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January 6: Usher L. Burdick

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Usher L. Burdick was born in Owatonna, Minnesota in 1879. His family moved to Dakota Territory in 1882. He graduated from the North Dakota State Normal School in Mayville, then worked as deputy superintendent of schools for Benson County before entering the University of Minnesota Law School. He graduated in 1904 and was admitted to the North Dakota state bar. He opened a practice in Munich, North Dakota.

Burdick became involved in politics, serving in the state House of Representatives from 1907 to 1911. He moved to Williston in 1907 where he continued to practice law.

From 1911 to 1913, he was Lieutenant Governor. After that, he was state’s attorney for Williams County, and then assistant United States district attorney for North Dakota. He became well known throughout the state. In 1916, the Fargo Forum proclaimed him “the man of the hour.” The newspaper promoted him as an independent candidate for governor, saying Burdick was “a leader by nature, by temperament, and by a God-given ability to sympathize with and understand the wants and needs of his fellow man.” In spite of such enthusiastic support, Burdick never was elected governor.

Politics were not Burdick’s only interest. He had a ranch and engaged in livestock breeding. He was also a historian and author. He wrote several books including one about Sitting Bull and one about the Marquis de Mores.

He took a break from politics when he was elected secretary of the Farmers Union. The organization was a strong advocate for farmers and outspoken against farm foreclosures. On this date in 1930, Burdick ended speculation when he announced he was not a candidate for governor. He said he did not consider it appropriate to mix politics with union activities.

Burdick’s break from politics did not last long. In 1932 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination to Congress when he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for president and advocated the repeal of Prohibition. But in 1934, he was elected to Congress, serving until 1945. He was not reelected in 1944, but did served again from 1949 to 1959. He supported Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and was an advocate for Native Americans.

Usher Burdick died on August 19, 1960, eleven days after his son Quentin was sworn in as United States Senator for North Dakota. He was buried on his ranch in Williston.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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