Geography and Landforms:

North Dakota is bordered by Canada on the north and by South Dakota on the south. On the east, North Dakota is bordered by Minnesota, and on the west, it is bordered by Montana. The highest point in North Dakota is White Butte at 3,506 feet above sea level. Major rivers include the James River, the Missouri River and the Red River.

North Dakota is divided into three main geographic areas: the Red River Valley, the Drift Prairie and the Great Plains. The Red River Valley, in the eastern part of the state, is flat, and is one of the most fertile areas in the world. To the west of the Red River Valley is the Drift Prairie, marked by rolling hills, stream valleys and numerous lakes. To the north of this area are the Turtle Mountains. The southwestern half of North Dakota is covered by the Great Plains, an area that is hilly and rich in mineral deposits. The Badlands is an area in southwestern North Dakota. This valley of stone and clay has been shaped by wind and water into strange but beautiful formations. White Butte, the highest point in the state, lies in the Badlands.


North Dakota was explored in 1738-1740 by French Canadians led by Sieur de la Verendrye, who had traveled throughout Canada in search of a water passage to the Pacific Ocean. Because of the importance of the fur trade, Spain, Britain and France all wished to establish a presence in the area. But after the Treaty of Paris ending the French and Indian War, Great Britain took possession of all French lands drained by Hudson's Bay. By 1800, the land had been returned to France, but in 1803, it was sold to the United States by Napoleon Bonaparte as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the region in 1804-1806. The first settlements were made at Pembina in 1812 by Scottish and Irish families while this area was still in dispute between the U.S. and Great Britain. In 1818, the London Convention set the 49th parallel as the northern border of the US. However, the region remained largely unsettled until the construction of the railroad in the 1870s and 1880s. In fact, the Pembina settlement remained the only farm settlement in the state until 1851 when Dakota Territory was organized.

Relationships between Native people and American traders and explorers were largely peaceful during the early 19th century. In 1861, the area was officially recognized as Dakota Territory by the US Congress, and at that time included the future states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. In 1864, however, things began to change between Native people and white settlers. The bison herds that had sustained Native tribes began to die out because of over-hunting. As Native people looked for more land and more resources to support themselves, they came into conflict with white settlers, and began to be forced onto reservations. In 1876, the 7th US Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. George Custer left Bismarck to search for Dakota tribe members who refused to move to the reservations. The resulting slaughter of US troops at the Little Big Horn River in Montana Territory made Indian leaders such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull legends.

The arrival of the westbound Northern Pacific Railway in 1872 brought a sudden increase in settlement. Fargo and Bismarck began as rough railroad communities at this time. In addition, the 1862 Federal Homestead Law made land in the area cheap and accessible to further settlement. The first claim west of the Red River was filed in1868.

North Dakota was admitted to the Union in 1889.


North Dakota is the most rural of all the states, with farms covering more than 90% of the land. North Dakota ranks first in the nation's production of spring and durum wheat; other agricultural products include barley, rye, sunflowers, dry edible beans, honey, oats, flaxseed, sugar beets, hay, beef cattle, sheep, and hogs.

The Missouri and Red Rivers were once important transportation routes for North Dakota, but now serve a more important function for irrigation for the state's agriculture.

Oil was discovered in 1951, and petroleum is now North Dakota's leading mineral product, just ahead of sand and gravel, lime and salt.

Recently, manufacturing industries have grown, especially food processing and farm equipment. The state's coal and oil reserves are plentiful, and it also produces natural gas, lignite, clay, sand, and gravel. Lignite beds under the western counties of the state are used in construction and pottery materials.

First Inhabitants:

Before Europeans began settling in the Northern Plains in the 19th century, the land had been home to people for many centuries. Archeologists tell us that big game hunters began to occupy the land we now call North Dakota as soon as the glaciers retreated at the end of the Ice Age, probably about 10,000 years ago. There is also evidence of hunter/gatherer cultures and farming cultures from about 2000 BC up until the arrival of European explorers and settlers.

By the time the first white explorers arrived, several distinct Indian groups could be identified, including the Dakota or Lakota nation (who were also called "Sioux" which means "enemy" by their rivals), Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. Groups of Chippewa (also called Ojibway) moved into the area around 1800, and the Cree, Blackfeet and Crow moved through the area on buffalo hunts.

These people adapted to life on the plains in two different ways. Nomadic people depended heavily on the vast herds of American Bison for their livelihood. When horses were brought to the Northern Plains in the 18th century, these nomadic people quickly took advantage of the greater speed and mobility that horses brought them, and were able to increase their success in hunting the bison. Consequently, their lives became much easier.

