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Pre-Convention Posturing


In 1889, with the Constitutional Convention only three weeks away, the Northern Pacific Railroad, heralding its history as a “great iron band of commerce,” announced that the full growth of North Dakota can only be reached through the development of a network of rails. Although the railroads had barely weathered a contentious Territorial Legislature led by the Farmers Alliance, the management of the Northern Pacific stated that so far the relationship with the people of North Dakota has been “amicable and satisfactory.” They also stated that, “…further encouragement of this by the constitution makers and succeeding legislatures will continue in unbounded prosperity.”

As an incentive for favorable consideration in the new constitution, approximately sixty million dollars would be expended in extending branch lines and building new ones over the next two years. By 1889 standards, sixty million dollars was a huge investment. The Famers Alliance would wield a lot of power in the Constitutional Convention, and basically the railroad was telling them to play ball or that money would go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, veteran politicians were busy. Former Governor Ordway, with an eye on a Congressional seat, was stumping up and down the Red River Valley. In Grand Forks he reminded his audience that he was responsible for the University of North Dakota being placed there. But he was not the only politician in the Valley. Fargo was the scene of the Fireman’s Convention, drawing thousands of people. It was also hosting the gentlemen of the press who were convening to form a North Dakota Press Association. Consequently, all of the political hopefuls were there to be seen and to win support. Even the city fathers themselves were putting on an impressive performance as congenial hosts in hopes of landing the agricultural college. An impressive showing could pay big dividends later.

Among the popular politicians in Cass County was Smith Stimmel. A former lawyer and once a bodyguard to President Abraham Lincoln, he came to Cass County in 1882 and took up farming. In 1888 he was considered a bright star among the Cass County Republicans and was even being mentioned for governor. However, according to Major Edwards of the Fargo Argus , Stimmel’s star was badly tarnished. Stimmel had aligned himself with the Farmers Alliance, and Edwards blamed him for the defeat of Col. Plummer and the infusion of two Prohibitionists into the Cass County Republican bloc. Denounced in a series of editorials by the Argus as a cheap, sneaking fraud and hypocrite, Stimmel withdrew from actively seeking a political office. Edwards, who Stimmel had defeated in the November election for the territorial legislature, had apparently extracted his revenge.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune January 11, 1889

The Fargo Argus June 12, 1889

The Bismarck Weekly Tribune June 14, 1889

Did You Know That? By Curt Eriksmoen, McCleery & Sons, 2006