© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Governor Frank Briggs


It was this day, January 6, 1897 that Frank Briggs was sworn in as North Dakota's fifth governor. But his tenure ... as we're about to hear ... would prove tragically brief.

Frank Arlington Briggs was born on September 15, 1858 to a successful carpenter in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Following school, Briggs' entered the newspaper industry where he prospered as both a printer and editor. Married to Nannie Meek in 1877, the couple moved to Dakota Territory in 1881. There, in the budding communities of the Northern Plains, Briggs worked as a bookkeeper, Mandan real estate agent and eventually in the public sector as one of Mandan's early postmasters. Following his stint with the postal service, Briggs began his relatively rapid rise to the top of North Dakota politics; first serving as Morton County's treasurer in 1886, then advancing to statewide office as North Dakota State Auditor, eight years later.

In 1896, Briggs reached the summit of North Dakota politics; succeeding his fellow Republican, Governor Roger Allin to the governor's mansion. Briggs' responsibilities as governor were not limited only to state and local problems, but international as well. On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor. The ship's demise only increased tensions between the United States and Spain, eventually resulting in war between the two countries. This was the first major national conflict since North Dakota had been admitted as a state, and many among the state's population were eager to prove their worth on the battlefield. Numerous community leaders pressed Governor Briggs for commissions or other favors allowing them to recruit their own men for the war. Briggs, while not necessarily interested in the niceties of military protocol in selecting officers, was very interested in the political fallout should he not select the best candidates to lead the companies North Dakota would send to the Spanish-American War. Ultimately, Briggs avoided bruising the sensibilities of potential political foes by granting the National Guard preference in forming the state's wartime forces. Not only did this save Briggs any potential political embarrassment, he gave the National Guard veteran leaders command of its troops, instead of political hacks.

Although Briggs worked hard to establish himself as a competent governor, his term was cut short. On August 9, 1898, just 19 months after his inauguration, Governor Briggs died of tuberculosis, becoming the first North Dakota governor to die while in office. Newspapers from around the state wrote of Briggs virtues for days following his death, while the remaining portion of his term was completed by Lt. Governor Joseph Devine. Although Briggs was laid to rest in his family's plot in Howard Lake, Minnesota, some maintain that his spirit resides still in North Dakota; haunting the old governor's mansion where he died over 110 years ago.

Written by Lane Sunwall


Cooper, Jerry, and Glenn Smith. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the North Dakota National Guard: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

"Former Governor's Mansion", Bismarck Historical Society http://www.bismarckhistory.org/?id=31 (accessed December 28, 2008).

"Legacy: Frank Arlington Briggs", The Morton County & Mandan News http://www.mandan-news.com/story_template.php?storyid=1222982530 (accessed December 28, 2008).

"North Dakota Governors", State Historical Society of North Dakota http://www.nd.gov/hist/ndgov1.htm (accessed December 28, 2008).