Splitting Billings County
Billings County is located in the western portion of North Dakota. The 2010 population of 783 made it the second-least populated county in the state. The Territorial legislature authorized Billings County in 1879, and it was officially organized in 1886. The county was named after Frederick H. Billings, president of the Northern Pacific Railway. The county seat and only incorporated community is Medora, founded in 1883 by French nobleman Marquis de Mores. Billings County is historically very significant. Six buildings in Medora are on the National Register of Historic Places. Part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in the county.
Billings County was at one time much larger than it is today. In 1912, Golden Valley County was carved out of Billings. On this date in 1914, a plan was announced to reduce Billings County even further. A meeting was called to discuss forming yet another county from land claimed by Billings. Residents of the southern portion of the county expressed a desire to form Slope County. Marmarth, located in the extreme southwestern corner of the proposed county, claimed the new county seat as it was the only town with railroad facilities. But the choice of Marmath was by no means a foregone conclusion. At least two other towns also wanted to become the county seat.
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican reported that voters had approved the second county at the same time that Golden Valley was created. When Billings refused to recognize the new counties, Golden Valley took the matter to court, but Slope did not. Residents of the area were now proposing another vote on the matter.
Those in the proposed Slope County felt that Billings County was too big, and their voices were not heard in the county government. Opponents of the move noted that a new county would require higher taxes. Opponents were also bolstered by the arguments over the location of the county seat, and all the wrangling threatened to derail the move for a new county. Most of the opponents were located in or near Medora. The Fargo newspaper noted that this struggle for a new county would make the upcoming election “much more interesting and exciting.”
In the end, those promoting the new county prevailed. Slope County was officially recognized in 1915. As of the 2010 census, Slope’s population of 727 claimed the title of the least populated county in North Dakota.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Another Attempt to Split Billings.” 10 March, 1914.