North Dakota

by Joseph McMillan
Originally prepared for Flags of the World

North Dakota Banner Photo

According to Whitney Smith's Flag Book of the United States (1975), in the 1950s the North Dakota National Guard became concerned that it was inappropriate for the state to continue using a state flag based on a military regimental color, that carried by the North Dakota infantry in the Spanish-American War. They approached the Heraldic Services Division of the Army's Office of the Quartermaster General (now the Institute of Heraldry) to design a new state emblem that could be used for a new flag. In response, the acting Quartermaster General wrote to Major General Heber Edwards, the North Dakota Adjutant General, on January 30, 1957, as follows (quoting from the copy of the letter in the TIOH files):

In reference to your visit ... enclosed is a suggested design of a device for the State of North Dakota. The blazonry and description are as follows:

DEVICE: On an Indian arrowhead point to base or a bend vert charged with three mullets of the first, in base a fleur-de-lis of the second.

CREST: On a wreath or and azure, a sheaf of three arrows argent armed and flighted gules behind a stringed bow fessways or with grip of the second (gules).

MOTTO: Strength From The Soil.

The colors yellow and green are indicative of the great agricultural state with particular reference to wheat, the principal grain, and the abundant grazing area. The Indian arrowhead symbolizes the "Sioux State". The three stars denote the three branches of the state government: executive, legislative, and judicial. They also allude to the history of the territory under three flags. Stars are borne upon the coat of arms of Meriwether Lewis* of the Lewis and Clark expedition and Lord Selkirk, head of the first permanent colony. The fleur-de-lis represents the French influence and the history of the territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Major General, USA
Acting The Quartermaster General

This design was legally adopted as the coat of arms of North Dakota in 1957. The Heraldic Services Division's blazon was enacted into law as Section 54-41-01 of the North Dakota Century Code, and its explanation of the symbolism in Section 54-41-02. The latter section goes on to elaborate that "Each star in the bend is given the heraldic value of thirteen which signifies the thirteen original colonies of the United States, and the cumulative numerical value of the three stars indicates that North Dakota was the thirty-ninth state admitted to the Union... The fleur-de-lis alludes to LaVerendrye, a French explorer who was the first known white man to visit the territory of this state. The blue and gold wreath in the crest reflects the history of the territory as part of the Louisiana purchase. The crest which shall constitute the military crest of the state of North Dakota is a motif taken from the state seal and to the Sioux Indian tribes signifies mighty warriors."

The same act also provided for the arms' use on a green field as a "pennant, color, or standard," including (with the addition of a white star in each corner of the field) as the Governor's official flag. However, contrary to the North Dakota National Guard's intent in initiating the design process, the new flag with the coat of arms has never supplanted the previous, military-inspired flag.

North Dakota State Flag Image by Mario Fabretto Flags of the World
North Dakota State Flag
Image by Mario Fabretto
Flags of the World

*The Heraldic Services Division would seem to be mistaken about Meriwether Lewis's arms, which (according to Crozier's Virginia Heraldica) were "Argent a dragon's head erased at the neck Vert holding in its mouth a bloody hand proper."