HistoryMain article: History of North Dakota
Prior to European contact, Native Americans inhabited North Dakota for thousands of years. The first European to reach the area was the French-Canadian trader La Vérendrye, who led an exploration party to Mandan villages in 1738. The trading arrangement between tribes was such that North Dakota tribes rarely dealt directly with Europeans. However, the native tribes were in sufficient contact that by the time that Lewis and Clark entered North Dakota in 1804, they were aware of the French and then Spanish claims to their territory.
Much of present-day North Dakota was included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803; the remainder was acquired in the Treaty of 1818. The acquired land was organized into Minnesota and Nebraska Territories. Dakota Territory, making up present-day North and South Dakota, along with parts of present-day Wyoming and Montana, was organized on March 2, 1861.
Dakota Territory was settled sparsely until the late 19th century, when the railroads entered the region and aggressively marketed the land. An omnibus bill for statehood for North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington titled the Enabling Act of 1889 was passed on February 22, 1889 during the administration of Grover Cleveland. After Cleveland left office, it was left to his successor, Benjamin Harrison, to sign proclamations formally admitting North and South Dakota to the Union on November 2, 1889.
The rivalry between the two new states presented a dilemma of which was to be admitted first. Harrison directed Secretary of State James G. Blaine to shuffle the papers and obscure from him which he was signing first and the actual order went unrecorded, thus no one knows which of the Dakotas was admitted first. However, since North Dakota alphabetically appears before South Dakota, its proclamation was published first in the Statutes At Large. Since that day, it has become common to list the Dakotas alphabetically and thus North Dakota is usually listed as the 39th state.
Unrest among wheat farmers, especially among Norwegians, led to a radical political movement after World War I centered in the left-wing Non Partisan League ("NPL"). The NPL, which eventually merged into the Democratic Party, attempted to insulate North Dakota from the power of out-of-state banks and corporations. In addition to founding the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and North Dakota Mill and Elevator (both still in existence), the NPL established a state-owned railroad line (later sold to the Soo Line Railroad). Anti-corporate laws were passed that virtually prohibited a corporation or bank from owning title to land zoned as farmland. These laws, still in force today, after having been upheld by both state and federal courts, make it almost impossible to foreclose on farmland, as even after foreclosure, the property title cannot be held by a bank or mortgage company.
A round of federal construction projects began in the 1950s, including the Garrison Dam and the Minot and Grand Forks Air Force bases. There was a boom in oil exploration in western North Dakota in the 1980s, as rising petroleum prices made development profitable. The original North Dakota State Capitol burned to the ground on December 28, 1930, and was replaced by a limestone faced art deco skyscraper that still stands today.
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