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The Two Sanishes


The name for Sanish, North Dakota, founded in 1915 when the Max branch line ended there, came from the Arikara word meaning “real people” or “object.”

A late October, 1914, newspaper article had announced that the new town was awaiting the survey of the town site. The post office opened in January 1915, and the Sanish Sentinel was first published in April 1915. Sanish’s Catholic Church celebrated its first mass in August of that year.

Within its first year, Sanish boasted 54 businesses, giving it the nickname “The City of Ambition.” The village incorporated on March 20, 1917, and the town’s population peaked at 700 in 1927.

Sanish became famous for its rodeo, held for three days each July. Though it ran for only seven years, the Sanish Rodeo became second in the state in prize money paid and second to none in the number of contestants competing daily. Its colorful pageantry made the rodeo just as popular with the spectators as it was with the participants, bringing over 10,000 spectators to the three performances one year.

In December 1949, property holders in Sanish proposed a new townsite to be formed by Sanish and Van Hook residents. Because Sanish was scheduled to be inundated by the waters of Lake Sakakawea after the Garrison Dam construction, the New Sanish Townsite Company was formed.

The group sold stock and bought a 240-acre tract of land from A.A. Ellingboe on high ground near Mount Crow Flies High. The company’s ad said, “Announcing! Completion of survey of residential section of Sanish. The plat is filed, and we are ready to resume the sale of lots….” They invited farmers who were losing their land along the river and others to join them in New Sanish.

In April 1953, the original Sanish was dissolved and property sold to the government or moved to other towns. By February 1954, the government-owned buildings were sold by bids and then moved. That spring, the post office reopened in New Sanish, and telephone service resumed in the fall.

By 1955, many of the New Sanish lots were sold, and the population of 120 was enough to begin incorporation proceedings. However, not all of the residents of Sanish and Van Hook moved to New Sanish. Some chose to move further east to the new combination town, New Town. And, in May 1951, the remaining assets of Old Sanish were transferred to New Town.

The 1970 census showed a mere 25 people living in New Sanish, and the post office closed in May 1980.

But Sanish cannot be forgotten. In fact, when the water level drops in the Garrison reservoir, the shadows and foundations of Old Sanish peak through.

by Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.