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North Dakota (ND) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: North Dakota is geographically in the center of the North American continent, but it is located at the very northern edge of the contiguous United States. It directly borders Canada along the 49th Parallel. The landscape of North Dakota is quite rugged and largely semi-arid, although the temperature is often cold.
Counties and Regions: Present-day North Dakota has 53 counties, which came about after it was separated from South Dakota and admitted as a state in 1889. The states were admitted at the same time, but because North Dakota comes first alphabetically, it is usually declared first sequentially as well. North Dakota is sparsely populated, so there are only four general regions that are necessary to classify:
- The Badlands
- Missouri Escarpment
- Missouri River Corridor
- Red River Valley
Population: North Dakota has only about 675,000 people, making it the third least-populated state in the union. It has had a problem with brain drain in the past, as educated citizens left for jobs elsewhere. The development of the oil industry has helped to offset this problem.
Major Cities: Bismarck, the state capital, is the second-largest city in the state with a metropolitan population of over 100,000 people. The largest city, Fargo, has about twice that number living in its metropolitan area.
Story Behind the Name: The state is named for the Dakota Indians, who are an offshoot of the large Native American culture known as the Sioux. The former Dakota Territory was split into two portions to be admitted as states, North and South.
History and Colonization: Europeans did not make their way into North Dakota until the middle of the eighteenth century. They traded and interacted a little with the Native American tribes there, but did not do much to enforce their claim on the territory. Lewis and Clark passed through the territory in the early nineteenth century as part of their famous expedition, but also had minimal contact with the native tribes. Even when the area that would later become North Dakota was passed to the ownership of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase, its remoteness and relatively barren landscape drew few settlers.
The growing popularity of the railroads in the later nineteenth century changed everything for the Dakota Territory. It was at last feasible for American settlers to come to the region in large numbers. Still, the area never drew as many migrants as some of the more fertile regions in the American Midwest. The Dakota Indians were not generally accommodating of intruding white farmers, and military campaigns slowly began to reduce their numbers. Most of the white settlers that came to the region were of Germanic or Nordic ancestry, permanently stamping the culture of North Dakota with their traditions.
Although their population and land holdings were drastically reduced, Native Americans still form a larger percentage of North Dakota’s population than in many other states. Their language, outlook, and way of life still has an impact on the culture of North Dakota today. The state became largely agrarian, although it was sometimes difficult to extract large amounts of crops from the rocky landscape. Measures that were put in place in the early twentieth century to protect the holdings of local farmers still define much of the state’s politics today.
As the automotive and other modern industries began to impact the world, North Dakota found another source of revenue in its many oil shale deposits. Extracting this precious resource has had a counteracting effect on the general loss of educated and skilled residents that the state had been suffering for a few decades. Even though much of North Dakota’s economy is now based around the production of oil fuel, it is praised as one of the least-polluted states in the nation.