Dakota Datebook

Watford City

Friday, March 22, 2013


In 1914, the Great Northern Railroad changed the name of the Banks town site in McKenzie County to Watford. This caused confusion with the Pierce County town of Wolford. As a result, Great Northern officials decided to change the name of Wolford to Orkney.

However, this change was not discussed with the people of Wolford first, and it did not go over very well. The Wolford Mirror would later report, “The changing of the name by Great Northern officials, without in any manner consulting the people of Wolford or their wishes in the matter, was of ‘the public be damned’ order of doing things, and in this enlightened age can be accounted for in but one way, namely, the person responsible for the change is ossified from the neck up, for no one but a bonehead would pull a stunt like that and think he could get away with it.”

In the first week of April in 1915, a delegation of men from Wolford appeared before the board of railroad commissioners at Minot to plead their case. The Great Northern Company was willing to leave the matter up to the board of railroad commissioners, and the men from Wolford, headed by editor Mike Breen of the Wolford Mirror, were earnest in their plea, as the Ward County Independent reported:

“There was ‘blood on the moon’ …when Mike Breen, the fighting Irish editor from Wolford, and a dozen of his associates, arrived to have it out with the railway commission, and to defend the good name of Wolford.”

The newspaper went on to state that “Wolfordites to a man ‘riz’ right up and protested, and they were allowed to retain the name,” stating that the meeting was a mere formality. But on this date in 1915, following their protest, the citizens were still waiting to hear a firm decision, and it took the better part of a month before they could breathe a sigh of relief; W. F. Cushing, secretary of the board of railroad commissioners, addressed this letter to Mike Breen on May 1st:

“Thinking that perhaps the people of Wolford might be on the anxious seat regarding the change of name, I am directed by the commissioners to inform them, through you, that the name of that town will not be changed.”

Residents rejoiced…and as a result, in May of 1916, Watford’s name changed one more time—to Watford City.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker





The Ward County Independent, April 8, 1915

The Wolford Mirror, April 8, 1915

The Wolford Mirror, May 6, 1915


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

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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