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Burleigh County Established


Settlement of the area now known as Burleigh County came quickly after the Northern Pacific Railroad came through, reaching the Missouri River in June 1872. By the following January, there were a sufficient number of settlers to organize as Burleigh County.

Burleigh County was named for Walter Atwood Burleigh, a physician, lawyer, Indian agent and territorial delegate to Congress. Dakota Territory Governor John Pennington appointed three notable area residents as the first Burleigh County commissioners--John Dunn, James Emmons and William Mercer. They met for the first time on today’s date, July 16, in 1873.

At that first meeting, the commissioners appointed Dan Williams, J.S. Carvelle, John E. Wasson and William Woods as register of deeds, judge of probate, county attorney and sheriff, respectively. Dr. F.B. Slaughter became the county’s first coroner and his wife, Linda Slaughter, became county superintendent of schools.

Bismarck became the county seat, and the first county courthouse was built in 1873 southeast of where the present one stands. The first Burleigh County District Court opened on June 18, 1874, lasting four days, with Judge Barnes presiding.

A frame courthouse and a log jail were built in 1880, and the present courthouse was dedicated in 1931. The County Detention Center, connected to the courthouse, now houses the Burleigh County jail and County Sheriff’s Department.

Towns grew up along the railroad routes throughout the county. Baldwin and Wilton were along the route of the Bismarck, Washburn and Great Falls Railroad. Reaching Wilton in 1901, the railroad was necessary for hauling lignite coal from the Wilton mines. By 1915, the coal mines near Wilton employed over 400.

The Soo Line Railroad, built from the south, later purchased the BW and GF Railroad.

Towns along the southern branch of the Soo Line were Magnus, Stewartsdale, Welch’s Spur and Moffit.

Eventually, the Northern Pacific branch from Pingree came through Regan and on to Wilton in 1912. Towns along the North Pacific line to the east of Bismarck were Driscoll, Sterling, McKenzie, Menoken, Pierce and Grove, on the site of the State Penitentiary.

Steamboats and stage coaches also served Burleigh County communities for many years. Painted Woods and Wagansport were just a couple of the river ports.

Burleigh County covers 1,648 square miles. Its population stood at 3,246 in 1880 and grew to 6,081 by 1900. The population has grown considerably since then, registering at 13,087 by the next census in 1910. The county continued to grow, even during the Depression, with 22,736 people in 1940. The 2000 census showed more than 55,500 in population.

Burleigh County is now noted as a financial and medical center, as well as the center of state government.

by Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.