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Although there were areas of European-American settlement prior to the advent of the railroad, most occurred after the Northern Pacific Railroad crossed the Red River in 1871. North Dakota had two "boom" periods of rapid settlement: the first occurring from 1878 to 1890, and the second from 1898 to approximately 1915. While the Homestead Act made it possible for settlers to obtain free land, approximately one-fourth of the state was granted to the railroad for building through the territory. Other land was eventually granted to the state for public purposes. Therefore, settlers might have obtained land through homesteading or purchase.

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