Upside Down Under: County/city combination oddities…

Written by: Marvin Baker

Many of you have probably already begun to plan for your 2023 vacation. If you intend to stay in North Dakota, spend some extra time looking at the map.


It’s interesting to note there are many communities with the same name as counties. The odd thing about it though, is that a lot of communities that have the same name as counties, are not in the same county.


I can think of six that are: Grand Forks, Pembina, Rolette, Bottineau, Bowman and LaMoure. To begin this oddity, let’s start in Cavalier County. When I worked in Langdon, I would often get phone calls asking how things are going in Cavalier. I would tell them Cavalier is in Pembina County and they all seemed so surprised.


Also back then, I had made a trip to the state capitol and ran into then state dairy commissioner Bob Dykshoorn. He asked me how I like living in Cavalier. “Oops,” he said before I could reply. We both tried to analyze why Cavalier isn’t in Cavalier County.


There are others around the state. McKenzie County is a huge land mass in the northwestern part of the state, but the town of McKenzie is about 15 miles east of Bismarck… in Burleigh County. Steele is about 40 miles east of Bismarck, but Steele County is in the east-central part of the state with Finley as the county seat.


The town of Mercer is in McLean County while the county of Mercer is next door to the west. Hettinger is not in Hettinger County. Instead, it’s in Adams County, in the southwest. However, Hettinger County is immediately to the north of Adams County.


Golden Valley County borders the Montana state line, but guess where the town of Golden Valley is located? It’s about 20 miles west of Beulah in Mercer County.


McHenry County isn’t even close to the town of McHenry. The community is in Foster County, near Carrington, while the county is in the north central, near Minot.


Likewise, the community of Towner happens to be in McHenry County, but the county of Towner borders Cavalier County to the east and the Canadian border to the north. Towner County’s county seat is Cando.


The town of Dickey is close, but isn’t in Dickey County. Dickey is in LaMoure County and Ellendale is in Dickey County.
There are most likely other examples I’m missing. Some of the smallest towns aren’t always accurately listed on the map.
So why is North Dakota set up this way? Do other states deal with the same confusion? Nobody seems to know the answer. It would probably take research on each county and namesake communities to find out how it all came about.


If you look at territorial maps, there were a lot of communities that sprang up with odd names associated with the county they were in. These Dakota Territory towns grew up so fast, few people had time to think of a decent name, thus they were named whatever popped into people’s heads.


The one that comes to my mind is Emmonsville, in Emmons County. This of course, was long before Linton or Hazelton existed. Braddock was there, but the others weren’t. When it was learned the railroad was bypassing many of these communities, people started moving and creating communities along rail lines that had names we are familiar with today.
Some communities had decent names, but changed them somewhere along the line for whatever reason and two of those examples come to mind.


The first is Edwinton that later became Bismarck and St. Joseph, which later became known as it is today, Walhalla.
How was Napoleon named? How about Oakes? notice it’s spelled different than trees that are “oaks.” It’s always an interesting topic.

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