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Political Plums


It was springtime in Dakota Territory. The lands surrounding the rivers, lakes and prairie potholes were dotted with white blooms nestled among the groves of burr oak, and the older settlers watched carefully as to location of these flowers. The warm prairie sun and summer showers would turn the blossoms into vibrant globes of succulent wild plums, destined to become delicious jams and jellies. But the succulent fall plums on the minds of the veteran territorial politicians in the spring of 1889 were not of the eating variety, they were the plums of politics – namely Congressional and Federal positions.

Among a number of political leaders returning to the territory were Alexander McKenzie and former Governor Nehemiah Ordway. McKenzie had earned his stripes in the battle over the location of the Territorial Capitol in 1883, and he attained most of his influence through the support of the railroads. Long a supporter of the division of the territory, he had gone east in 1887 where he met with financial success and was now enticed to return. Though McKenzie personally was a Democrat, his political aspirations were unknown, and he had considerable clout with both parties. He had been approached to run for office, but declined. Appointed to the Penitentiary Board, his return was centered more upon protecting against the removal of the capital to Devils Lake or Jamestown .

During the 1883 capital fights, McKenzie had been supported by Governor Ordway. Ordway’s governorship had been tainted with nepotism after the appointment of his son as Territorial Auditor. There was also an investigation into gifts of money and land to his son’s former business partner in exchange for the favorable placement of county seats. Ordway definitely had his eye on one of the Congressional plums, but with his questionable conduct as governor, he would need McKenzie’s influence if he had any hopes of obtaining his goal.

Competition was heating up, even at this early date, with Henry Clay Hansbrough and former Governor Gilbert Pierce already among the ranks of possible candidates. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Convention was only six weeks away.

The Bismarck Tribune stated, “The political boom is coming. She is coming down the avenue with a full head of steam and will soon be turned loose on the community with all her cyclonic and explosive furry. …and it will continue until the constitutional convention convenes on July 4th, when it will be given a boost that will keep it going until North Dakota is a state.”

Political … or otherwise … the plums would be there for the taking come fall.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Weekly Tribune May 10, 1889

Jamestown Weekly Alert May 17, 1889

History of Dakota Territory by George W. Kinsgbury; S. J. Clarke Publishing 1915