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Land Ownership and Patriotism


Northern Dakota Territory was rapidly developing, and on this date in 1888 citizens were hopeful that statehood was growing near. It was significant, however, that many absentee land owners controlled huge tracts of land in so-called Bonanza farms. With the financial failure of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1873, bond holders like George Cass exchanged his bonds for approximately ten sections of land, and E. P. Cheney secured eight sections. The Grandin Brothers from Pennsylvania acquired nearly one hundred sections, all of this in the Red River Valley.

Bonanza farms dotted the northern part of the territory. Near Bismarck the Clark farm consisted of almost forty-five thousand acres owned by Charles Clark of Pittsburgh. Then there was the Troy farm of Kidder County, which contained over nine thousand acres owned H. B. Van Deusen of Troy, New York, and the Spiritwood Farm in Stutsman County comprised ten thousand acres owned by a group of investors out of New England. By 1888 there were over twelve hundred farms exceeding five hundred acres, many of these with absentee owners. These large investors in Dakota Territory helped sway Congressional support against the admission of the Dakotas as states. The owners were better served under territorial law, since states imposed significant taxes for schools and infrastructure.

It should be noted that most of the population had little voice in the governing of the territory. This included a great mass of humanity going through the naturalization process, which took five years to complete, and many of these individuals had never known self-government. Thousands of people of Scandinavian, German, German-Russian or other European origins were scattered in communities across the territory. There was a concern, especially in the northern portion of the territory, about a lack of patriotism or belief in self-government. However, the effort to obtain statehood helped awaken in these people a desire to obtain the rights granted to every citizen in the commonwealth of states. In Pembina County, for instance, a large portion of the population was concentrated in communities of French, Scottish, English and Canadian origin. One minister from Vermont, who had been sent to a church in the county, attempted to instill some patriotism in his congregation and requested they sing the National Anthem. He was astonished when the parishioners stood up and sang “God Save the Queen.”

Northern Dakota was a great melting pot of beliefs and traditions, and, although statehood was coming soon, the assimilation of these diverse cultures would take time.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


“The Development of Agriculture in Territorial Dakota” by Harold E. Griggs, The Culver-Stockton Quarterly Volume VII, Number 1, January, 1931

The Pembina Pioneer, December 28, 1888