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East and West Dakota? Here's What Those States Would Look Like

Dakota was sliced in half to generate two extra Senators, and separated north from south because of resentment over the location of the capital

National Geographic, some years ago: a melancholy piece about the emptying of the Dakotan prairie, illustrated with pictures of pension-age waitresses in doomed diners in dying towns, and of the wind playing with dolls in windowless farmhouses, abandoned long ago. 

Same location, same magazine, some months ago. Quite a different picture. Boomtowns brimming with leather-necked oil workers and truck drivers on double shifts; roads, housing and other local infrastructure straining to keep up with an industry eager to frack [1] the fruck out of the shale oil and gas hidden deep in the Dakotan underground.

Dakota fading and Dakota booming: two competing images of one and the same place, the latter erasing the former. 

Perhaps the most instantly recognisable vista in either of the Dakotas are the gigantic, rock portraits of four presidents [2], carved out of Mount Rushmore. The iconic attraction which draws in 3 million visitors per year is often regarded as yet another affront to Native American sensibilities. Its companion piece - or antithesis - is a giant rock portrait of the legendary Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, under construction at a site some 20 miles away.

Dakota triumphant and Dakota defiant: again, two rivalling visions, both hewn out of the living rock. 

It's as if the Dakotas are predestined to duality, and not just because of their almost interchangeable names, shapes and sizes [3]. North and South Dakota are one of only three pairs of states [4] named as geographic variants of each other, but of that trifecta, the Dakotan split somehow seems more arbitrary. 

In part, perhaps, because it is the most recent: the Dakota Territory, established as the northwest corner of the land acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase [5], was originally much larger than the area of the two present Dakotas. It had shrunk to their present size by 1868, and was divided in two - by a straight line just below the 46th parallel north - only when North and South Dakota entered the Union in 1889. Dakota entered as two separate states rather than a single one as a Republican ploy to bolster their numbers in the United States Senate [6]

The territory was sliced north-south rather than east-west because of what could be called 'latitudinal resentment' between north and south over the location of the territorial capital. In 1861, that epithet had been granted to Yankton, in the southeastern corner of the Dakota Territory. But in 1883, the territorial capital moved to Bismarck [7], in the north. This created enough tension between northern and southern Dakotans to facilitate a split along those lines. Bismarck retained its capital status as seat of government of North Dakota. But Yankton lost out to Pierre, which was chosen as capital of South Dakota precisely because of its proximity to the geographical centre of the new state.

Lurking beneath the surface of what on the face of the map looks like a perfectly non-suspect pair of cartographic personae is an intriguing allohistorical [8] question: What is the Dakota Split had never happened? Or: What if it had happened differently

Some clearly wish the Dakotas had remained a single state - if only to siphon off some of the $2 billion oil boom surplus money in North Dakota's state treasury in a southerly direction. Re-union would cost the Dakotans two Senators, but it would gain them an elevated status within the United States. With 1.5 million inhabitants and an area of 148,000 sq. mi, Greater Dakota would be the 40th most populous state, and the 4th largest in area. 

But there is another way to crumble the cookie: re-divide the Dakotas, in an eastern and western state. Makes more sense, says Shebby Lee: both halves of the former territory are divided by a natural barrier: the Missouri River, which enters both Dakotas in the northwest, then snakes across the territory, leaving it in the southeast [9]. Here the Missouri sets the precedent, by forming the eastern part of the border between South Dakota and Nebraska [10].

Ms. Lee organises tours of both reconstituted halves of the Dakotas, scheduling visits to Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Deadwood and Custer State Park on the 'West Dakota' trip, and "provid[ing] perspective into the common geographic, economic and psychological characteristics of [West Dakota]". A similar tour is available for East Dakota.

Shebby Lee is not alone in her Dakotan Re-Distributionalism. The locals apparently define each other as 'East River' and 'West River', based on the place of origin vis-a-vis the Missouri River.  Joseph Kerski created this map of 'ED' and 'WD', based largely on the course of the Missouri. One ironic consequence of the re-arrangement is that Bismarck, once so central in ND, is now a border town. While it is still in East Dakota, its suburb Mandan, across the river, is in West Dakota. Another irony: Bismarck's South Dakotan rival, Pierre, is also located on the eastern bank of the Missouri. Which of both would become the capital of East Dakota? Or would that honour go to a more centrally located city [11]?  

