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Col. John A. Ely


Colonel John Ely was a mover and shaker in the days of Dakota Territory. He was born in 1836 in Missouri and wore many hats over the years. He grew wheat, raised cattle, traded mules and even served four years in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. However, he apparently thought “Lincoln was the best friend the South ever had,” and favored the outcome of the war.

John Ely and his wife Mary came to Dakota in the spring of 1884. He first settled at Mapes, between Devils Lake and Grand Forks. He later moved to the Mouse River region to ranch cattle.

Ely also served as a representative in the territorial legislature in the late 1880s. He was “instrumental” in helping the territory achieve statehood, and he helped shape McHenry County by ensuring that three northern townships were included. He served in the territorial legislature in 1887, and was also a registrar in Minot’s land office.

On this date in 1888, the post office of Ely, North Dakota, was established along the Mouse River northeast of Upham, North Dakota. The place didn’t last long. The post office closed before Christmas in 1891.

For a time, Ely left the state for Duluth, Minnesota, but he returned to North Dakota in 1901, settling in Cando. He farmed, ran a grain and wood business and even ran for mayor, though he lost that election. Ely was also a member of a few secret societies like the Masonic Order and the Knights of Honor. When he died in Cando in 1918, he was buried with all the rites befitting his membership in the Odd Fellows.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


Bowling Green Times. (1918, Mar 21). Bowling Green, MO.

Hansboro Pioneer. (1907, Apr 4). Hansboro, ND.

Wick, D.A. (1989). North Dakota place names. Bismarck, ND: Prairie House