Around the early 1800s, the supply of food and game on the plains had grown scarce. As a result, the seasonal hunting of the Chippewa expanded westward in search of game. This took them into the confluence area of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, a major crossing point of many other Indian tribes that hunted and traded through the territory. Fort Union, which the American Fur Company had established around 1828, controlled most of the Northwest trade. Around 1867, after the fur trade had declined, they abandoned Fort Union.
Fort Buford was established in 1866, at the juncture of the two rivers. It served as a supply headquarters for military campaigns against the Sioux. Many Indian people continued to hunt and trap around the area. In 1886, following the implementation of the General Allotment Act, there was not sufficient land available on the Turtle Mountain Reservation for allotments for all tribal members. Many had continued their migratory hunting patterns into western North Dakota and Montana. The Dawes Commission, finding more Turtle Mountain tribal members than there was land, allotted nearly 6,698 acres in western North Dakota, in Williams County, to tribal members. During this time, many Turtle Mountain Chippewa, who had hunted in the Williams County area took their allotments, and moved to the Fort Buford area. Fort Buford was disbanded on October 21, 1895. Having settled and prospered on their allotments, the Turtle Mountain people continued to live in the area.
In 1884, when the Great Northern Railway founded the town of Trenton, the community quickly became headquarters for the Turtle Mountain people who owned land near it. Trenton benefitted from the employment caused by the railroad construction. A growing and prosperous community, Trenton boasted a variety of mercantile and grocery stores, blacksmith shops, elevators, and other establishments. Turtle Mountain people sold wood and coal to the workers. (United Tribes, 1975)
As the railroad industry declined, the Turtle Mountain people migrated to other areas in search of work. Many never returned to the Fort Buford area. During the early part of the 1900s, a group of Turtle Mountain Chippewa continued to live in the area. During the 1930s, many found work in government-sponsored programs, and worked on various development projects, including the Buford-Trenton Irrigation district. They maintained their ties with the Turtle Mountain Band, but received no assistance from them.
When crude oil was discovered in the early 1950s near Tioga, North Dakota, the resulting oil boom again created a flourishing environment for communities such as Williston and Trenton. The Turtle Mountain Chippewa again experienced prosperity. As the young people grew up, some began to move to the Williston area.
By the early 1970s, the Trenton community had become a community integrated with Indians and non-Indians. The population in Trenton during this time comprised approximately 66 white and 188 Indian families. Additional Turtle Mountain families moved to Williston and other nearby communities. (United Tribes, 1975, p. 62)
Because much of their work was greatly dependent upon the local economy, seasonal unemployment was a chronic concern. In the spring of 1972, the people of Williams County formed the Fort Buford Indian Development Corporation. The purpose was to qualify for several economic recovery programs, and to insure the future of the people. They established the corporation, and through it received several housing, health service, and employment programs.
During the mid 1970s, many of the Chippewa were concerned with maintaining and preserving their identity as Turtle Mountain Chippewa and their connection to the heritage and culture. The Fort Buford Development Corporation sought designation as a formal extension of the Turtle Mountain Band. Designated as the “Trenton Indian Service Area” (TISA), it was established by Ordinance 28 of the Turtle Mountain Tribal Council on March 25, 1975.
As a result, the people at Trenton formed their own governing structure. The Trenton Indian Service area lies in the northwest corner of North Dakota, and the northeast section of Montana. Much of the area is in Williams and Divide Counties, and the northern portion of McKenzie County. The area covers approximately 6, 200 square miles, is bounded on the north by the Canadian border and on the west by the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana.
Trenton, the center of operation for TISA, is located 14 miles southwest of Williston, North Dakota. A board of directors governs the Trenton Indian Service Area, which consists of seven members, two from each of the three districts, and one chairperson. The chairperson is elected at-large. The enrolled members of the Trenton Indian Service Area elect the board members. The total service population of TISA is approximately 3,000; enrolled members number 2,600. Today, the Turtle Mountain Chippewas at Trenton celebrate Trenton Indian Service Area Days each July.