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Justice Spalding

On this date in 1912, Burleigh Folsom Spalding arrived in Bismarck with his family and all their household goods. They moved into their rented house on the corner of 5th and Avenue B. The Spaldings intended to make Bismarck their permanent home.

Spalding was a long way from his birthplace in Vermont. After his secondary education he graduated from Norwich University in Vermont. He taught school, and in his spare time studied law in Montpelier, Vermont. After he was admitted to the bar in 1880, he moved to Fargo and opened his law practice.

During his time in North Dakota, Spalding was active in public life. He served on the Capital Commission of Dakota Territory in 1883, tasked with selecting a location for the capital and construct buildings. He served as superintendent of public instruction for Cass County, and in 1889 was a member of the Constitutional Convention. He was active in the Republican Party, serving as chairman of the Republican State Central Committee and of the Cass County Republican Committee. He served two terms as North Dakota’s representative in Congress.

Spalding’s most memorable court case was that of John Rooney who was convicted of first-degree murder in 1903. Even though he was a United States Congressman at the time, Spalding took Rooney’s case. It went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Rooney lost his appeal and in 1905 became the last man executed in the state. At his execution, Rooney thanked Spalding for his “noble fight for the life of a penniless man.”

A distinguished attorney, Spalding was appointed to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Engerud in 1907. Spalding was subsequently elected to the position in 1908 and served almost eight years. He was elevated to Chief Justice before being defeated in the election of 1914.

After his defeat, Spalding moved his family back to Fargo and returned to his law practice. He also entered banking. He was the organizer and first president of Merchants National Bank of Fargo. He died in 1934 at the age of 80, and is buried in Fargo’s Riverside Cemetery.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


State of North Dakota Courts. “Burleigh F. Spalding.” https://www.ndcourts.gov/burleigh-f-spalding Accessed 17 August 2019.

Walk With the Dead: Fargo’s Riverside Cemetery. “Burleigh F. Spalding.” https://pocketsights.com/tours/place/Burleigh-Spalding-6295  Access 17 August 2019.

Bismarck History. “It Happened in Bismarck.” http://www.bismarckhistory.org/it-happened-in-bismarck/?&offset=500  Accessed 17 August 2019.

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