North Dakota shamelessly clings to things that lead back to President Theodore Roosevelt. His roughly eighty bajillion biographies all include his how-to guide on ass-kicking and also his questionable taste in pets. Bear at the white house. I am totally not making that up.
Step 1: Sketch
Roosevelt spent most of his early childhood as an asthmatic twit, until he grew up and wrestled asthma, shot it, and mounted it on the wall. That's how you have to roll if you're going to convince everybody that you're the manliest creature to ever team up with the French and swindle Columbia out of the Panama Canal.
Step 2: More Sketching
Rocko: What? The Panama canal is in Panama.
Me: Correct. but it was a province of Columbia then.
Because the planet didn't see fit to provide us with easy access from the Atlantic to the Pacific, people had been big-dreaming up a short cut through that region since 1534. The Spaniards first mention the idea, Thomas Jefferson throws in his support. Even the Scots give it a try, but wisely give up by 1700. So of course it becomes a French project.
Step 3: ink
Rocko: What does this have to do with bears? And why isn't it the Colombian canal, then?
Me: Hush you! We'll get there.
In a nutshell, after a treaty between the US and Columbia was signed, the Colombian government decided to reject it unless they were paid an extra $10 million. Clearly, nobody in the Colombian senate had a clue they were dealing with a guy who kept a bear, a badger, and a lion at The White House.
Step 4: Markers
This is where the Frenchman Philippe-Jean Bunau Varilla comes in. Varilla went to the White House and convinced Roosevelt that the best way to get around the Colombian government's stalling was to start Panamanian's civil warring. Panama officially announced independence and Roosevelt sent a big freakin' ship to block the Colombian navy from interfering.
Varilla became the US ambassador to Panama, and, in an act nobody could have predicted, sold the Panama Canal to the United States without the permission of a single actual resident of Panama. Furthering the theory that men with ridiculous names like Philippe-Jean Bunau Varilla and strange facial hair should not be trusted with real-estate.
Sources: Every freakin' book on Teddy Roosevelt ever written.