I’ve been looking at those historic Census numbers again, as promised, and did some additional calculations.
What I think is interesting is how much of the state population was in the east in 1890, shortly after statehood. We usually think of The Red River Valley as a heavyweight today, but back then, it was even more so.
The big population centers were in Pembina, Walsh, Grand Forks, Traill, Cass and Richland Counties. Those are the ones adjacent to the Red River and the ones with the best land. Add their population together and they accounted for 49.2 percent of the state population at the time, or 89,859 out of 182,719. That’s half the state!
(By the way, the state total is different than what I had before, which I got from a later Census. I’m not sure why there’s a difference at this point.)
Add to this total the other eastern counties and you have 86.5 percent of the state population, or 158,060. I’m going as far as Rolette County to the northwest and McIntosh County to the southwest.
Burleigh, Morton and Ward Counties were tiny as were the rest of the western counties. Morton, where Mandan is, had 4,728. Burleigh, where Bismarck is, had 4,247. Ward, where Minot is, had 1,681. Ramsey County, where Devils Lake is, had 4,418 at the time. In other words, at statehood, Ramsey County was more populous than Burleigh County.
Grand Forks County, the second most populous at that time, had 18,357.
Many western counties didn’t seem to have enough population for a small town. Bowman County, for example, where WDAZ’s Milo Smith is from, had six residents. (It had 3,242 in 2000.)
Today, the state population is balanced between the heavyweights of the west — Burleigh and Ward Counties — and the heavyweights of the east – Cass and Grand Forks Counties. The eastern counties, in 2000, account for 56 percent of the population.
Another interesting thing is how well dispersed the core population was. Grand Forks and Cass Counties, the heavyweight champs in the Red River Valley today were really peers with all the other counties adjacent to the river. Traill County, the smallest of the six river counties then, had 10,217. Cass County, the biggest, had 19,613.
In 2000, Traill County has 8,477 and Cass County has 123,138.
I was going to make a map showing population distribution but that’s a lot harder than I thought: There are different counties now.
In 1890, these counties didn’t exist: Adams, Burke, Divide, Golden Valley, Grant, Sioux and Slope. These counties, though, existed: Buford, Church, Flannery, Garfield, Stevens and Wallace. There were some "unorganized territory," too.
I also found out that before statehood, the picture was also much different in the valley. Pembina County apparently used to make up most of the Red River Valley. According to Pembina County, the original Pembina County was later divided into these counties, in part or in whole: Barnes, Cass, Cavalier, Grand Forks, Nelson, modern Pembina, Ransom, Richland, Steele, Traill and Walsh.