Mr. Kerski doesn't entirely follow the course of the river: "Northwest of Bismarck, where the river turns west, I included the counties in northwestern North Dakota as part of West Dakota.  The reason is that I considered that they have more physical and cultural characteristics in common with the west than the east".

Population-wise, East and West Dakota are more divergent than North and South Dakota. ED has 1.1 million inhabitants, WD barely 400,000. But WD is growing faster than ED, in large part thanks to the oil boom occurring in the northwest of North Dakota.

So - East and West Dakota: a good idea, a bad idea, or just another idea? The jury is out, and will remain out. But at least the map is in...


Many thanks to Jonah Adkins for sending in this map, found here on ESRI, a company which"inspires and enables people to positively impact the future through a deeper, geographic understanding of the changing world around them". The other ED/WD map found here on Shebby Lee Tours. The map of a unified Dakota found here at Madville Times. 

Strange Maps #609

Got a strange map? Let me know at


[1] Hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking', is a relatively old drilling technique, used in oil and gas exploitation. Fluids are injected to crack subterranean rock formations, making previously inaccessible hydrocarbon reserves recoverable. As more easily accessible resources have been depleted, and drilling technology has improved, fracking is now used in more than half of new hydrocarbon exploitation - among them many of the wells sunk into the so-called Bakken formation under North Dakota.

[2] Left to right: Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln. Obviously not in chronological order. 

[3] North Dakota ranks 19th out of 50 US states for size (70.700 sq. mi; 183,272 km2), and 48th for population (just short of 700,000). South Dakota is 17th for size (77,116 sq. mi; 199,905 km2) and 46th for population (just under 840,000). Both are rectangular and oblong, resembling no other state more than each other (with the possible exception of Kansas, which is also brick-shaped).

[4] The others being the Carolinas (also North and South; originally a single colony, they became separate colonies of the Crown in the 1720s for reasons that are now quite obscure); and Virginia and West Virginia (the latter separated from the former in 1863, as a consequence divided loyalties during the Civil War. Since the secession happened without sanction from Richmond, the remainder of the original state refused to be addressed as East Virginia).

[5] In 1803, the US bought the French territory of Louisiane (828,000 sq. mi, or 2.14 million km23) for 15 million dollars, which works out as just under 3 cents per acre. The sale doubled the size of the United States, and enabled further westward expansion. Price-wise, the Alaska Purchase (1867) proved an even better deal, with the US government paying the Russian Empire 7.2 million dollars for 586,412 sq. mi (1.52 million km2), or roughly 2 cents per acre.

[6] Each state delegates two Senators to Congress, whereas each state's number of delegates to the House of Representatives is based on population size.

[7] Originally founded in 1872 as Edwinton, after an engineer of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which ran through the town, the city was renamed Bismarck a year later to attract German immigrants. The move of the Dakotan territorial capital was in no small part the result of political pressure by the Northern Pacific Railroad. 

[8] As in: concerned with alternate history. The most famous questions are: What if the South had won the Civil War, and What if the Germans had won the Second World War

[9] The longer, western part of the border is formed by the 43th parallel north. 

[10] The southernmost part of South Dakota is located at the confluence of the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers, just to the west of Sioux City, Iowa - at a latitude somewhere between those of Marseille, France and Barcelona, Spain. 

[11] Perhaps Jamestown, ND? It would right an historic wrong. Jamestown had been earmarked to be the capital of North Dakota, but the citizens of Bismarck raided the city for the state records, ensuring that their city would remain the capital of the state, as it had been of the territory. Mr. Kerski nominates Sioux Falls. For capital of West Dakota, we both nominate Rapid City, SD. A no-brainer: with about 70,000 inhabitants, it is by far the largest city in the new state.  

Live today! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Two-thirds of parents say technology makes parenting harder

Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.

Sex & Relationships
  • Today's parents believe parenting is harder now than 20 years ago.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found this belief stems from the new challenges and worries brought by technology.
  • With some schools going remote next year, many parents will need to adjust expectations and re-learn that measured screen usage won't harm their children.

