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Zeronia

2/8/2017:

Winter in North Dakota is not for the faint of heart, and its frosty air has sometimes been a discouragement for those who considered moving into the state.

When North Dakota gained statehood in 1889, prominent citizens and the state’s “booster press” boasted about the state’s climate, people and prospects, but the cold reputation persisted, and outsiders were wary about these faraway hinterlands.

A writer named P.F. McClure, writing in Harper’s Magazine in 1889, judged there were “really but two seasons in Dakota, summer and winter,” and he noted that January temperatures “occasionally” registered at “40 degrees or more below zero.”

McClure described blizzards as “most disagreeable storms,” with “strong winds blowing almost a hurricane,” but acknowledged that terrible winter storms were actually fairly rare and of short duration. However, the “most disastrous” blizzard “on record . . . swept over the Territory on the 12th of January, 1888.” It horrified the nation, in part because of “woeful exaggerations and distortions” in the newspapers in other parts of the U-S.

These headlines really scared off potential settlers.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch read: “Fearfully Fatal; Western Prairies Strewn With The Frozen Dead.”

“Hundreds Frozen,” wrote the Newton Daily Republican in Kansas.

“Smothered In The Snow,” headlined the Chicago Tribune.

“A Thousand Lives Reported Lost In Dakota,” yelped the Butler Citizen in Pennsylvania.

“Terrible Effects of Dakota’s Fatal Blizzard,” squawked Nashville’s Tennessean.

“ The Worst Blizzard Ever Known Sweeps Dakota and Minnesota,” said the New York Sun.

“ Arctic Temperatures Reported in Dakota,” Chicago Inter Ocean.

Even an official weather report admitted that the average temperature for that deadly month of January 1888 had been a shivering “14 below zero.” Published on this date in 1889, it contributed to the negative coverage of Dakota’s climate.

When decision-time came concerning an “appropriate name” for “blizzardous” northern Dakota, the Chicago Tribune “zeroed” in on the future state’s below-zero temperatures, cold-heartedly recommended “ Zeronia.”

Another suggestion was “No-Man’s Land.”

More kindly-hearted authorities suggested “Wheatland,” for the prodigious Bonanza farm harvests.

But the territorial name “Dakota,” was still considered the best choice for the new states. The territorial citizens had become attached to the name and entering the Union as South Dakota and North Dakota seemed right, strong names becoming forever frozen in time; and way better than . . . “Zeronia.”

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “The Month Of January, Just Passed,” Pembina Pioneer Express, February 8, 1889, p. 3.

“Farms Cheap,” Jamestown Weekly Alert, February 28, 1889, p. 1.

Ausburn Towner, “Our Would-Be States,” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly XXVII, no. 2 (February 1899): 2-3.

“The Climate of Dakota,” Friends’ Intelligencer 46, no. 8 (February 23, 1889): p. 126.

Zeronia in “Free Ads for Dakota,” Minneapolis Tribune, February 4, 1889, p. 4.

“Hundreds Frozen,” Newton [KS] Daily Republican, January 14, 1888, p. 1.

“Fearfully Fatal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 15, 1888, p. 7.

“Great Loss of Life,” Tennessean, January 15, 1888, p. 1.

“Smothered In The Snow,” Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1888, p. 2.

“A Thousand Lives Reported Lost In Dakota,” Butler [PA Citizen, January 27, 1888, p. 2.

“Another Blizzard Rages,” Chicago Inter Ocean, January 20, 1888, p. 1.

“The Worst Blizzard Ever Known Sweeps Dakota and Minnesota,” New York Sun, January 14, 1888, p. 1.