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“Little Bulgaria” Called Home


In the fall of 1912, the political situation between Turkey and the Balkan states was tense, with both sides wanting to control territory that included Thrace and Macedonia. Greece, Montenegro, Serbia and Bulgaria had united as the Balkan League and were interested in expelling Turkey from the region.

Tiny Montenegro began hostilities with an attack on October 8. Montenegro was confident that the rest of the Balkan League would join in. The aggression had the potential to add a considerable amount of land to the winners, but it also set the stage for hostilities that would continue late into the 20th Century.

One may be forgiven for wondering how a brewing war in the Balkan region of Europe might relate to North Dakota. It was a time when the job situation in Bulgaria was poor, so a number of Bulgarian men had come to America for work, intending to save a substantial sum before returning home. It was an adventure that took them to jobs in the railroad yards of Marmarth, North Dakota. The Bulgarian government had helped fund their travel, with the understanding that they would return in the event of war.

The Bulgarians found good jobs with the railroad. They worked hard and saved carefully. Their goal was to return when they had saved enough to buy larger homes and farms, to improve the lives of their families. But the impending war interfered.

On this date in 1912, an article in the Fargo Forum announced that “Little Bulgaria” had been called home to fight, and two days later, Bulgaria declared war on Turkey.

By March 1913, the Turks were forced to give up the fight. Peace talks were complicated when Austria-Hungary and Italy pressured the peace conference to create an independent Albanian state out of the land the Balkan League had expected to take over, depriving them of what they considered the spoils of war.

As for the men who comprised “Little Bulgaria,” their fate is unknown. There’s no record that any of them ever returned to North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Fargo Forum. “Little Bulgaria is Called Home.” 15 October, 1912.

Frucht, Richard, editor. Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000.