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Great Inducements to Settlers


There have been two Williams counties in North Dakota. The first was created in 1873 south of the Missouri River. In 1891, the state legislature created a new Williams County in the northwest corner of the state. The name honors Erastus Appelman Williams, an early North Dakota politician who served in both the territorial and state legislatures. On this date in 1896, the Williston Graphic announced that Williams County was the place to be. At the time, the county encompassed nearly 4,500 square miles with about three million acres of good farming and grazing land.

The newspaper crowed about farm land that was good for virtually all grains and vegetables. In addition, the grazing land was equal to any other in the state, with hay and shelter easily found, and many small streams. According to the newspaper, mild winters meant that livestock grazed the open range all year long. About 250 miles of the county border ran along the Missouri River, making irrigation both practical and cheap. The county also boasted mineral wealth. Lignite coal could be found in abundance in layers up to twenty feet thick. There were also beds of high quality sulphur.

Williston has always been the county seat. In 1896 it was described as a thriving town with hotels, restaurants, numerous shops, a blacksmith, two brickyards, two churches, billiards halls, a school, a courthouse, and a jail. It was located on the Great Northern Railroad and was only twenty miles from Fort Buford.

Williston is one of the many locations in the state named for people with a railroad connection. James J. Hill named it for his friend Daniel Willis James, a board member of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

In 1890, Williston’s population was 294. By 2010 it had grown to more than fourteen thousand. And the census estimate for 2015 neared 27,000, making it the sixth largest city in North Dakota.

Today the economic base in Williams County consists of agriculture, oil, and tourism. Fort Union Trading Post National Historical Site and Fort Buford are located in Williams County, as is the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center near Williston.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Williston Graphic. “Williams County: A Brief Description of Its Great Inducements to Settlers.” 24 April, 1896.

United States Census Bureau. "" Accessed 22 March, 2017.

Williams County, North Dakota.
Accessed 22 March, 2017.