Three states in the Federal Reserve's Ninth DistrictMontana, North
Dakota and South Dakotacelebrate their centennials during 1989.
The history of these three states, like most of the Upper Midwest, is
as much a history of the land as it is a recollection of people, places
Today, while the Ninth District's western states commemorate 100 years
of statehood, they also look warily to the next 100. Although the world
may always need grain, timber, minerals and oil, the states have learned
that markets are fickle, and today's boom could be tomorrow's bust.
Likewise, when the states celebrate their bicentennials in 2089, their
economic condition may well depend on how successfully they have diversified
from their land-based origins.
As the Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune editorialized on the occasion
of the state's 50th anniversary, with words also applicable to Montana
and South Dakota:
"On anniversaries such as this, it is the custom to dwell fulsomely
on the glories and triumphs, to ignore the problems and handicaps.
But to do so now would be to display either ignorance or cowardice.
Our past shows much of which to be proudand some things for
which we need to apologize. But the future will be what we make it
"We want no more ghost towns, no more villages slowly slipping into
decay. We want no more abandoned homesteads. We want a reasonable opportunity
for our children. For too many of those 50 years we have been exporting
our population. Children have been forced into the larger communities
elsewhere to seek opportunity. We must give them their chance at home
"We need larger and more prosperous cities and towns. We can have
them if we will.
"We need opportunity for our youth. It lies at hand, waiting to be
Though 50 years old, those words could have been written today.
To appreciate the current challenges facing Montana and the Dakotas,
it is important to understand the past. This summer, a symposium entitled
"Centennial West"sponsored by the Montana Historical Society and
funded by the National Endowment for the Humanitieswas held in Billings,
Mont., highlighting the centennials of six northern-tier states (Washington,
Idaho and Wyoming also celebrate their centennials this year). Essays
were presented by state historians focusing on the history, literature
and art of those states. Following are excerpts of the essays for Montana,
North Dakota and South Dakota.
(The Region would like to thank the Montana Historical
Society for permission to reprint the essays. The symposium will be repeated
at selected locations in the three states between September and November.
Call the Montana Historical Society at 406-444-4789 for more information.)