor George F. Shafer approved it.

But that was not the end of what seemed to be a mostly unwanted change. It was reported that many western North Dakota citizens felt that by geographical location, their area belonged in Mountain Time. And even though the time had changed, railroads continued to use Mountain Time. In the 1931 session, the same Senator Martin who introduced the bill two years prior, introduced a bill to repeal the change. He was not alone; the Bismarck Tribune reported that five other identical bills were introduced.

Senator Martin’s bill was approved quickly. Apparently, after two years on the new system, everyone had had enough. In fact, the bill carried an emergency clause, which meant that as soon it passed, it would be enacted. And pass it did, with a strong majority; 104-8 in the House and 42-3 in the Senate. On this date, at 11:15am, Governor Shafer signed a bill, immediately turning back to 10:15 for North Dakota residents west of the Missouri River.

As for Senator Martin, he was probably used to a bit of a legislative turmoil. He was a longtime legislator, a Dakota Territory pioneer who “argued with… joked with…and talked business to” Theodore Roosevelt. Martin turned 81 during the 1931 session. Reporting about a small celebration for him, the Bismarck Tribune wrote that he “rose to recall the many fights in which he had participated in the legislative chambers and in committees, without affecting the strong bond of friendship that exists between him and his colleagues.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • North Dakota Senate Journal 1929
  • North Dakota House Journal 1929
  • North Dakota Senate Journal 1931
  • North Dakota House Journal 1931
  • The Bismarck Tribune, January 29, 1929, p7, 11
  • The Bismarck Tribune, January 14, 1931, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, January 27, 1931, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, January 31, 1931, p1

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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