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Short Time in Governor’s Mansion


The first North Dakota governor to live in the executive mansion was born on this date in 1830. As you might expect in the new State of North Dakota, most persons of note and influence were born somewhere else. North Dakota’s third governor, Eli C. D. Shortridge, was no exception. The West Virginia native, raised in Missouri, completed his education at a Paris Academy. Not in France, but, in Paris, Missouri.

In 1882, at the age of 52, Eli moved his family to Larimore, in Grand Forks County, to farm in Dakota Territory. In those early days of statehood, North Dakota farmers struggled through exploitation imposed by mills, elevators and the railroads. At odds with the farmers, those entities were bolstered and supported by the political maneuverings of the Republican Party under the influence of “Boss” Alexander McKenzie.

Shortridge, as president of the North Dakota Farmers Alliance sought the governor’s chair in 1892. He ran as part of an intriguing affiliation of political entities called the “fusion ticket. The fusion ticket was essentially three parties joined together – Democrats, Populists and the Farmer’s Alliance. The fusion party was a direct populist response to “Boss” McKenzie Republicans.

Shortridge campaigned in opposition to McKenzie’s malfeasance with the elevators and railroads. He proclaimed that those entities had quote: “absolutely put an end to competition’ and had “practically ignored” the laws for their control. Shortridge was elected and inaugurated in early January of 1893. He was chief executive when the state purchased a large Bismarck home to become the first Governor’s mansion. He also received bonds to construct the south wing of the State Capitol and organized a commission to reform early state laws. But on the edge of the Panic of 1893 and its depression, the treasury went bust.

McKenzie’s pledge for a state-owned mill was thwarted. Other planned appropriations for the old soldier’s home, colleges and normal schools also failed to materialize. He had little success in other ventures, especially against the powerful McKenzie-driven political climate and the depression. Faced with overwhelming political and financial circumstances, the populists had control wrested from them.

Shortridge became the first governor to reside in the new governor’s mansion, but the stay was … short. He was unable to secure a second term and the decline of political prairie populism began.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark

Robinson, Elwyn B 1966 History of North Dakota