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Railroad Rates and Land Speculation


In the last days of the legislative session a resolution was passed supporting the opening of the Sioux Reservation. Proponents claimed it was “Manifest Destiny” that lands in the west be settled and developed. Most of the land east of the Missouri River was coming under the plow, but the huge track of reservation land on the west side, if allotted to the Native people living there, would provide 978 acres to each man, woman and child on the reservation. This was seen by some as unacceptable. But it was not only the Sioux Reservation that land speculators had their eyes on. The Metis in the Turtle Mountains were revolting against taxes and it was noted that many of these men had fled from Canada during the Northwest Rebellion, which saw the final defeat of Louis Riel in 1885. But there was still a great deal of agitation for the succession of Southern Manitoba and its attachment to North Dakota, and although remote, it was a possibility.

On April 15th, Governor Mellette would issue an order providing for the election of delegates to Constitutional Convention. In only twenty-five years the entire complexion of the Northern Plains had changed dramatically. In areas where only the footsteps of native people, traders and military expeditions had ventured, there was now the ringing of church bells, sod houses and framed structures. Newspapers churned out pages of final land proofs and news from Europe of Jack-the Ripper and the completion of the Eiffel Tower.

Another act of the past legislative session would quickly come to haunt its members – and frequent railroad travelers. In an attempt to curb the special rates that the railroads were allowing for the flour mills and other favored customers, while the farmers in Dakota Territory were paying significantly higher more, the Swanston Railroad bill was passed. It forbid the railroad from offering any special rates for either passenger service or the shipment of goods. Since this bill was effective upon passage, as the legislators began their journeys home, they found that the special passes they were used to were no longer valid. Passes for ministers, newspapermen, salesmen and families were also banned, as were special excursion rates to fairs or conventions in the Territory. Those about to descend on Bismarck to take part in the Constitutional Conventions would also feel its effect.

As for the railroads, it was money in their pockets, and the fact that Dakota Legislators, by their own hand, can no longer travel on passes caused great amusement in railroad circles.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Weekly Tribune April 12, 1889

Jamestown Weekly Alert April 11, 1889

Grand Forks Weekly Herald April 12, 1889

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