Vintage View of Bismarck, Dakota Territory, 1883

In 1883, Bismarck had only been “Bismarck” for ten years, having existed first as a tiny frontier settlement called Missouri Crossing, then as Edwinton, until 1873. Bismarck assumed an important place in the history of the American west when it supplanted Yankton as the capital of Dakota Territory in 1883. Settlers were soon streaming in.

Here’s a vintage view of Bismarck circa 1883 in the form of a lithograph from the JJ Stoner Company of Madison, Wisconsin. The size of this photo is HUGE, so if you click the photo it may take a moment to load the full-size image.


Note the four landmarks in the corners — the NP Bridge across the Missouri, the Dakota Territory Penitentiary, Bismarck High School, and the original State Capitol. Update: In my original post, I neglected to mention that the Capitol building was not yet complete when this lithograph was done, and the building did not actually look like this when it was complete.

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2 thoughts on “Vintage View of Bismarck, Dakota Territory, 1883

  1. LOL

    So they had a penitentiary before they had a capitol? Want to wager that this lithographic “view” is somewhat imaginary and idealized? Such a great metaphor for history in general, and ND in particular. Personally I like to try and imagine the lives and struggles of the first prairie busters that ventured out into the plains, and somehow survived their first winter. Perhaps living like the prairie dogs, in their houses built of sod. There must be a whole continent, if not a world, of lost stories – tragedies, heroes and of course villains – forever lost with the passage of time, leaving only a few scattered wrecks and ruins, rapidly disappearing into the soil. A sea of grass, with nary a tree…

    Many thanks for sharing this great litho with us!


  2. My great great grandfather helped to build the original capitol building in 1883-84. My great great grandmother was an American Indian and therefore not allowed to stay with her husband in town. She had to stay outside of town on an Indian Reservation. Their son Henry was raised among the Indians. I am looking for any information on that original building and what tribe was living outside of Bismark. I do know that my great great grandfather smoked a peace pipe with Sitting Bull as a thank you for the chief caring for his family while he was gone. I am searching for the identity of the tribe my great grandmother was from. She was from an eastern tribe as she was born in Ohio. Could Indians of any tribe live on the reservation outside of Bismark? I would appreciate any information you can provide. Their names were William Henry Newcomer and Susan Adams Newcomer. Does anyone have the roster of the builders of the capitol building? Thank you. Kathy Martin


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