Today’s influx of oil pioneers in the Western part of the state is reminiscent of the immigrants to this area approximately one hundred years ago. While the modern migration is concerned with the development of minerals beneath the ground, the earlier immigrants were hopeful of developing the immense opportunities that awaited on the fertile land and tall grass prairies. They came by the thousands from all over the world.
On this date in 1906, the Williston Land Office was in its second week of recording land claims to encompass the western half of the area formerly controlled by the Minot Land Office. The Minot Land Office had been the busiest in the nation during the previous quarter from April through June, making it necessary to add the Williston office. According to the statistics for that three month period, over five hundred thousand acres were claimed. There were two hundred and forty-six final homestead proofs filed and three thousand, three hundred and seventy-six new claims. There was an additional three hundred and seventy-six commuted homesteads.
The Minot Office had been established in 1892, but initially, the semi-arid conditions were not conducive to settlement, with dry conditions and a weak economy making homesteading a risky proposition. However, in 1901, the conditions improved and over the next five years there were forty-five thousand claims filed, including twelve thousand commuted homesteads in the Minot Land Office alone.
A commuted homestead meant that a man or woman could file a claim, live on it for fourteen months, make the required improvements and then purchase the land for a cash sum not to exceed four hundred and fifty dollars. This had not been part of the homestead law, but it became available after intensive lobbying by the land speculators. Men and women who had no intention of homesteading were encouraged to file a claim and, after meeting the requirements, they sold the land to speculators. Some settlers who wanted to stay on the land also used the cash option, since it cleared the way for obtaining a mortgage.
Most who came were not there to quickly profit from the land, but they were the hopeful, the dreamers, with the courage to fight the elements. They were the common men and women who came to develop the land, educate their children and develop communities. Like the workers arriving today, they were the common people of which Lincoln said, “God must have loved them, because he made so many of them.”
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The American Lawyer, Volume 14, 1906: “The Abuse of the Homestead Law” by Hugh J. Hughes
The Flaxton Times August 3, 1906