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Demise of President Bush's Elm

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Visits of sitting presidents to North Dakota have been few and far between, but one of the most memorable was of President George Bush Sr. planting an elm outside the state Capitol to commemorate North Dakota’s centennial in 1989.

Former U.S. Interior Secretary Tom Kleppe, who was also a former North Dakota congressman and Bismarck mayor, was key in securing Bush’s visit that April. Ten thousand people turned out on the Capitol grounds for the affair in 54-degree weather and 28 mile-per-hour winds.

The elm the president planted was taken from the White House lawn, descended from a tree planted by President John Quincy Adams. Planting the trees was part of the state’s ambitious goal to plant 100 million trees by 2000. Bush said: “May each tree add to the abundance of the good life in North Dakota, and cleaner air for North Dakota.” He also said: “You are fulfilling the spirit that I call the thousand points of light – the spirit of volunteerism.” He estimated the trees would “be mammoth, almost 50 feet tall” by the state’s bicentennial. Gov. George Sinner quoted D. Elton Trueblood: “A man has at least a start at discovering the real meaning of human life when he plants a shade tree under which he will never sit. George Bush has gone a long way down that path today.”

Alas, the elm was not to be. Almost from the start, gypsy moth larvae on the tree proved troublesome. North Dakota’s winter weather also took its toll on the tree, which stood a mere 15 feet tall.

On this date in 1990, Bismarck Tribune readers learned that the elm had been removed, replaced with a bur oak. The State Historical Society of North Dakota declined to take the dead tree, deeming it “not a significant artifact.” Bismarck’s city forester told the Associated Press “you could make a walking stick out of it.”

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


1988 North Dakota election results: https://vip.sos.nd.gov/pdfs/Abstracts%20by%20Year/1980%20throguh%201989%20Statewide%20Election%20Results/1988/General%20Election%2011-08-1988.pdf

The Bismarck Tribune. 1988, November 24. Page 14

The Bismarck Tribune. 1989, April 23. Page 23

The Bismarck Tribune. 1989, April 25. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1989, May 10. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1990, September 2. Pages D1, D6

The Bismarck Tribune. 1990, September 22. Pages 1, 12

Sinner, G.A.; Jansen. B. (2011). Turning point: A memoir. The Dakota Institute Press: Washburn, ND

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