The State Capitals

The State Capitals: North Dakota

The State Capitals: North Dakota

Bismarck is the capital of the state of North Dakota. It has a long history of Native American habitation, but its European settlement is much more recent.

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Bismarck is the capital of the state of North Dakota. It is also the county seat of Burleigh County and is the second most populous state in North Dakota (the most populous is the better-known Fargo). The population of Bismarck is about 73,000, and the population of its metropolitan area is about 133,000. Forbes Magazine ranked Bismarck as the seventh most swiftly developing US city in 2017, which is a big achievement for such a remote place.

Native Americans lived in Bismarck for thousands of years before Europeans came. When they came, they established the city of Bismarck in 1872. It has been the capital of North Dakota since 1889, at the same time the state was carved out of and created from the larger Dakota Territory and admitted as a state to the country. It is across the river from the town of Mandan, which is named after one of the Native American tribes that once lived in the area. Bismarck and Mandan make up the primary part of the Bismarck-Mandan Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The capitol building in Bismarck is the tallest building in North Dakota and is located in the center of the city. The state government, also located in Bismarck, is the employer of about 4,600 people. The city is also a hub for retail and health care businesses in the state and is the economic center of south central North Dakota.

While the earliest Native Americans to inhabit the Bismarck area are not known by name, the earliest ones that are known were the Mandan, the Arikara, and the Hidatsa. The Hidatsa name for Bismarck is mirahacii arumaaguash (meaning “the place of the tall willows”), and the Arikara name for the place was ituhtwaawe, which has a similar meaning.

The Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806, which was to explore the area of the Louisiana Purchase, went through the Bismarck area and found it to be an area where the Mandan people had lived. European Americans established a town there in 1872 called Edwinton, after the engineer-in-chief of the Northern Pacific Railway, who was a man named Edwin Ferry Johnson. The construction of railroads to the area by that company had been what attracted the settlers there in the first place.

The next year after the founding of Edwinton, a motion was made to change the name of the place to Bismarck, after German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. It was actually the Northern Pacific Railway company that made this suggestion. This made Bismarck the only United States state capital to be named after a foreign dignitary. The name change was made because the railroad company wanted to attract German immigrants to settle the area, and to encourage German investors to invest in the railroad company.

The discovery of gold in neighboring South Dakota in 1874 was a larger motivating factor in people moving to Bismarck than anything else, since the Black Hills, where the gold was discovered, was close to the city. The gold encouraged thousands of miners to move to the area. However, when they came, they encroached on sacred land for the Lakota Native American tribe. This caused heightened tensions with the local Natives.

Bismarck became a center for freight shipping on the Black Hills’ Custer Route. Its newly found importance was the reason it was named the capital of the Dakota Territory. In 1889, it was named the capital of the brand new state of North Dakota.

The remains of the village of Chief Looking, who was a Mandan chief, is a park within the Bismarck city limits today. There are other Mandan village remnants around Bismark, ranging from the mid-1500s to the late 1700s in the era. During those particular years, the Mandan population in the Bismarck area was estimated to have been between ten and twenty thousand people. They were an agricultural tribe that had perfected farming long ago, and they lived in lodges made of soil. By preserving the remnants of their villages, the people of Bismarck, and North Dakota, are showing honor to the people who once called that area of the planet home.

When Bismarck was first established as a city, it was known as an outlaw town where anything could and did happen, because there were no laws there. This was much like the early days of neighboring (and by far more famous) Deadwood in South Dakota. Despite its bad reputation in its first days, Bismarck was also said to be the place where the natural beauty of North Dakota began. Soon, the chaos of its founding went away, and Bismarck became a place known for peace, prosperity, and promising success as a city.

At the outset, the founders of Bismarck knew that the success of the city depended on the success of the railroad. The Northern Pacific Railroad went through and survived bankruptcy in the early days of Bismarck, and once it was out of bankruptcy, the railroad builds a $1 million bridge across the Missouri River for its trains to cross. The first of the railroad’s passenger trains went across the new bridge in 1882.

When the capital of the Dakota Territory was moved from Yankton to Bismarck in 1883, Bismarck became known at the national level, and the spotlight of the country was put on it. When the Dakota Territory was divided into two states, North and South Dakota, as a condition of statehood, the capital of North Dakota was intended to be moved from Bismarck to Jamestown. The people of Bismarck did not approve of this idea, and after the move, some Bismarck citizens raided Jamestown to retrieve the state records that were now stored there.

With the state records safely back in Bismarck, the citizens went on and built the proposed capitol building they were going to build before the capital’s move to Jamestown. After the building was completed, all talk of moving the capital to Jamestown was dropped. Bismarck has been the capital of North Dakota ever since.



Will founded Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has been assisting researchers for over 25 years to reunite them with their ancestors.