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Campaign Tragedy


Prominent Minot attorney and state legislator Christopher A. Johnson spent the summer and fall of 1910 canvassing the state of North Dakota. The popular and energetic politician was campaigning as the Republican candidate for governor after winning the state primary. Johnson was running against popular incumbent and early favorite in the race, Governor John Burke, but in the early days of autumn, Johnson appeared to pull ahead in the race. As September faded into October, with the long and grueling campaign entering its final stretch, tragedy struck.

With only a month left before the November 2nd election, the front page of the Bismarck Daily Tribune announced the death of Johnson’s youngest child on this date in 1910. The small boy, only three years old, had been playing with a neighborhood friend in the family’s summer house when a fire broke out and soon engulfed the structure. Investigators later discovered that the young boys had started the fire. Although the neighbor boy escaped unscathed, Delwin Johnson suffocated from the smoke and died of asphyxiation. A terrified Mrs. Carrie Johnson rushed to the scene. The inconsolable mother watched as firemen pulled the lifeless body from the wreckage. It was reported that she fainted from the shock of seeing the barely recognizable toddler.

The news quickly made its way to her husband, campaigning in New Rockford. Johnson rushed to be with his family in Minot. The final month of his campaign would be spent by his family’s side, as the parents and three siblings grieved for the loss of their smallest member.

Although it can never be known, it seemed that the tragic accident, and subsequent withdrawal from the campaign, may have changed the outcome of the race. Johnson, who had become the frontrunner by late September, lost the governorship to Burke by only 2500 votes.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


Hennessy, W. B. 1910 History of North Dakota: Embracing a Relation of the History of the State from the Earliest Times Down to the Present Day: p. 464. The Bismarck Tribune: Bismarck.

Bismarck Daily Tribune. Saturday (Morning ed.), October 1, 1910: p. 1.