Listen up youngsters: It’s our history

Because history repeats itself (nobody was listening the first time), our young people ought to be learning about their roots so they can avoid repeating the chronic mistakes of the past.  

With widespread drug abuse, the kids have been seeing and doing exciting things so learning their roots sounds very boring. They don’t know that North Dakota has some exciting history.

North Dakota was part of six states before getting its graduation certificate. And when we were finally admitted, it was with a bunch of other states so the country wouldn’t notice North Dakota was being allowed in. Putting us through 80 years of apprenticehood was a sure sign that nobody was interested in North Dakota becoming a state. (You have to read between the lines.)

Watch for ulterior motives

(If you watch history unfold, you can see the ulterior motives in just about everything that happens.)

In 1873, the Dakota Territory created 27 counties without people so investors would buy bonds for the Northern Pacific Railroad. It was geographic deceit comparable to most treaties with Native Americans.

The treaties made bold promises to the Native Americans but always had the “boiler plate” at the end that stated: “This treaty shall remain in force as long as the sun shines, the winds blow, or gold is discovered.”

The glacier that formed Lake Agassiz was exciting. It made the Red River run north where it stays frozen in spring and backs water into basements all along the river. There is nothing more exciting than clean downstairs closets. 

Devils Lake couldn’t wait

On top of that, Lake Agassiz put Devils Lake in a closed basin where water levels have fluctuated, giving rise to the idea of taking water from Lake Sakakawea to stabilize Devils Lake. The project was taking so long that the Devils Lake up and got fresh by itself and is now a major fishing site. 

People expected lightning strikes when the legislature passed a law in 1899 declaring that the Bible was not deemed to be a sectarian book. Some legislators had nightmares in which Apostles Paul, Paul, James, Luke and Matthew scolded them for discrediting the Scripture.

Every school student knows what happened at the Little Big Horn so we’ll not treat the matter here except that Sitting Bull went to Canada, establishing a precedent for leaving the country instead of fighting. That was useful information for draft-eligible students during the Viet Nam War.

Benefits of sod houses

During the settlement era, building a sod house was captivating. Sod houses were warm in winter, cool in summer and dirty all of the time.  Martha Stewart recommended a mat at the door so visitors could wipe their feet on the way out.

The state has had quite a memorable past when it comes to politics. The most colorful character was Bill Langer, a first class opportunist who had been (from left to right) a Progressive Republican, a NonPartisan Leaguer, an Independent Voter, an NPLer again, then an Independent, then an NPL Republican  and finally a United Republican. 

Langer made the office of lieutenant governor important by getting two of them in the governor’s chair in 1934 when he was convicted for soliciting federal employees. We had four governors in seven months and the state functioned as though nothing was wrong. It was – and has always been – on autopilot to this day. 

In 1916-1920, the socialistic Nonpartisan League controlled the legislature and created the State Mill and Elevator and the Bank of North Dakota, both still unique in state governments but embarrassing to the capitalists in the state who wanted to sell them until both became very profitable. Even socialism is okay if it makes a profit.

So, young people, even though we may not be legendary North Dakota, we have had our interesting moments.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.


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