My grandpa’s grandpa was a German from Russia who immigrated to the United States as his sons were becoming young men. He set up each son with 160 acres, one quarter, of North Dakota farmland. As one son would get established, he would go back to Russia to get the next.
The Homestead Act of 1862 meant you could file an application for your 160 acres, spend at least five years living on and improving the land, then file for the deed of title, making it yours.
North Dakota had vast expanses of open land, ready for the settling. To attract immigrants, state leaders launched a marketing campaign, touting the “Myth of North Dakota,” which celebrated three ideas:
- The myth of the garden.
- The philosophy that hard work will win you the American dream of home ownership.
- North Dakota is being settled by good and just people.
People from all over the world came to North Dakota to claim their piece of land, to break the prairie and become Giants in the Earth.
My husband’s family landed in North Dakota in large part because of Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933. His great grandfather moved to our legendary state as part of a federal government program that paid him to work on a North Dakota farm. The new deal was about relief, recovery and reform:
- Relief for unemployed and poor
- Recovery for the country’s decimated economy
- Reform of the financial system that led to The Great Depression
We are writing a new chapter of North Dakota’s story and we’ve captured the world’s attention once again. The more I look back, the more I feel like I’ve read all this before.
People from all over the country are pouring into North Dakota with little more than the clothes on their backs because they want to work. The immense stress of chronic unemployment makes the high paying oil field jobs glitter like gold on the prairie. National headlines read: “Unemployed? Go to North Dakota!” There is pain in their damp eyes and cracking voices as they plead with reporters, “I just want to work.”
I hope the oil boom of Western North Dakota provides relief for unemployed and poor. I hope putting all these people back to work helps our decimated economy recovery. I hope that their hard work earns them the dream of home ownership. And most of all, I hope they are good and just people, who respect and live by the North Dakota way of putting people over profit.