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What Is the History of North Dakota's State Flag?

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  • Written By: Pablo Garcia
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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After North Dakota gained statehood in the US, State Representative Colonel John H. Fraine proposed legislation for the design of North Dakota’s state flag on 1 January 1911. Fraine’s bill was eventually passed into law, but opposition to the design later began to surface. A senate bill created a commission to study the issue of whether the state flag should be changed. The suggestions by the commission for changes were ultimately rejected, and the flag’s original design remained.

Originally, the state of North Dakota was part of the larger Dakota Territory. “Dakota” is the Sioux Indian word for friend. This area included lands that are now the western states of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. North Dakota became the 39th state to enter the union, although it is still uncertain whether the proclamation admitting the state was signed before or after that for South Dakota.

North Dakota is sometimes called the “Roughrider State.” This refers to the name of Theodore Roosevelt’s US Volunteer Cavalry he organized to fight in the Spanish-American War. The state adopted as its motto the one used by the former Dakota Territory, “Liberty and Union, One and Inseparable, Now and Forever.” Attempts were made to change the state name from North Dakota to simply Dakota, but they were rejected.

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In 1951, the North Dakota Flag Commission, established by the legislature, looked into possible changes to North Dakota’s state flag. The commission felt that the flag looked too much like the coat of arms of the US Military and was not symbolic of anything specific to spirit or history of North Dakota. No action was taken on the commission’s findings.

Colonel Fraine’s requirements for North Dakota’s state flag were very specific. With one exception, it was an exact copy of the regimental battle flag of the North Dakota Infantry during the Spanish-American War. The only change made was that the new state name was added on a scroll beneath the eagle that was the central emblem of the regimental flag.

North Dakota’s state flag is an American bald eagle with wings spread on a field of dark blue. The eagle clutches an olive branch in one claw and a brace of arrows in the other, symbolizing peace through strength. Held in its beak is a rippling streamer inscribed with the words “One nation made up of many states.”

The eagle’s breast shield bears a coat of arms of 13 red and white stripes hanging from a crest of blue, representing the original 13 states. A bronze fan-shaped design signifying a rising sun caps a field of 13 stars above the eagle’s head, symbol of the birth of a new nation. Below the eagle, a red scroll bordered in gold contains the legend “North Dakota.”

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