Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Several historians have dealt with the topic of ranching in the American West, but generally they have presented a broad overview of what took place over the entire western United States. Those who have dealt with ranching in western North Dakota generally have covered the early 1880s, but they have used the calamitous winter of 1886-1887 as a stopping point.

The period from 1887 on through the first two decades of the twentieth century was an era marked by recovery of the stock industry, the change from open to closed range, and the change from the old open range methods of stock raising to the widespread acceptance of the more modern methods of ranch farming.

In this thesis I have studied this important period of development and change on the range of western North Dakota. To present the ranching scene from 1887 to 1920 in detail, I have relied heavily on the weekly ranch and farm reports in the local press (particularly that of the major regional newspaper, the Dickinson Press), the writings of those persons involved in livestock raising during these years, and state and federal documents dealing with ranches, farms, livestock, crops, and other related statistics.

The resulting information presents an account of the relatively quick recovery of the stock industry from the diaster of 1886-1887. It also notes an increase in sheep raising and horse raising, the beginnings of ranch farming during the 1890s, the extensive homestead movement that brought the closed range system of ranching into being in western North Dakota, and the establishment of ranch farming as the new system of stock raising in the state.

The ranching history of western North Dakota is shown to be different from that of other western areas. The major difference was that homestead activity was much more extensive in the Missouri Slope region of the state and led to a blending of both crop and stock production. This gave an added boost to the widespread acceptance of ranch farming and more modern methods of stock raising. The closed range system and ranch farming were well established by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century; even the old-timers were ranch farmers by 1920.