I have been living in rural western North Dakota for over nine years. I have spent a great deal of time trying to analyze, study, and learn about western North Dakota in order to understand why it is the way that it is. Writing about North Dakota and trying to explain it clearly to other people, has caused me to search more thoroughly into its history, culture, politics, people, and businesses.
I don’t really like North Dakotans. They are very different from the southern rednecks that I grew up with in small town Florida. In the small town that I grew up in, my enemies were more friendly, cooperative, and likable than most of the people in Dickinson, North Dakota.
But in order to understand the reason for this, you would have to know that the ancestors of the people in Dickinson were Land-Grant Homesteaders, poor Catholic immigrants from Germany and Ukraine. They were hard-headed and stubborn people who came from very harsh cold conditions growing wheat on windy barren grasslands, to the same thing here, with probably even fewer trees and fewer resources.
The German and Ukrainian settlers who came to western North Dakota had to build very small 10’x12′ houses constructed out of stacked grass sod because there were hardly any trees. They burned dried buffalo dung for heating and cooking. It was a very hard and difficult life. In the winter during blizzards, it was not unusual for people, especially children to become lost and die after attempting to use the out-house.
The very hard life of the ancestors of the people in Dickinson is one of the reasons why the people here have a culture that is not very friendly or hospitable. Another reason why the people here are not friendly and cooperative, is because they have a memory of feeling used, taken advantage of, and being discarded after the 1950s oil boom, the late 1970s oil boom, and the most recent oil boom 2007-2015.
One of the few things that I enjoy about western North Dakota, is its barrenness. In a way, it’s kind of like being on the ocean. The grasslands roll up and down like waves, stretching to the horizon. Over the past nine years of living here, with very long drives of an hour or more to get to my work locations, it has dawned on me that I prefer this barrenness to anything else.
Probably due to my increasing old age, bad health, and irritability I can’t see myself ever being able to cope with civilization again. When I returned to my home in rural eastern Idaho a little over a month ago, I was shocked to see that the 80-acre farm field across the street from my house had recently been developed into large new $400,000 houses on 1/2-acre lots for California buyers. This was happening all across this rural, agricultural county in Idaho.
When I went into the county services building to handle the business that I had returned to Idaho for, the attitude of the administrators had changed to where they were acting more like California people, instead of small-town people like it used to be. When I telephoned one of the older, established, wealthy business people in town to ask him what had happened, he laughed and laughed, and said that he agreed with my disgust, he and his wife were moving soon after having lived here for most of their lives. Look on the bright side he said, at least we can get a good price for our houses.
I couldn’t believe it, as much as I hate North Dakota, I don’t know where else I could live now, even rural eastern Idaho is being overrun by the Californians. I can only handle miles and miles of vacant land, with only an occasional passing vehicle, more people than this is uncomfortable for me now.
I was looking forward to riding my motorcycle through rural, vacant North Dakota this Spring and Summer, stopping at the abandoned towns that used to exist in western North Dakota. You can find these towns by spotting old churches, school houses, and grain elevators in the distance as you drive on highways, or you can look them up on the internet.
I had already begun researching, visiting, and writing about some of these towns, but I had not begun photographing them or videoing them until this past weekend. This past weekend I had also ridden around trying to find access roads that would allow me to ride up to the top of some local buttes, but I was unsuccessful.
I began this blog post article by explaining that western North Dakotans are unfriendly, and I gave some reasons for this. Just about every farm field that I rode beside was posted “No Trespassing”, as was every access way to get to the top of the local buttes. The reasons for this, are that the farmers are tired of people tearing up their property, leaving ruts, leaving garbage, getting stuck and needing to be pulled out, and having legal liability if someone gets hurt. Plus they are tired of people hunting on their land without permission.
The point of me videoing the miles and miles of vacant grassland prairie, the abandoned towns, and the views from the buttes, was to show people elsewhere how peaceful it was, how undeveloped the land was. I was going to video this as an adventure motorcycle ride, probably using a Go-Pro helmet mounted camera.
I started to consider that I would possibly be giving people from elsewhere the wrong idea, that what I was showing was “open range”, that a person could drive or ride anywhere in any direction. This is definitely not the case, every foot of every pasture, even the buttes themselves are owned by someone. I could try and try to warn readers and viewers that you can’t just ride up the side of a butte or set up camp on top of a butte, that this is all private property, but they would probably do it anyway thinking that they wouldn’t get caught.
And then I began to realize, what if a wealthy real estate developer from California or New York sees one of my videos taken in the Spring or Summer, where everything looks vacant, green, and easy? They could get the impression that there is so much acreage that it must be cheap, easy to obtain, not difficult to develop, sub-divide, and sell off as hundreds of 1/4-acre home lots for $20K.
With my very recent experience of feeling like I’m being driven out of my home in eastern Idaho by the Californians, and the only place that I know where there isn’t a lot of people is here, why would I risk ruining my local area of western North Dakota by making adventure videos for people around the World to see?
Finally, I realized something that I never had before, something that North Dakotans themselves were not able to verbalize or explain clearly: They are not friendly, hospitable, or cooperative because they do not want people here, they do not want people here because it will ruin everything. More people and development would forever ruin the way of life here, there would be no way of undoing it or ever getting it back once it’s gone.