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Dakota Gov. John Burbank

The men who served as governors of Dakota Territory were a colorful cast of characters. One of them was John Albyne Burbank. President Grant was new to the White House when he appointed Burbank as Dakota’s fourth governor in 1869, along with a caravan of other officials: territorial secretary, chief justice, marshal, internal revenue officers, postmaster and Indian agents, to name a few.

Governor Burbank was a mercantile man. He was born on this date in 1827 in Indiana. After the Civil War, he came to Nebraska with some interest in mining, and he later had a hand in organizing the government of Wyoming Territory. Before his appointment to governor, he had already held a few government positions, including mayor, postmaster and Indian agent. Burbank was also in the mix to be Wyoming’s territorial governor when Grant tapped him for Dakota territory instead. He arrived in Yankton, and became involved in real estate, partnering with three other men. His business interests filled much of his first year or so in office, which didn’t win him any points in Dakota.

Burbank was often absent from office, gone from Yankton to other major cities, or for railroad matters. In April of 1870, he wrote to the U-S secretary of state about the “reasons for so many absences.” He requested a whole month off in June of 1869, then asked for leave again two weeks after he was to return—and three absences the following October. His long absences didn't make him popular with Dakota residents.

But Dakota began to bloom as a territory under his watch. Railroads came west from Fargo and settlers of European descent came onto the land. It was also a time when reservations were developed for Native Americans.

Barnes County in North Dakota had originally been named for Burbank, but it was renamed two years later for a judge. Burbank’s term was up after four years in 1873, and he returned to the mercantile business in Indiana. He died in 1905.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Gavett, J.L. (2008). North Dakota: Counties, towns and people, part 1. Watchmaker Publishing, Ltd
Parker, D.W. (1911). Calendar of papers in Washington archives relating to the territories of the United States (to 1873). Carnegie Institution of Washington: Washington, DC
Goodspeed, W.A. (1904). The province and the states: A history of the province of Louisiana under France and Spain, and of the territories and state of the United States formed therefrom. The Western Historical Association: Madison, WI

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