Capital of Small Town USA

By Madeline R.

Being the third least populated state in the United States, according to census.gov, North Dakota is made up almost entirely of small towns. I don't know how many books I've read where the main character complains about their small town of 10,000 people. Try less than a thousand. These are the kind of "small towns" in North Dakota. My particular town consists of about 900 people. The town closest to us is made up of 50 or less. This is where kids grow up, where parents somehow make a living even though there might not be a vast expanse of jobs, where a little school sits in its one story splendor with no air conditioning. It's where literally everyone knows your name and you know theirs.


North Dakotans are known for some things. Not a lot. And what people do know of us is sometimes flawed. For example, a classmate of mine read recently on a website that North Dakota is a conspiracy theory because, quote, "Has anyone actually met someone from North Dakota?" Another time, my mother even told me that some people still think we drive around in covered wagons. I, myself, am not sure of the truth of this claim. We're also known for more realistic things like working hard, naivety, drinking too much, and farming. Once a friend of mine asked someone from Seattle what they thought of when they heard North Dakota. The person replied, "I don't know, like cows, drinking, and desert." Since when is North Dakota a desert? I just laughed and said, "I would have thought they would have said tundra." And, with all these misconceptions of North Dakota in general, about the only towns that people know of in North Dakota are Bismarck, Minot, and Fargo. The "big" North Dakota towns. The one every fifth grader is forced to memorize when they learn the states and capitals. The one they made a movie and tv show out of. The ones you see whenever you look at a map. I wouldn't say these towns are the majority.


In my town, we have one school, one grocery store, one hardware store, a pool that is in disrepair, two small restaurants, and one gas station. No, there is no Starbucks, McDonalds, any fast food, Walmart, clothing store, or really any specialty store at all. Just to go school shopping or clothes shopping we have to drive at least an hour to a town big enough to have a small mall or Walmart. These are things people from bigger cities think of as necessities and some couldn't imagine living without constant access to these places. Things like going to lakes, driving around aimlessly, and watching the high school sports game are commonplace here in small town North Dakota.


It might not be for everyone, not everyone likes small, but it's taught me a lot of things. Like if you chase a calf around the pen too long, it will eventually find the hole and escape. And that if you follow a creek the wrong way, you will end up at a river and you will get yelled at by your very concerned mother. That owning a short car with bad traction is a really bad idea with our snow filled winters. It’s taught me that going snow sledding on a sled tied to the back of a pick-up is both one of the funnest and scariest things you will ever do. There are so many things that I've been able to do here in North Dakota that I couldn't picture being able to do anywhere else, and I wouldn't change a thing.


So we don't have the biggest school or the best shopping or even a large supermarket. We have something better, because we get to do all those small town things that not everyone else gets to. We can climb around on hay bales and drive through creeks with four wheelers. We can run from skunks and find raccoon nests. It's where people know their neighbors and kids still skip school for the opening of deer season. Most importantly, small town North Dakota is my home, and it's the best one I could think to have.