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There have been numerous attempts to get the North out of North Dakota over the past one hundred and nine years. Legislation has been introduced and petitions have been signed, but to no avail. We're stuck with North ... and on a cold and blustery winter day, it does seem appropriate.

On this date in 1889, word came out of Washington that W. R. Springer, the Illinois Congressman who was chairman of the Committee on Territories, was making a diligent effort to find names for the new states being submitted to Congress. To accomplish this goal, he had sent a letter to the Bureau of Ethnology requesting they provide alternative names for North and South Dakota. He deemed these name too commonplace and desired something more appropriate, but he still preferred that the names have a direct reference to the Dakotian stock or linguistic family of Northern Plains Indians.

Gerrick Mallery of the Bureau of Ethnology responded, stating that he believed the name Dakota should be retained by the northern section of the Territory. The name had become part of the political history of the area and had many reasons to be remembered, including a highly productive grain known as Dakota Wheat. So, if North Dakota was to be called Dakota, a name was needed for the southern half of the Territory.

Mr. Mallery believed that the name Tatonka could be selected as the name meant "buffalo." Vast herds had only recently roamed over the plains and the name would be appropriate. Another possible name was Winona, which was given to the first born female child of a Dakotah woman. The name Teton was also considered.

However, the name most favored by the Bureau of Ethnology was the word Sonona. Sonona was the old and correct form of the word used by the Bureau to classify the Native Americans that had been the immediate predecessors of the whites in the area. Lewis and Clark had referred to them as Sohono.

There were five territorial areas becoming states that needed names - Montana, New Mexico, Washington, Southern Dakota and Northern Dakota. Under Mallory's suggestions, only Montana would have retained its original name. His other suggestions were Montezuma for New Mexico, Laconloa for Washington, Sonoma for South Dakota and, of course, our own Dakota without the North... seems warmer already.

By Jim Davis


The Bottineau Pioneer January 10, 1889