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County Wrangling


The various counties of North Dakota did not always exist as they are laid out today. As people began to fill in the open prairies, towns and townships formed, and soon, different counties began to look for change – breaking off sections, forming together, and establishing county borders. Have you ever heard of Villard County? Wallace? Flannery? Or how about DeSmet County? These all existed in 1885 when the territorial census was taken. Then, Morton County included the area of today’s Grant County; Kidder County was half its size; and so on.

Ward County was one of the counties on the remodeling agenda in 1908. It was proposed to establish Burke and Renville counties out of the Northern part of Ward County, and the subject was hot – one man in Kenmare claimed the proposition was ridiculous, “an insult to the intelligence of the voters of Ward County,” and that “Most of the people who are backing these counties are trained politicians.”

Another proposition was to form Lake Township out of the northern portion of Ward. As such, Kenmare likely would have become the county seat. So, another resident, in what would become Burke County, claimed, “It is merely a case of where Kenmare is trying to hog it all.”

At stake was the determination of a number of matters – dealing with churches and school systems, railroads, commerce, and political representation for each area, and of course, what town would become the county seat.

On this date in 1908, then-governor John Burke received the following telegraph, stating: “Letters signed by you in typewriting are being circulated, stating that you recommend Burke and Renville Counties, asking people to vote for that proposition. Wire whether they are authentic.”

It was necessary to answer immediately. Burke’s response was published in the Ward County Independent: “Letters purporting to be written by me or by my authority, making any recommendations or suggestions in regard to the division of Ward County are totally false and fraudulent. I have not at any time attempted, directly or indirectly, to intermeddle with the question of county division which is before the people of Ward County, and which they are well able to settle for themselves without interference. I wish to make this denial unqualified and emphatic.”

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


1885 Census district map

The Ward County Independent, Oct. 29, 1908

Minot Daily Optic, Thursday, Oct. 22, 1908