Too small or just right?…

Jan 4, 2024
Written by: Marvin Baker

Because we aren’t most people who go to Grandma’s house for Christmas, it was a traveling holiday to Rapid City, S.D., and back.

It’s a long trip, nearly 1,000 miles round trip and just to do something different, we took U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City to Spearfish, even though it’s a little out of the way. We did that just to break up the monotony of the road, basically from Reeder to Sturgis.

Along the way, we came upon Amidon and there is a sign on the outside of town that says “Nation’s smallest county seat.”
OK, that’s interesting because the most current population of Amidon is 22, and I don’t think that is counting the mannequin mountie who sits in his car on Main Street looking for speeders.

What that basically means is, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the Slope County Courthouse has more people working in it than the population of the community it is in.

Having spent a lot of years in journalism, I became familiar with numerous county courthouses across the state and from what I remember, the smallest was in Bowbells where the Burke County Courthouse had 24 employees.

So that is what I’m basing that number on. It may or may not be true, but if it is, it’s certainly an oddity in North Dakota.
But then, that’s not the only town of less than 100 with a county seat. Go north from Amidon about a hundred miles and you’ll find Manning, the Dunn County seat with more than double the population of Amidon with 47.
One would be hard pressed to find that many employees in the Dunn County Courthouse, so Amidon is most likely the only community with such a distinction.

Manning and Amidon are the only two of the 53 counties in North Dakota that have less than 100 population in the community, however there are three others that have fewer than 200 and one with fewer than 300 people.

The next smallest county seat is Medora in Billings County. I’m guessing most of us think that Medora is probably bigger than it is. We usually go there in the summer and the town is just crawling with people.

The fact is, most of them don’t live in Medora proper, but go there to work. Aside from that, there are many seasonal workers who come from all over the nation to work in Roosevelt National Park or the Medora Musical or in the service industry.

When it comes to conducting county business, the courthouse is in a community of 121 people.
The next smallest county seat is Fort Yates, in Sioux County. It has approximately 176 people and is not only the Sioux County seat, but is also home to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Administration.

From there it’s Minneawaukan. According to the most recent census, Minneawaukan, the county seat of Benson County, had a population of 199.

If you don’t know about Minnewaukan, it is on the west shore of Devils Lake and 40 years ago was much larger than it is today. Forty years is used as a benchmark because that is about the time Devils Lake began to rise rapidly, forcing a lot of people out of the community.

The Benson County Fairgrounds on the east side of town even took on water and was destroyed. So the community went from 461 in 1980, to the most recent of 199, mostly because Devils Lake rose some 40 feet in those 40 years.
Finally, Carson is the next smallest county seat with a population of 254, in Grant County.

The largest county seat is Fargo, in Cass County, with its population of 126,000, which represents roughly one-seventh of the entire state’s population.

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