Photo by Wikimedia Commons

With a combined population of just under 1.6 million people, a total area slightly smaller than Montana, and a population density of 9.8 people per square mile, the Dakotas are some of the least populated states in the US. On November 2, 1889, the Dakota Territory was granted statehood as North and South Dakota.

A shared heritage

The Dakota Territory changed shape several times throughout its existence. It was originally formed out of the northernmost portion of the Louisiana Purchase. It shared and swapped land with the territories of Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming at some point before it was divided in two and granted statehood as the North and South Dakotas we know today.

After the Dakota Territory had been split up into several other states, one parcel of land about 11 square miles in area was left undivided at the junction of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. In 1873, it was incorporated into Gallatin County in the Montana Territory, but it remained practically untouched. As of 2010, no roads or paths led into the area, and there was no trace of development.

North Dakota

Ranked as the 19th largest state by area, the fourth smallest by population, and the fourth most sparsely populated (fewest people per square mile), North Dakota is a quiet state dominated by the agriculture industry. Their main exports are beans, flax, honey, sunflower products, and wheat, and the state provides the majority of the US’s canola.

North Dakota has a growing First Nations population, with the majority of them speaking the Sioux language. The word “Dakota” is derived from a Sioux word meaning “allies” or “friends.” Historically, North Dakota was home to several groups, including the Lakota and Dakota peoples who made up the Great Sioux Nation, the Blackfoot peoples, the Cheyanne, the Chippewa (also known as the Ojibwe), and the Mandan. Some of these groups have land grants within the state.

South Dakota

Coming in at number 17 for largest area, and number five for the smallest population and population density, we have South Dakota. Unlike its northern companion, South Dakota’s most significant economic contributor is the service industry, including retail, finance, and healthcare, though agriculture still plays an important role.

South Dakota is also well-known for its numerous monuments and landmarks, including the famous Mount Rushmore. The area’s history is also deeply important, as the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890. That altercation is commonly cited as being the last major interaction between the US and the Lakota Sioux Nation. Today, First Nations peoples make up nearly 9% of the state’s population.