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February 23: North Dakotans Picnic in California

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On this date in 1918 The Fargo Forum was full of articles about the progress of World War I. Germany was advancing through Russia, another draft was possible, and folks in North Dakota and elsewhere were busy raising funds for the war effort. Tucked away on page eight of the paper was the news that 1,500 former residents of North Dakota held a picnic near Los Angeles.

The former residents had come from fifty of North Dakota’s counties. They enjoyed a balmy 70-degree day. Among the attendees was O.J. deLendrecie, the founder of the prominent department store in Fargo that bore his name.

After California became a state in 1850, hundreds of thousands of Americans from every state moved there to seek their fortune and a better climate. The population rose from only 92,000 in 1850 to over two and a half million by World War I. As Los Angeles grew from a rural community to a large city, the new residents sought to recreate what they were familiar with and find community in that land of strangers. In 1882 a group of former Pennsylvanians formed the Pennsylvania State Society and hosted a picnic. Such picnics were a familiar event, an ideal way for new Los Angelenos to find comfort and familiarity with people who came from the same place.

The creation of State Societies in southern California happened rapidly, and all 48 states were represented by the 1920s. The Federation of State Societies was established and there was about 500,000 members among the various State Societies.

The North Dakota Society was founded in Long Beach in 1905. The 1906 picnic had more than 500 attendees. As the decades passed, various State Societies faded away. In 1977 there were only sixteen left, North Dakota’s among them. The Federation of State Societies came to an end in 1991, but the former North Dakotans kept gathering – reminiscing about their former home over some lefse. In the late 1990s about 160 former North Dakotans, now in their 70s and 80s, gathered to picnic in the California sun. The picnic in 2000 was canceled due to a lack of organizers, and one last picnic was held in 2003.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


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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