North Dakota’s flag is a flying history lesson full of rich and historic symbols. The only state flag North Dakota has ever flown is, with one change, the regimental flag of the 1st North Dakota Infantry, whose soldiers had served previously in the Spanish-American War in 1989, and the Philippine War in 1899.
In January 1911, Col. John H. Fraine, who had served as an officer in the 1st Regiment and was a representative to the state, put forth a bill designating the regimental flag be used for the state flag. The only change was to alter the lettering in the ornate scroll at the bottom of the flag to read “North Dakota” instead of the 1st Regiment inscription. On March 3, 1911, the Legislative Assembly adopted the North Dakota state flag.
Every item on the flag means something. The color blue used for the flag’s field signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. It provides a backdrop to a bald eagle which symbolizes power, and the spread wings indicate protection. The idea of protection is reinforced through the shield device, with thirteen stripes in red and white honoring the original thirteen colonies.
The eagle clutches a bundle of arrows in its left talons, emblematic of martial readiness, which is balanced by the olive branch of peace in the right talons. In its beak, the eagle holds a red ribbon lettered with the words “E Plurbis Unum.” The Latin words mean “Out of Many, One,” which is a reference to one nation made up of many states: the United States.
Stars are symbolic of heaven, and the thirteen stars above the eagle’s head refer again to the original colonies that stood up to the crown of England. The rays of gold above the stars represent the glory and splendor of a rising sun, and the birth of a new nation.
Because the flag was originally a military flag, it was edged in gold fringe, and the state legislature adopted it as such. The reality is that fringe on a flag is impractical if the flag is routinely flown outdoors. Most fringed North Dakota flags are used by state agencies and placed indoors, or used ceremonially by color guards, and in parades.
Through the years, various groups have proposed that the flag of North Dakota be changed, precisely because it was originally a military flag, and more representative of a national flag, rather than symbolic of the state. While the idea of a more historically accurate flag appeals to some, North Dakotans have overwhelming chosen to keep the flag they have now.