Gov. Sorlie's Final Days | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Gov. Sorlie's Final Days

Aug 27, 2019

Something wasn't right after Gov. Arthur Sorlie returned from a visit to the Badlands near Watford City in July of 1928. He and several U.S. senators had participated in dedicating the new Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge spanning the Little Missouri River. The group also toured a site for a potential national park.

The governor suffered a heart attack following the trip, which The Bismarck Tribune reported had "overtaxed" his heart. His doctor ordered him bed rest. Tribune readers kept up with the governor’s prognosis through the daily newspaper, and the headlines grew grim: "Governor Sorlie reported 'not so good' by doctors.” That was the Tribune’s front page headline on this date in 1928.

Sorlie wouldn't recover. He died early the next day at the governor's mansion with family by his side. He was 54, and the second of two North Dakota governors to die in office. A funeral train from Bismarck carried his body to Grand Forks, with stops in Jamestown, Fargo and Buxton. The Sorlie Memorial Bridge over the Red River at Grand Forks honors him.

After his death, Lieutenant Governor Walter Maddock, became governor. North Dakota's governor and lieutenant governor were elected separately until 1974, and Maddock had been a frequent critic of Sorlie. Both were Nonpartisan Leaguers, but Sorlie was seen as not radical enough for the socialist-leaning platform.

Maddock’s time in office would prove to be short. He ran for the office in the 1928 election, switching parties to Democrat, but he lost the race to Attorney General George Shafer. Maddock's term as governor was four months, and 21 days, meaning Sorlie's death and the Maddock-Shafer race marked a period of five months in which three men served as governor. But the political winds would blow more chaos in a few years, when North Dakota had four governors in eight months because of removals and elections.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, July 12.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, July 27.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, Aug. 22.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, Aug. 23.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, Aug. 25.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, Aug. 27.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, Aug. 28.
Minneapolis Star Tribune. 1928, Aug. 31.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, Sept. 13.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, Oct. 26.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, Nov. 7.
Robinson, E.B. (1966). The history of North Dakota. Institute For Regional Studies, North Dakota State University: Fargo, ND.