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Great Dakota Boom

1/25/2017:

Despite the fact that the Dakota Territory had been blasted in the Eastern Press as a barely inhabitable, frozen wasteland, the lure of free land caught the interest of many Easterners. Lured on by claims made through the Northern Pacific Railway Company, those seeking a new life were offered their choice of at least 50,000 farms. In ads appearing in the newspapers across the county this week in 1880, James B. Power, head of the Northern Pacific Land Department, declared the properties to be the best wheat lands in the United States.

Depending on the quality of land and the location, the price per acre varied from $2.50 to $10.00. Capitalizing on the success of the large bonanza farms in the Red River Valley, most of which had been purchased from the Northern Pacific, the railroad touted the huge yields and the fertile soil.

An additional incentive was offered by the St Paul & Pacific Railroad, owned by James J. Hill. It offered a rebate up to half the cost of the land a homesteader could bring under cultivation in the first three years. The sole purpose of the rebate was to hasten settlement, thereby increasing freight. A small increase in rates would cover the rebate.

The rush of buyers for railroad lands and of settlers on adjacent government land was like a tidal wave. Entire trains of would-be land seekers headed westward to the Dakotas. The Jamestown Alert announced that a group of colonists from Cold Water, Michigan were organizing, intent to come to the James River Valley in search of homesteads and to establish a community. Over fifty people from the town were holding meetings in the courthouse in preparation for their journey in the spring. W. A Blye, Secretary of the Jamestown Colony Association of Cold Water, announced that he would be there in advance of the colony to facilitate the paperwork. He said more than one hundred families would come. At Saline, Michigan there was another fifteen families preparing to pack up their belongings to find a new home in Dakota. Many of these would find a home in Tower City, others near Jamestown.

The great Dakota boom, unlike the gold rushes in California and Montana, were from immigrants looking for a better life. In true pioneer spirit, they turned the unbroken prairie of Dakota from a sea of grass to furrows of ripening grain as far as the eye could see. It was an incredible journey from frontier to statehood in less than twenty years.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

The Jamestown Alert January 13, 1880

The Jamestown Alert January 27, 1880

Collections of the State Historical of North Dakota, Volume III 1910, pp 337-349, 588.