The more settled groups like the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara lived in earthlodges near the Missouri River. They lived off their extensive gardens and other agricultural products and only supplemented their diet with hunting. Their settlements and fortified villages eventually became trading centers during the lucrative fur trade of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The first contacts between the Native Indians and Europeans came in the early 18th century when Sieur de La Verendrye, a French explorer, came down the Missouri River from Canada in 1738 as part of an expedition to identify a water passage to the Pacific. It was not until the early 19th century, however, with the exploration of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, that contact between the native people and new settlers became more frequent.

Books Related To North Dakota

Bad River Boys: A Meeing of the Lakota Sioux with Lewis and Clark - Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
(978-0823418565) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-6, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 3 - 4
Lewis and Clark meet up with Dakota Indians during their famous explorations.

Betrayed! - Patricia Calvert
(978-0689866937) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-8, Lexile: 950, ESL level: 4
Tyler and his African-American companion take a Mississippi boat ride where they meet characters of questionable motives, including a corrupt captain and a Sioux indian chief.

Blizzard's Wake - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
(978-0689852213) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 910, ESL level: 4
A young girl rescues her brother and father during a great blizzard in N. Dakota, but she also assists the man whose car killed her mother in a drunk driving accident.

Jake's Orphan - Peggy Brooke
(978-0743427036) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-10, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 3
Tree gets a chance to live on the farm where he is working after school after he loses his parents, but there is no room for his brother so Tree scouts around for other possibilities.

P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet - Roxane Salonen
(978-1585361427) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of North Dakota.

River Friendly, River Wild - Jane Kurtz
(978-1416934875) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-5, Lexile: 400, ESL level: 3 - 4
One family receives great support from their community both before and after a flood forces them from their home.

Wild Life - Cynthia DeFelice
(978-0374380014) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-7, Lexile: 860, ESL level: 4
Eric sets off on his own with a newly found dog, leaving behind his grandparents' home in N. Dakota where he is staying while his parents are in the military.

Famous Citizens:

Peggy Lee
Born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, she went on to be one of the best known jazz singers of her generation. She joined the Benny Goodman band in 1941 and recorded "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." Her career included hits with Mel Torme and Bing Crosby, but today she may be best known for providing vocals for the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp including the song "The Lady is a Tramp," and for her 1958 top ten hit "Fever."

Louis L'Amour
Born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in Jamestown, North Dakota, he is best known for his novels of the West. L'Amour held a variety of jobs in his early career, including longshoreman, lumberjack, miner, and elephant handler. He also boxed professionally. Although he published a book of poetry in 1939, his career was put on hold when he entered the army during World War II. After the war, he began to publish detective, adventure and sports stories in pulp magazines. He found that his stories written in the Western genre sold the best. He consistently published three novels a year and before his death, had sold hundreds of millions of copies of his books.

Lawrence Welk
Lawrence Welk was born in Strasburg, North Dakota, to immigrant parents on a farm. He spoke only German in his early life and dropped out of school after the fourth grade. His first accordion was a handed down instrument, but he sold fur pelts until he earned enough to buy a new one, and by age 17 knew he wanted to be a musician. Wanting a more expensive instrument, he agreed to work for his father on the family farm until he was 21 in exchange for the $400 accordion. After that, he left for South Dakota to find work as a musician. He joined several orchestras and toured through the country until his local television show was picked up by ABC in 1955. The show became one of the top-rated programs on television and is considered by many to be the "king of dance music."

Capital: Bismarck
Entered Union: November 2, 1889
Population: 739,482
Area 70,700
Bird Western Meadowlark
Flower Wild Prairie Rose
Nickname: Peace Garden State, Flickertail State
Governor Jack Dalrymple

Places to Visit in North Dakota: (Click the links to learn more.)

Dakota Dinosaur Museum - Dickinson
Open from April through September, the Dakota Dinosaur Museum contains 11 full-scale dinosaur models inside the museum and 3 more outside. In addition, the exhibits include a real Triceratops skeleton.

International Peace Garden - Dunseith
The Peace Garden is a memorial to the relationship between the US and Canada and is located on the border between North Dakota and Manitoba. The site includes a large formal garden, a memorial cairn, a floral clock, a bell tower, and the Peace Tower, standing over 100 feet tall.

National Buffalo Museum - Jamestown
The National Buffalo Museum is dedicated to the history of the American bison, and includes displays showing the evolution of the buffalo and related Native American artifacts. There is also a live herd of American bison including "White Cloud" a rare albino buffalo, considered to be sacred by Native Americans.

Fargo Air Museum - Fargo
The Fargo Air Museum includes both static and functional exhibits related to aviation and military history. Learn about the principles of flight, about regional aviation history and view the collection of historic airplanes.