North Dakota’s Capitol grounds reflect events of the state’s past. A statue of Sakakawea was dedicated in 1910 to honor the Shoshone woman who helped the Corps of Discovery journey west. A memorial honors military veterans, and there’s also a memorial for peace officers who fell in the line of duty.
The Centennial Grove, near the governor’s residence, was planted in 1989 to celebrate North Dakota’s centennial. President George H. W. Bush was on hand for the dedication.
The grounds date to 1883, when Bismarck was made the territorial capital, which was yanked away from Yankton. Yankton, in the southeast corner of the territory, was far from the bigger cities and wasn’t on a major rail line.
The Northern Pacific Railroad deeded two tracts of land for the grounds – 160 acres on a prairie hill north of town. A brick Capitol building completed in 1884.
Prison labor helped beautify the grounds. On this date in 1887, grading and fencing were complete, and the plan was to construct a park with 1,000 trees. The landscaping and gardening continued, with as many as 30 prisoners working under guard supervision.
There were at least three escape attempts. The most harrowing involved two prisoners. They had 15 to 20 minutes head start before any guards noticed. The prison warden offered a $100 reward for their return. In the excitement, another prisoner hid in the chimney flume of the Capitol, but guards found him.
The escaped prisoners were found two days later near Williamsport, a town that no longer exists, though it was once the Emmons County seat. The captors got the $100 reward.
As for the work on the Capitol grounds, the Bismarck Weekly Tribune praised the project for the shade trees and the park, saying: “No one who wishes a good healthful walk and admires nature’s picturesque panorama will complain that the Capitol is too far from the center of the city, for of all of the views in Dakota, from the weird freaks in the Badlands to the gold-ribbed slopes of the Black Hills, none is more beautiful or pleasing than that commanded by the Capitol.”
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1887, April 8. Page 8
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1887, April 15. Page 8
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1887, May 6. Page 6
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1887, June 10. Page 6
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1887, August 19. Page 8
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1887, August 26. Page 6
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1888, January 6. Page 6
Department of Immigration and Statistics. (1887). 1887 Resources of Dakota: An Official Publication Compiled by the Commissioner of Immigration, Under Authority Granted by the Territorial Legislature. Argus-Leader Company Printers, Sioux Falls, SD