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April 16: The Flip of a Coin

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Before the railroad ran to Reynolds, North Dakota, steamboats brought the mail and supplies to nearby Frog Point. Residents traveled there by wagon to deliver their crops for shipping and to pick up supplies and mail. When the railroad arrived, an organized community began to take shape. Roads were laid out and sidewalks were built of pine boards. A town government was organized.

Reynolds ran into a snag in 1907 when it came to electing a mayor. The candidates were D.J. Hennesey and Dr. James Halliday, the incumbent. It was not a friendly contest. Supporters of Halliday insisted there was a problem with Hennesey’s residential status. They said he voted in a different township in the previous election, and hadn’t become a legal resident of Reynolds until after the primary election, making him ineligible.

On this date in 1907, the entire state was buzzing about the results of this election for a smalltown mayor. Adding to the controversy over Hennesey’s residence, the matter was further complicated when the votes were counted. With forty-four votes for each candidate, they had tied. The town council planned a meeting to decide how to proceed. For his part, Halliday said he would not give up the office of mayor until he had to.

When the city council met, the members agreed to seek the opinion of the state’s attorney. Halliday’s supporters continued to argue that Hennesey wasn’t qualified to run for the office.

In the end, the matter was decided by a silver dollar. The council summoned both candidates to a meeting. The president of the council took the coin from his pocket. As he tossed it, Hennessey called out “heads.” The coin landed on the floor and, after rolling around a bit, ended heads up. Halliday objected to determining an election by the toss of a coin. He said he would contest the matter in the courts. However, he eventually gave up, and Hennessey became the mayor.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


  • The Evening Times. “Contest Probable As a Result of Tie Vote.” Grand Forks ND. 4/5/1907. Page 4.
  • The Evening Times. “Was a Tie Vote.” Grand Forks ND. 1/2/1907. Page 2. Page 4.
  • Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Town Has Two Mayors.” Fargo ND. 4/16/1907.
  • Bowbells Tribune. “Flip Coin For Mayor.” Bowbells ND. 4/26/1907. Page 3.
  • The Evening Times. “Dr. Jas. Halliday Gives Up.” Grand Forks ND. 4/17/1907. Page 5.
  • Reynolds, North Dakota. “Early Reynolds History.” https://www.reynoldsnd.com/index.asp?SEC=B88F0BD2-6B9C-46C1-955D-981F81CCC853 Accessed 3/11/2024.

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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