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A Capital Campaign


It was the official start of a new campaign for North Dakota on this day in 1915. The Capital Removal Association of Eddy County gathered at what the New Rockford Transcript called the “opening gun” meeting of a campaign to bring the capital of North Dakota to the growing town of New Rockford. Unhappy with the current placement of the capital in Bismarck, the Capital Removal Association (CRA) felt it was time to change its location to a better, more accessible place for all of North Dakota.

Bismarck, it felt, was a poor location that gave the impression that North Dakota was only good for cattle-raising amidst the rough badlands and did not show the lush fields and gardens of places like Eddy County. The CRA also complained that Bismarck was inaccessible to a majority of the state because it was boxed into the southwest corner by the Missouri River, therefore making it expensive to travel to. The only way of reaching it, wrote the New Rockford Transcript, was to take a steamboat, “and steamboats went out of fashion in North Dakota as early as 1880.” In contrast, stated the CRA, New Rockford was more central to the state and easily accessible through the railroad lines that passed through the town.

Efforts by those in Eddy County to move the capital to New Rockford were not new. The CRA had tried to remove the capital from Bismarck and transfer it to New Rockford already once the winter before. Their attempt, however, was taken as a joke by many, especially those in Bismarck. This new attempt proved to be much different.

After raising $15,000 to fund their cause and promoting the campaign throughout the state, Bismarck began to take notice of the CRA’s progress in its campaign. Its efforts were a success as newspapers across the state took notice of the capital removal proposal. The Transcript printed several letters and newspaper articles from several counties, many of which were supportive of the CRA and offered any help that might be needed. The Mott Spotlight even went so far as to condemn the capital city: “‘A man is known by the company he keeps’ is a very much worn adage that can still be applied to Bismarck. Let the ordinary politician make a trip to the capital city, either on business or for pleasure. He no sooner lands within its borders but what he is ‘hooked’ by either one or the other wings or factionalists. Should he register at the one local hostelry he is known as a machine man or gangster and should he register at another hostelry he is classified with the progressives or holier than thou’s. These conditions have long existed at Bismarck and the sooner such are eliminated, the better for the capital city.”

The idea’s popularity throughout the state gave Bismarck reason to panic. The Bismarck Tribune began to call out to its readers to take the proposition serious before it was too late and Bismarck lost the state capital. Others in Bismarck even sought the aid of Alexander McKenzie, the man responsible for making Bismarck North Dakota’s capital, to help stop the CRA.

The CRA’s spirit, however, only seemed to feed off of Bismarck’s concerns and panic. It continued its campaign, determined to bring the capital home in the 1916 election. The CRA passed around petitions stating the proposition should be on the ballot, it contacted businessmen throughout the state, and it held regular booster meetings. A County Capital Removal Week in Eddy County was held November 22nd to the 27th to further promote their campaign.

Their efforts continued, and on May 5, 1916, some of the petitions were taken to Bismarck. The CRA had collected 27,007 names on those petitions, which was 25 percent of legal voters in 33 counties. This number was expected to increase as the CRA waited for the submission of the rest of the petitions.

Despite the CRA’s determined efforts, however, the State Supreme Court decided on September 12, 1916 to restrain Secretary of State Thomas Hall from including the Capital Removal proposal from being included on the ballot. The CRA, it said, would need to go through the State Legislature to have their proposal considered. Thus ended the CRA’s second attempt to bring the capital to Eddy County, though the CRA and The Transcript, promised a third attempt for the next year.

by Tessa Sandstrom

Sources: The New Rockford Transcript. September 15, 1916, May 5, 1916, November 19, 1915, November 12, 1915, October 29, 1915, July 16, 1915