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Tom Dennis

Editor's note: The way things were

In Minot, N.D., construction already has begun on Trinity Health’s new $275 million hospital, as noted in the August 2018 edition of Prairie Business. Other stories describe how medical products flow from the 3M plant in Brookings, S.D., to hospitals around the world, and how in 2011, the economic impact of the area’s sugar industry totaled $4.9 billion.

As such indicators suggest, the region is enjoying exceptional prosperity and growth.

So let’s take a moment to recall the way things were, less than 100 years ago. Here are a few passages from "History of North Dakota," the classic work by the late University of North Dakota historian Elwyn Robinson:

  • “Throughout the 1930’s, grasshoppers, menacing the whole Northern Plains, added their ravages to the damage of drought. In the spring of 1931, they began to destroy crops in Pembina and Adams counties, cutting binder twine on sheafs of grain, chewing up clothing and even roughening shovel and pitchfork handles with their powerful mandibles. They soon spread over large parts of the state.”
  • “Many people were unable to pay their taxes. By the end of 1936, about three-fourths of the taxes in the southwestern counties were delinquent. … Thousands fled the stricken state. By 1940 the population was down to less than 642,000, a loss of 5.7 percent, or nearly 39,000 persons, in a decade.
  • “In March 1935, after the terrible drought of 1934, some 37 percent of the state’s people were on relief, ranging from 72 percent in Divide County in the parched northwestern corner to none in Traill in the Red River Valley, which received its first federal help in November 1935.”

The next time you see construction cranes swinging over Fargo or a housing development being built near Sioux Falls, think about the conditions in the 1930s, and remember: We’ve come a long way.  

Good reading,

Tom Dennis

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