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Melvin Hildreth, Sr


History may only remember Melvin Hildreth as the US District Attorney who successfully prosecuted Kate Richards O’Hare; a Socialist reformer who delivered an anti-war speech in Bowman, ND during World War One. But his life’s work extended far beyond one nationally publicized legal case.

Born in New York in 1859, Melvin A. Hildreth, Sr. held a variety of odd jobs, which included driving mules on the Erie Canal, before he decided to study law. After completing a 15-year apprenticeship at a law firm in Watertown, NY, he moved to Fargo, opened a law firm and married Luella Davis on this day, February 13, 1889.

The first decade of married life would prove to be an eventful one for the young couple. Along with the birth of two children, Melvin Hildreth built a successful law practice thanks to North Dakota’s liberal divorce laws. The state’s 90-day residency requirement, coupled with Fargo’s easy access via the Northern Pacific Railroad brought people from all over the US seeking a quick divorce. Having worked in New York, Hildreth was able to draw upon his east coast connections to build up a steady list of divorce-seeking clientele.

In 1899 the state legislature increased residency requirements from three to twelve months; effectively ending Fargo’s run as divorce capital of the United States. But by then Hildreth found himself caught up in a new endeavor: the Spanish-American War.

Having served in the North Dakota National Guard unit out of Fargo since 1890, he now found himself headed to the Philippines after being mustered into service May 1898 with the 1st North Dakota Volunteers.

Once in the Philippines, the company’s main objective was to take the capital, Manilla. For his involvement, Hildreth received the Philippine Congressional Medal; an award established by Congress in 1906 to commemorate certain individuals who served during the Philippine Insurrection. Following the Spanish-American War, Hildreth assisted with legal issues regarding the transfer of the islands from Spanish to US control.

Melvin Hildreth went on to serve as Fargo city attorney, Inspector General of the North Dakota National Guard and US District Attorney. A life-long Democrat, he also attended the 1908 Democratic National Convention where he seconded the nomination of William Jennings Bryan as presidential nominee. Melvin A. Hildreth, Sr passed away January 13, 1944 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Written by Christina Sunwall


Arlington National Cemetery-

Cooper, Jerry. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the North Dakota National Guard (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; 2005)

Eriksmoen, Curt. Did You Know That…? 47 Fascinating Stories About People Who Have Lived in NORTH DAKOTA: Volume 1 (McCleery & Sons Publishing; 2006)