Dakota Datebook

Divide County

Thursday, December 6, 2007

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Williams County, located in the northwest corner of the state, occupied the region of present-day Williams and Divide County. The bulk of the population lived in the southern half of the county, but by 1904, settlers also began trickling into the northern half. The trickle soon became a flood and by 1910 there were over 6,000 residents in northern Williams County.
Prompted by this rapid growth, in September of 1908 a group of northern county settlers presented a petition proposing the creation of a new county named Arkansana carved from the northern half of Williams County. Where the name Arkansana came from remains a mystery, perhaps unsolved because the question of county division went down in defeat at the November election.
Disappointed, but not defeated, the residents of northern Williams County would try again successfully two years later in 1910.
This time a name for the new county would be determined through a contest. The winning entry came from George Gilmore, a Williston attorney. Gilmore proposed the name Divide County. The Northern Continental Divide runs through the region. The county divides the United States from Canada. It divides North Dakota from Montana. And most importantly, the new county was a product of its division. Thus Divide County was both born and christened. Governor John Burke officially proclaimed the county’s existence on this day, December 6, 1910.
But the battle was hardly finished. Those who had worked together for the creation of a new county now found themselves in a two-year bitter struggle over the location of the county seat. Crosby considered itself the logical choice as it had been one of the first towns to appear in what became Divide County. Noonan, a thriving community, considered itself a strong candidate while Ambrose, the terminal line for the Soo Line railroad branch from Flaxton, was the largest town of the three contenders and the most centrally located.
But when county commissioners met in 1911 to determine the location of a temporary county seat, Ambrose found itself outmaneuvered. When it became obvious that the commissioners representing the three contenders would not budge, Noonan’s commissioner, A.H. Makee, demanded that Mac Colgan, representing Ambrose, throw his support to Noonan. If Colgan refused, Makee, Noonan’s representative, would counter with a motion giving the temporary site to Crosby. When Colgan refused to support the motion for Noonan, Makee followed through with his threat, giving the needed support for Crosby to win the temporary county seat.
Eager to take advantage of this early victory, Crosby immediately began making plans to build a courthouse; hoping this would encourage future voters to select Crosby as the permanent county seat. Along with vigorous newspaper campaigning, the strategy was seemingly successful. In November of 1912, Divide County voters selected Crosby as the county seat.
Written by Christina Sunwall

County History- www.nd.gov
Headlines in History: 100 Years of Crosby News (Crosby, ND: Journal Publishing Inc., 2004) 22-24

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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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