Dakota Datebook


Thursday, November 27, 2008


“May we, on this sacred occasion, express our genuine gratitude for the kindness and generosity of our fellow Americans, which, through the American Red Cross and other relief agencies, is today providing the necessities of life for many thousands of our neighbors within the state….” This Thanksgiving Proclamation would hardly reflect upon the prosperity of most people in North Dakota today, even with the uncertainty of the today’s global economy, but the words of Governor George Shafer did express the feelings of thousands of North Dakotans on Thanksgiving Day in 1931. Shafer reflected on the pioneer values instilled in the second generation of its citizens when he wrote, “Our own beloved state is passing through the most serious economic crisis in its history. Stricken with a most disastrous, devastating and far-reaching drought… North Dakota is nevertheless, the beneficiary of countless blessings which must inspire the sentiment of gratitude in the hearts of our people.”

In the midst of the Great Depression, people stood helpless and stared into the cloudless skies as the sun-baked earth would offer no bounty for their Thanksgiving. Stunted corn, wheat, barley and oats barely offered forage for gaunt, starving livestock. Farms were deserted and Thanksgiving tables sat empty, as families packed their belongings and looked westward towards distant horizons to start afresh. But Gov. Shafer’s message was directed to those who chose to stay. “In material things we are poorer than a year ago,” he stated, “but in spiritual assets, in physical health and in moral virtues, our people are richer, stronger and better. Challenged by adversity, our citizens are meeting the issues of the day with a spirit of courage and sacrifice…”

The economy of North Dakota has been tied to the soil since its inception but history has shown us the fickleness of Mother Nature and the need for diversity. Oil and energy development, home-based business, tourism, along with higher agricultural prices, have created the current prosperity in our state today, but the lessons of history remind us that we indeed have something to be thankful for.

But there was another message that Gov Shafer wished to express on this date, 77 years ago, as he wrote, “May we not, on this day, be unmindful of our duties and obligations as neighbors to all those, who, because of unemployment, sickness, drought, disaster, or other adversity, are in need of human help and human sympathy.” This more than anything reflects the true North Dakota pioneer spirit passed down through the years. History has taught us that by helping each other we truly can withstand whatever the economy or Mother Nature can throw at us.

May you all have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1931

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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