Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Monuments and memorials are found in every society and civilization throughout history. These structures serve as commemorations of people, events, wars, victories, and disasters. The building of monuments allows the people of a society to express for posterity their jubilation, reverence, and grief. In turn, monuments and memorials reflect the values and beliefs of the society. As a result, historians study monuments and memorials to gain a better understanding of the people, culture, and values of a society or civilization. The study of monuments and memorials, as well as commemoration in general, is a growing field in both American and world history, but no study to date has addressed the structures located in North Dakota and what they reveal about the people who worked to see them built. This study seeks to fill that void.

The monuments selected for this study fall into two categories: those dedicated to North Dakota’s historical pioneers and those devoted to the legendary pioneers. The historical pioneers are those identified individuals from whom character traits, values, and attitudes are drawn and celebrated as a reflection of the traits, values, and attitudes the monuments’ commissioners admire and seek to emulate. By contrast, the legendary pioneers are unidentified; they represent those ordinary men and women who faced incredible challenges in order to establish the social, cultural, political, and economic foundations of the state. The monuments’ commissioners chose to honor those unnamed pioneers as those who led the way for subsequent generations of the state’s residents. In so doing, the commissioners are able to project onto these legendary pioneers those character traits they believe have been passed down from the pioneering generation— those traits the commissioners wish to see perpetuated in future generations as well.

The examination of both the historical and legendary pioneers celebrated by North Dakotans reveals a distinct set of character traits and attitudes displayed and revered by the monuments’ commissioners—the North Dakota character described by historian Elwyn B. Robinson in his History of North Dakota (1966).