Land of Immigrants

By 1910, 71 percent of North Dakota’s population was born in a foreign country or had one or both parents who had been born in a foreign country. North Dakota was truly a melting pot of nationalities. Although Norwegians and Germans from Russia were the largest immigrants groups, as reported in The North Star Dakotan, all the European and some Middle Eastern ethnic groups came to North Dakota. The variety of immigrant groups was phenomenal.

Because the immigrants were strangers in a strange land, they settled near like-speaking and worshiping people from the old country. This made them more comfortable in a new place. For examples, Poles settled around Minto, Icelanders near Mountain, Syrians around Ross, Belgians close to Noonan and Marion, Czechs near Lidgerwood and Pisek, Ukrainians around Belfield and Ross, Hungarians near Dickinson.

Ethnic diversity is one of the unique themes of North Dakota’s history. The North Star Dakotan’s “News from the Immigrant Settlements” samples that rich immigrant mixture of people.

Western Ukrainians Settle Around Wilton in 1913

Wilton has become one of the major centers for settlement by Ukrainians. They have come mostly from Galicia in the western Ukraine in eastern Europe. They began arriving in 1898 after being advised in Winnipeg that North Dakota would be a good place to settle. They tried the area around Mannhaven but decided the land around Wilton, just north of Bismarck, was better. Five to eight families have arrived each year since. Many have homesteaded; quite a few Ukrainian men have found employment in the large lignite coal mine which W.D. Washburn opened in 1901. The Wilton settlement spawned Ukrainian settlements in the Badlands around Belfield, Gorham, and, of course, Ukrania. In religion they are Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine rite. They have become known for their festive wedding celebrations that last three days.

Protestant Ukrainians Homestead Forty-Mile Corridor around Max in 1911

The area north and south of the Soo Railroad branch line that runs from Drake through Max has been heavily populated by people from the eastern parts of the Ukraine. They left eastern Europe in protest against the Russian Orthodox church — these Ukrainians are Protestants—Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. They took homesteads for farming and ranching here in a 40 mile long corridor before the railroad came through in 1906. The railroad gave rise to several new towns such as Kief, Ruso, and Dogden, which have become Ukrainian trading centers. The largest single settlement is just north of here — about 300 people.

St. Stanislaus Church Dedicated by Poles in Warsaw in 1901

Its steeple reaches 143 feet toward the heavens; the magnificent Roman Catholic church is rightly called “the -cathedral of the prairies.” The nearly 2,000 Polish immigrant people who settled this southeastern corner of Walsh County, south of Grafton, have had their dream realized. Many Poles came as early as the 1870s to the rich farmland of the Red River Valley. The towns of Minto, Ardoch, Poland, and Warsaw have become their towns of business, entertainment, and worship.

Czech Communities Divided on Religion in Manitou in 1912

Local Czechs have just completed the building of a ZCBJ hall in this last part of North Dakota to be settled by them. ZCBJ stands for Zapandni Ceska Bratska Jednota (Western Bohemian Fraternal Association). ZCBJ is a fraternal lodge which serves as a religious organization that emphasizes a private form of Christianity, a personal religion. Essentially they believed what they wanted to believe. They have no sacramental system or ministers. In addition to being a cultural center, ZCBJ halls are places for religious occasions such as weddings and funerals. Often a ZCBJ has its own cemetery. Some call ZCBJ members “free thinkers.”

Some Czechs are Roman Catholics and wherever the over 2,000 Czech people have settled friction and rivalry between the ZCBJ and the local Catholic churches has existed: in and around Wahpeton and Lidgerwood in the 1870s and 1880s; southern Walsh County in and around Pisek, Conway, or Lankin and to the west around Dickinson and the Green River in the 1880s and 1890s; and now in this area of Mountrail County.

Ten Japanese Railroad Workers Killed in Williston
September 1902

Ten Japanese railroad workers were killed west of here when their work car was stuck by a freight train. They have been laid to rest in the local cemetery. The laying of tracks has brought several immigrant groups, not large in numbers, to North Dakota: Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Armenians, and Japanese. The few who have stayed as permanent residents usually live in the towns.

Muslim Lebanese Syrians Farm near Ross

Several dozen Lebanese Syrians have established homesteads around this Mountrail County community. That they are Arabic people is unique for North Dakota. What makes them truly unique is that they all are members of the Islamic faith. The largest Lebanese Syrian cluster is northwest of Williston where 121 have located on homesteads. They are Orthodox Christians. There are several hundred of these Arabic people in the state. Most are trying to farm, and some have become merchants.

Dutch Land Company Sees Bright Future at Belfield
July 1910

The Holland-Dakota Land Company has acquired 12,000 acres south of town and plans to rent out land to farm families from Holland and to farm sections of the acquisition using the most progressive methods. Today 44 Hollanders arrive to work on the company’s land. Although not many Hollanders have settled in North Dakota, they have established successful farming operations in southern Emmons County around Hague and Hull. Lark in Grant county is another Dutch community.

Jewish Colony Thrives at Marmarth, 1915

Over 100 Jewish men and women have homesteaded in this far southwestern part of North Dakota and they are still coming. Most are fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe. The Jewish Agricultural Society of New York has organized the colony and financially helps these settlers. Earlier Jewish agricultural communities at Painted Woods, Garske, Wing, and Wishek either failed or did very poorly. Most of those Jewish people moved to the towns where many went into business.

African-Americans Homestead at Alexander

Several families of African-Americans have homesteaded south of here in Moline Township. Reverend W.S. Brooks of St. Peter’s African Methodist Church in Minneapolis has urged African-Americans to colonize in the Northwest. According to him, “There is good land, goodwill on the part of the inhabitants, and all that is required is hard work to bring good crops and good times.”

Earlier colonization efforts such as the 32 African-Americans who were to homestead around Larimore in 1882 have not worked out.  There are, however, several successful farmers. For example, Bill Green and his family are doing extremely well near Larimore. He has also trained himself as a veterinarian.

Sons of Hermann Organize Statewide at New Salem
March 1908

Delegates from Anamoose, Gar-dena, Hebron, Bismarck, and Mandan have joined New Salem’s Prince Heinrich Lodge No. 4 to organize a state grand lodge. The Order of the Sons of Hermann has over 90,000 members in thirty states. The order is named for German folk hero, Hermann, who drove the Romans out of Germany in 9 A.D. and came to symbolize the strength of German manhood.

The New Salem lodge was organized in 1907 and has 99 members; wives have begun an auxiliary. It is a social center for many of the German immigrants. The Sons of Hermann is one of several organizations that are part of the lives of the over 16,000 foreign-born Germans in North Dakota.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level


Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change