For more than 150 years, newspapers have recorded the lives and times of people in North Dakota. The Frontier Scout was the first newspaper in modern North Dakota. It began in 1864 at Fort Union. The Bismarck Tribune followed, along with papers in Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown. Ten years after the Frontier Scout’s debut, 160 newspapers were publishing in Dakota Territory. A few of those early papers are still being published today – like the Bismarck Tribune and the Hillsboro Banner.
The newspaper business boomed in North Dakota. By 1910 nearly 350 papers were covering the young state, practically one for every town. In a world without instant access like today, small towns like Schafer, Sanger, Pretty Rock and Charbonneau needed local news. Fast forward 100 years, and those towns and many others are all empty.
The Brinton Newspaper Law of 1919 had a hand in the demise of many papers. The law limited the number of newspapers that could print official notices. This was also around the time that many newspapers were declining. Advertising and subscriptions weren’t able to fully support many of these papers, and about 200 North Dakota newspapers collapsed in five years, like the Cayuga Citizen, which closed shop on this date in 1920.
Some papers lasted for a handful of years, while some small towns had more than one paper, like Schafer, North Dakota, where the Schafer Record and The Locoweed covered that old county seat.
Today Schafer is a ghost town. North Dakota’s largest county, McKenzie has but one paper, the McKenzie County Farmer, based in Watford City. The Pretty Rock Sentinel covered that tiny town for 14 months, but all that’s left of Pretty Rock now are the buttes it’s named after and a small schoolhouse. The state’s bygone newspapers still serve a purpose. They’re a gold mine for genealogists and local historians, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota has hundreds of them on microfilm.
About 100 newspapers still operate in the state, including dozens of weeklies, ten dailies, and the High Plains Reader.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura