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Totally Unknown Holidays: Dakota Day

Lonesome Clyde the Buffalo

Steampunk Desperado’s mascot Lonesome Clyde resides in the North Dakota Badlands which are both bigger and badder than the South Dakota Badlands.

On this day in history in 1889, North and South Dakota were created. Formerly they were a single territory called Dakota, but the residents had a knock-down drag-out fight about the location of the capital city. Originally it was at Yankton, way down by Omaha. Northerners hated Nebraska so they moved it up the Missouri to Bismarck. Southerners couldn’t abide a capital named after a jelly doughnut, so a “velvet divorce” was arranged. By the way, South Dakota’s capital Pierre is the only one with a one syllable name and the second smallest (after Montpelier) with a population of only 14000. It’s also the only significant town in the Dakotas I’ve never visited. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who’s been there.

Bismarck vs Pierre

Capital Wars: Bismarck vs Pierre

Like any set of twins, the Dakotas would argue about who is oldest, except that nobody knows. President Benjamin Harrison shuffled the two statehood bills before he signed them, so officially the two states are tied for 39th and 40th place. However, native-born North Dakotans like myself know we were actually first. We’re also tired of the attention South Dakotans get for those faces of dead white Presidents on Mount Rushmore. What’s more, our Badlands are much bigger and badder than theirs are.

By the way, I have a beef with Mark Stein, author of the geography nerd classic “How the States Got Their Shapes.” The book includes such tidbits as the reason for the “hook” at the bottom of Missouri (rich planters who didn’t want to be in Arkansas) and the jag in the border between Kentucky and Tennessee (surveyor error) but doesn’t mention the Dakota capital controversy. He merely says that Dakota Territory was too big, and since Congress was trying to keep the size of the states more or less even*, they split it in two, even though it had a smaller total population than the Twin Cities. I guess the “same size rule” must have had a loophole for Texas.

* According to Wikipedia, another reason for the split was a gambit by Republicans in Congress to get more votes in the Senate by creating two Republican-leaning states for the price of one. I’m sure the Russians were behind that.

Calling all Dakotans and ex-Dakotans: Why is your Dakota better than the other one?


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  1. It’s true! Why the “my Dakota is better then your Dakota “?

  2. Congratulations on a very fine new blog. It is a pleasure to read and amusing. My best memory of the Dakotas is driving west of Dickenson on I-94 and passing several buffalo walking alongside the highway. I wanted a better look. I slowed the car, checked behind me for traffic and there wasn’t any so I felt quite comfortable backing up a quarter of a mile on the interstate. It did get crowded later when a truck drove by.

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