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Oil in Dakota?


On this date in 1889, the Constitutional Convention in Bismarck was a month away, and the economy for the new state of North Dakota appeared healthy. The spring had been cold and dry and there was some concern as to the future of the crops, especially wheat. The coffers would need to be full as the self-determination that came with statehood, also came with a price.

It also appeared that new immigrants, lost first to Oklahoma and then to the more Western states, were once again on track with settlers coming by the thousands to the Devils Lake and Bismarck land districts. The main-line railroads were branching out with spur tracks to accommodate the influx of farmers and ranchers. There was even some speculation of large underground coal mines developing to meet the heating needs during the cold winters.

The additional growth in settlement and the development of mineral resources was important to the counties in the sparsely populated west. In determining representation for the Constitutional Convention, a total of fifteen counties west and north of the Missouri River had been compressed into one district. One of the plans being considered for the new legislature ensured at least one representative from each county. This person would be elected only by residents within the county. Then to enable equal representation by population, an additional representative, or more, could be added by combining parts of counties into legislative districts.

Meanwhile, with manufacturing slow in coming to North Dakota, another possibility emerged to help fuel the economy of the semi-arid western counties. It appears that George Hollingsworth of Iowa was exploring on the Little Missouri River, following it from south of Medora downstream to the Missouri River. With him was an oil and gas expert from Pennsylvania. Aboard one of two boats used in the expedition, they carried a boring outfit for drilling test holes for gas and oil. They drilled six holes along the route, some up to two hundred feet deep, and in all instances, they reported success in finding gas and some oil.

It was good news, as hopefully it would help develop an economy that was based almost solely upon large-scale ranching interests. When further questioned by Ed Sloan, an engineer from Bismarck, the gentleman from Pennsylvania predicted that, “There is enough oil and gas in that country to supply the Northwest for a great many years and…”, citing his experience, he continued, “…perhaps there is no limit to the supply of either gas or oil in northwestern Dakota.”

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune June 7, 1889

The Jamestown Weekly Alert June 6, 1889