Parents and guardians have always endured a tough road. They are the providers of an entire human being's subsistence. They keep that person feed, clothed, and bathe; They help them learn and invest in their enrichment and experiences; They also help them navigate social life in their early years, and they do all this with limited time and resources, while simultaneously balancing their own lives and careers.

Add to that a barrage of advice and reminders that they can always spend more money, dedicate more time, or flat-out do better, and it's no wonder that psychologists worry about parental burnout.

But is parenting harder today than it was, say, 20 years ago? The Pew Research Center asked more than 3,600 parents this question, and a majority (66 percent) believe the answer is yes. While some classic complaints made the list—a lack of discipline, a disrespectful generation, and the changing moral landscape—the most common reason cited was the impact of digital technology and social media.

A mixed response to technology

children using desktop computer

Parents worry that their children spend too much time in front of screens while also recognizing technologies educational benefits.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

This parental concern stems not only from the ubiquity of screens in children's lives, but the well-publicized relationship between screen time and child development. Headlines abound citing the pernicious effects screen time has on cognitive and language development. Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issue warnings that too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image, and the fear of missing out—to name a few!

According to Pew's research, parents—which Pew defines as an adult or guardian with at least one child under their care, though they may also have adult children—have taken these warnings to heart. While 84 percent of those surveyed are confident they know how much screen time is appropriate, 71 percent worry their child spends too much time in front of screens.

To counter this worry, most parents take the measured approach of setting limits on the length of time children can access screens. Others limit which technologies children have access to. A majority of parents (71 percent) view smartphones as potentially harmful to children. They believe the devices impair learning effective social skills, developing healthy friendships, or being creative. As a result, about the same percentage of parents believe children should be at least 12 years old before owning a smartphone or using social media.

But a deeper concern than screen time seems to be what content those screens can access. An overwhelming 98 percent of those surveyed say parents and guardians shouldered the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate online content. Far less put the responsibility on tech companies (78 percent) or the government (65 percent).

Parents of young children say they check the websites and apps their children use and set parental controls to restrict access. A minority of parents admit to looking at call and text records, tracking their child's location with GPS, or following their child on social media.

Yet, parents also recognize the value of digital technology or, at least, have acquiesced to its omnipresence. The poster child for this dichotomy is YouTube, with its one billion hours played daily, many before children's eyes. Seventy-three percent of parents with young children are concerned that their child will encounter inappropriate content on the platform, and 46 percent say they already have. Yet, 80 percent still let their children watch videos, many letting them do so daily. Some reasons cited are that they can learn new things or be exposed to different cultures. The number one cited reason, however, is to keep children entertained.

For the Pew Research Center's complete report, check out "Parenting Children in the Age of Screens."

Screens, parents, and pandemics

Perhaps most troubling, Pew's survey was conducted in early March. That's before novel coronavirus spread wildly across the United States. Before shelter-in-place laws. Before schools shuttered their doors. Before desperate parents, who suddenly found themselves their child's only social and educational outlet, needed a digital lifeline to help them cope.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rely on e-learning platforms and YouTube to supplement their children's education—or just let the kids enjoy their umpteenth viewing of "Moana" so they can eke out a bit more work. With that increase in screen time comes a corresponding increase in guilt, anxiety, and frustration.

But are these concerns overblown?

As Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and the media at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, parents don't always need to view screen time as a negative. "Even the phrase 'screen time' itself is problematic. It reduces the debate to a black and white issue, when the reality is much more nuanced," Radesky said.

Radesky helped the American Academy of Pediatrics craft its statement about screen time use during the pandemic. While the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences and maintain limits, the organization acknowledges that children's media use will, by necessity, increase. To make it a supportive experience, the statement recommends parents make a plan with their children, be selective of the quality of media, and use social media to maintain connections together. It also encourages parents to adjust their expectations and notice their own technology use.

"We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard," Radesky said. "There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don't be on it all day."

This is good advice for parents, now and after the pandemic. While studies show that excessive screen time is deleterious, others show no harm from measured, metered use. For every fear that screens make our kids stupid, there's a study showing the kids are all right. If we maintain realistic standards and learn to weigh quality and quantity within those standards, maybe parenting in the digital age won't seem so darn difficult.

How meditation can change your life and mind

Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.

  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
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