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Senator Johnson

In October 1909, North Dakota U.S. Senator Martin Nelson Johnson passed away in his suite at the Gardner hotel in Fargo. He had undergone nasal surgery, and was recovering when he had an attack attributed to Bright's disease, which he had been battling for more than twenty years.

Johnson passed away quietly, surrounded by his wife Stella, his brother, and his doctors.

Reports of the death came as a shock. Only family and close friends had known of his condition, and Johnson himself didn’t consider it a serious matter.

Johnson was born to Norwegian immigrants in Wisconsin in 1850. He married in 1879, and had three daughters and a son. He moved to Nelson County in the 1880s where he was a district attorney and a member of the Constitutional Convention. From 1890 to 1898, he was congressman at large, and then was nominated and elected by a large majority in the 1908 election, serving from March 1909 until his death later that year.

Johnson was buried a quarter mile east of Petersburg, in view of his home. Newspapers reported, "No outpouring of grief so genuine, so heartfelt, has ever been witnessed in the great commonwealth of North Dakota as that which was evidenced... in the little village of Petersburg when the funeral for the deceased senator took place."

A few months later, in Washington D.C., Johnson was honored along with several other men who had recently died in the U.S. legislature.

On this date in 1910, the Bismarck Tribune received a letter from Johnson's contemporary, L. B. Hanna. Hanna wrote that he had received many requests for the eulogies delivered in Johnsons' memory in the house and the senate, and wrote to note that all of these addresses and speeches were being put into a book. He promised to try to get one of the limited printing for anyone who wrote to him.

Those who did could read Senator McCumber's words calling Senator Johnson strong, and gracious, happy to work hard for his dreams, and hoping to "benefit humanity" … "That [was] the record, not only of his public career, but as well of his private life."

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Williston Graphic, October 28, 1909, p1 and p8

Bottineau Courant, November 6, 1908, p1

Bismarck Daily Tribune, April 3, 1910, p1 and p3

Bismarck Daily Tribune, May 31, 1910, p5

The Grand Forks Evening Times, December 24, 1909, p2

The Ward County Independent, October 28, 1909, p14

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