Get facts and photos about the 39th state.
Experts aren’t sure when people arrived in the land that is now North Dakota, but archaeologists have found 10,000-year-old artifacts from hunters in the area.
Native American tribes such as the Mandan, Hidatsa, Cheyenne, and Dakota Sioux have lived in the area, and about 30,000 Native Americans from several different tribes still call North Dakota home.
France controlled the area after an explorer named Pierre Gaultier La Vérendrye became the first European to arrive, in 1738. Later Spain and then England took over. In 1803 the land was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. For a long time the region was called the Dakota territory, and included both North and South Dakota. Railroads were built in the late 1800s, bringing American settlers with them, and North Dakota was declared its own state in 1889.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Dakota is a Native American Sioux word that roughly means “friend” or “ally.”
The International Peace Garden, which stands on the border between North Dakota and Canada, represents a 1932 pledge by the United States and Canada to never go to war with one another.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
North Dakota is bordered by Canada in the north, Minnesota in the east, South Dakota in the south, and Montana in the west. Elevation rises from east to west as the Rocky Mountains appear.
The Red River Valley in the east is a flat area that was once the floor of an ancient lake. It follows the Red River, which creates the state’s wiggly border with Minnesota. The mineral-rich soil here makes it one of the world’s most fertile areas, which is packed with farms.
Heading west, the Drift Prairie region is dotted with hills, valleys, lakes and wetlands.
West of the Drift Prairie is the Missouri Plateau, the state’s highest region. It includes the Badlands, a harsh stone valley that wind and water have sculpted into pyramids, domes, and buttes (steep, flat-topped hills). The Badlands contain North Dakota’s highest point, 3,506-foot White Butte. But North Dakota was once underwater and it bears the fossils of ancient sea creatures including swimming reptiles called mosasurs, clams, and other fish.
North Dakota’s wide-open land is home to mammals such as bison, bighorn sheep, moose, and pronghorns, plus bobcats, eastern spotted skunks, arctic shrews, and muskrats. Bald eagles, prairie falcons, and American kestrels hunt overhead while red-headed woodpeckers knock their beaks into trees. Amphibians such as tiger salamanders scurry about, and bizarre reptiles like the softshell turtle and smooth green snake keep things interesting: The softshell turtle has a skin-covered shell, and the green snake’s mouth appears to be smiling!
Ash, elm, pine trees, and willows dot the landscape, and colorful flowers such as black-eyed Susans, oxeye daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, and white violets decorate the fields.
North Dakota contains the world’s biggest deposit of lignite, a type of soft, brown coal. It’s been mined since 1873, with enough to last for about another 800 years. The state is also rich in petroleum, oil, and gas.
—Inside the Peace Chapel at the International Peace Garden, you can walk from the United States to Canada and back!
—President Theodore Roosevelt was once a cattle rancher in North Dakota. Open for tours, his log cabin home is part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
—Stand beside the world’s largest (fake) buffalo in Jamestown, North Dakota. Called “Dakota Thunder,” the statue stands 26 feet tall—taller than a two-story house!