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March 14: Roosevelt County – Not

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Dakota Territory began the work of organizing counties in 1861. Pembina was the first official county, established in 1867. Some North Dakota counties remain in their original form. Others were carved up. The southern portion of Hettinger County, for example, became Adams County. And the Bowman County story is interesting. Created in 1883, it was eliminated in 1903 due to a lack of settlement, then reestablished 1907.

In 1902, there was a move to consolidate Allred, Wallace, and Mckenzie Counties. The territory was located near Medora, so supporters of the new county proposed the name of Roosevelt County. To form the new county, organizers had to get one hundred fifty registered voters to sign the petition. Following that, a majority of the voters in the three affected counties had to vote in favor of the new county. If that happened, the new county would be approved as long as there were at least one thousand legitimate residents.

The campaign heated up as signatures were collected. W.H. Denny a banker from Williston, traveled to the capital to deliver petitions containing several hundred names of citizens who favored consolidation. On this date in 1903, those petitions sat on a desk in Bismarck, waiting for review.

The effort to form Roosevelt County was not well-received. Many people thought the new county would result in higher taxes. By June, it seemed like the new county was doomed. North Dakota newspapers received a tongue in cheek obituary for the Roosevelt County Organization. The notice announced funeral services for June 10th, 1904. The service was to be held on the banks of the Missouri River. All friends of the organization were invited. It was requested that no flowers be sent. One wit in Dickinson wrote a letter of condolence to the Dickinson Press, expressing his sympathy. He hoped the Balm of Gilead would “be sprinkled over your torn and bleeding heart, and heal the sores if it cannot remove the scars.”

The obituary seemed to be a bit premature. The subject arose again in 1908 when petitions were once again circulated in favor of Roosevelt County. Promoters urged all registered voters to sign the petitions, but in the end, nothing came of the effort. There is still no Roosevelt County in North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


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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