Jack Dura | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Jack Dura

Pierre Gaultier de la Verendrye was the first-known white man to enter what is now North Dakota. He was a 53-year-old fur trader and explorer who set out in the fall of 1738 from Fort La Reine west of present Winnipeg to find “the Western Sea” and the “Mantanne” tribe who lived along “the River of the West” – the tribe that would become known as the Mandan.

A House Divided

Dec 10, 2019

North Dakota’s politics haven’t always been a Republican supermajority. There was a time of great political divide — a split of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats in the House. The 1977 Legislature had the unusual tie after Democrats lost a close race in Minot after a recount. A special committee of five Republicans and five Democrats negotiated compromises during the organizational session for the Legislature. Democrats got the speaker of the House, while Republicans controlled the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

The roots of Valley City State University extend all the way back to North Dakota’s first year as a state, when the school, and one in Mayville, were constitutionally established as teachers’ colleges, which were called normal schools. The normal school in Valley City first operated out of the high school, but it quickly needed more space and moved into commercial buildings.

Politics has been chaotic in North Dakota history, even on the local level. Such was the case for the creation of Golden Valley County in far western North Dakota. Fifty-two percent of Billings County voters in 1910 approved splitting the county to create Golden Valley County. Slope County’s creation was also on the ballot and passed, but one faction of residents challenged the election before the county auditor could certify the results. The dispute started a lawsuit, and a judge in Dickinson agreed with the plaintiffs that the election results didn’t carry.

Today we share another story from the journals of The Rev. Richard C. Jahn, who served as a Lutheran minister at several churches in McKenzie County a century ago. The 20-year-old, fresh from seminary in St. Louis, spent ten months in the county. He lived in a cabin east of Watford City with a bachelor homesteader and immersed himself in rugged western life.

A parade of national figures came together to lay the cornerstone for the new Dakota Territory Capitol in Bismarck on this date in 1883. They included Henry Villard, president of the Northern Pacific Railway; financier Jay Cooke; former President Ulysses Grant; Hunkpapa Lakota holy man Sitting Bull; and a German minister appearing for Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. More than 3,000 people attended the ceremony.

Old Settler’s Day

Sep 2, 2019

On this date in 1967, the town of Alexander in McKenzie County was celebrating Old Settler’s Day. It originated in 1946 as a community picnic to honor residents of more than 40 years. Ten “Range Riders” were honored in that first year. The yearly celebration traditionally honors a longtime resident or couple in the Alexander area or McKenzie County. The 1956 Old Settler’s Day celebrated Alexander’s golden jubilee. More than 410 old timers that year wore ribbons signifying the number of years they’d been in McKenzie County.

The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit is a local landmark in Bismarck, North Dakota. Its soaring white bell tower can be seen across town from a variety of directions.

Years of setbacks had delayed construction of the cathedral, which was built during World War II. The first bishop of Bismarck, Vincent Wehrle, bought land in Bismarck in 1917 on which to build the cathedral he had long dreamed of. Plans were drawn up within a few years, but construction was delayed due to the Great Depression. In 1940, the new Bishop Vincent Ryan got cracking on the plans. He hired William Kurke, who was an architect who helped design the new North Dakota Capitol in the 1930s. Kurke designed an Art Deco style cathedral of monolithic concrete. The decorations and accoutrements were expected to make it the most beautiful cathedral in North Dakota.

Lawrence Welk was, in some ways, North Dakota’s first celebrity. The famous bandleader was born on his German-speaking family’s homestead near Strasburg in 1903, but his dreams of music led him away from North Dakota. Welk worked and played local dances for four years to repay his father $400 for his first accordion. He left North Dakota at age 21 and pursued professional music, growing in popularity as his career progressed, playing dances, ballrooms and resorts, then to television and the long-running “Lawrence Welk Show.”

Something wasn't right after Gov. Arthur Sorlie returned from a visit to the Badlands near Watford City in July of 1928. He and several U.S. senators had participated in dedicating the new Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge spanning the Little Missouri River. The group also toured a site for a potential national park.