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Prairies Wide and Free


James W. Foley was born in St. Louis on this date in 1874. His family moved to North Dakota and settled at Fort Abraham Lincoln. His father went on to Medora where he worked for the Marquis de Mores and became friends with Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt said Foley was one of the few in the badlands devoted to reading. When young James Foley visited his father in Medora, he made the acquaintance of the future president. He also fell in love with the wild Badlands.

The family remained in Bismarck while the elder Foley worked in Medora. James graduated from Bismarck High School when he was fourteen. He attended the University of South Dakota and went on to teach school in Medora. He discovered a talent for writing, and his first book was published in 1902. He left teaching and took a job as editor for the Bismarck Tribune. He became involved in politics, working as secretary for the North Dakota Republican Party. He later worked for North Dakota Governor E.Y. Sarles. But at heart, Foley was always a poet. He produced more than a dozen books of poetry. His poems appeared in the <i New York Times</i and the <i Saturday Evening Post.</i Foley left North Dakota in 1913, spending the rest of his life in California.

But Foley always carried North Dakota in his heart. In 1926, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Minnie Nielson, wanted a song about North Dakota. She knew just who could write it. She contacted Foley and asked him for a song about the state he still loved. He wrote, “North Dakota, North Dakota, with the prairies wide and free, All thy sons and daughters love thee, Fairest state from sea to sea.”

Nielson wanted the song to be sung to the tune of “The Austrian Hymn.” Dr. Clarence Putnam, director of North Dakota Agricultural College’s Cadet Band, arranged the music. The “North Dakota Hymn” was first performed in 1927 in Bismarck. It was officially adopted as the state song in 1947.

James W. Foley is recognized as the unofficial poet laureate of North Dakota.

“Sweet the winds above thee blowing, Green thy fields and fair thy skies; North Dakota, North Dakota, Brave the soul that in thee lies.”

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Griggs Dakota. "http://www.griggsdakota.com/2011/03/james-foley-poet-laureate-of-north.html" http://www.griggsdakota.com/2011/03/james-foley-poet-laureate-of-north.html Accessed 18 December, 2014.

Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University

"http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Learn-About-TR/TR-Encyclopedia/Dakota-and-Ranching/James-Foley.aspx" http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Learn-About-TR/TR-Encyclopedia/Dakota-and-Ranching/James-Foley.aspx Accessed 5/31/14