The first active politics, in the way of a spirited clashing of interests, occurred in 1872, when old Pembina and youthful Fargo locked horns, as it were, in a contest for supremacy. A term of the United States court was held at Pembina in June, presided over by Judge French1, and in order to secure the necessary jurymen almost the entire northern part of the territory was thoroughly combed. After exhausting the Pembina and St. Joe settlements, drafts were made at Grand Forks, Goose River, Elm River, Fargo, and Richville. Every available man was utilized for the grand and petit panels, and the work of subpoenaing them was no small task.
Jud LaMoure was deputy United States Marshal, and upon him devolved the selection and notification of the jurors. During this process, when LaMoure visited every settlement in the northern section, it developed that the deputy marshal had something else on his program besides the business of subpoenaing jurors. The first to scent the alleged "darkey in the wood pile" was the coterie of live-wires at Fargo, led by S. G. Roberts, G. I. Keeney, John Haggart, Captain Egbert, and others.
The issue, as I recall it, was not of much importance, but every political movement was unduly magnified, and as Fargo was active in efforts to induce the Northern Pacific Railway to cross the Red River at that place, every political movement that could in any way be construed as antagonistic to that project, was looked upon with suspicion. The selection of jurymen, whose political orthodoxy could not be questioned, was apparently the chief concern of the deputy marshal. His zeal in his work stirred the suspicions of the "Crossing" (Fargo) politicians; and especially were they interested when they learned that an important convention would be held at Pembina during the session of the United States court, and that the jurymen would be asked to serve as delegates from their respective sections.
Fargo saw a menace in this judicial-political coup de'etat, and forthwith the entire populace at the "Crossing" began to organize a party of resistance. The active workers were: S. G. Roberts, John Haggart, [Colonel] H. S. Back, G. I. Keeney, George Dickson, G. H. Stone, Captain Egbert, and A. C. Hawley. They interested W. M. Rich and C. B. Falley in the Wahpeton district, A. H. Moore in the Wild Rice section, the Morgan Brothers and Asa Sargent at Goose River, and succeeded in effecting an organization that thoroughly represented sentiment in the south end of big Pembina county.
When the advance on Pembina was made early in June, most of the men just named were among the party. I recall, quite vividly, their appearance when they camped at Turtle River; how they impressed us, and how encouraged we were to see so many newcomers who were active in developing the young territory. The party gave Mr. Budge and me the impression that they were jurymen, and interested only in court proceedings.
In due time following their arrival at Pembina, the first county convention was held, N. E. Nelson was chairman, and George F. Potter, secretary. The northern faction, under the leadership of LaMoure and Potter, undertook to carry out their program, but were stoutly resisted by the southern cabal, under the leadership of Roberts and Egbert. An all day talkfest followed, and when night came it was declared a drawn battle. No nominations were made at that time, but a few weeks later Colonel Stutsman was nominated for Councilman and Judson LaMoure for the House, by the Pembina junta; and G. H. Stone, of Fargo, and A. C. Moore, of Wild Rice, by the Southenders. The election was held, the Southenders out-voted the North, and on the face of the returns both Stone and Moore were elected.
The jubilation of the victors, however, was of short duration, for the skill and finesse of Colonel Stutsman was brought into play, and through him the entire vote of the South end was thrown out, and he and LaMoure were given seats in the legislature. At that time the Fargo district was in Indian territory, the Indian title not having been extinguished, and it was, therefore, an easy matter to adjudicate when brought before the official canvassing board.
Worked in Pembina
with A.W. Stiles...
[Click to enlarge]
At this election General U. S. Grant and Horace Greeley were contestants for President, and my first presidential and legislative vote was cast for Greeley, Stutsman, and LaMoure. And this reminds me of an incident which took place in Ted Turner's "third emporium" in Grand Forks a few days before election: LaMoure, myself, and two others formed a quartet whose respective feet were ensconced under the same circular table. "Seven-up" was the game. LaMoure and his partner won out; and my partner and I began to "saw-off." I was getting the worst of it, and seemed to be doomed. In the height of my struggle, I felt a touch on my knees under the table, and covertly looking down I discovered some cards. I deftly exchanged my punk hand for the mysterious bunch, and boldly "stood my hand." I had four points to make; my antagonist only one. "High, low, jack, and the game" was the net results of my surreptitious hand; and my antagonist gasped with surprise. We kept him guessing for some time, but finally disclosed the secret of my success—after the "wooden-face" at my left had chuckled to his heart's content.
Pardon this digression; it was a typical incident of early elections. Colonel Stutsman and Judson LaMoure were elected, but Greeley "went west to grow up with the country." During the legislative session of 1873 Stutsman did splendid work at Yankton. Many new counties in the north were carved off of Pembina, and there was a revival of business that encouraged settlers very much. But it proved ephemeral; the time for real prosperity had not come. The financial panic, depreciated money, and grasshopper scourge stopped all progress. With the close of the '73 session Colonel Stutsman's legislative duties ended. His health, impaired for several years, broke down, and on the 24th of January, 1874, he closed his earthly career.
Colonel Stutsman's mind and nature were constructive. He was a builder, and a worker along progressive lines. His great talents, his transparent honesty, his lofty idealism, and his sincere democracy, made him the man of the hour in Dakota Territory. When he "passed on" the Territory lost its first citizen and the world a shining light.From: Early Politics and Politicians of North Dakota, by George B. Winship, Former Editor of the Grand Forks Herald
1 - A judicial district, comprising the eastern portion of the present state of North Dakota, was established by the legislature of the territory during the session of 1870-71, and Pembina was designated as the place of holding court. The first session was held there in 1871, and Judge George W. French presided. George I. Foster was clerk of court; L. H. Litchfield and Judson La Moure, who had recently arrived from the southern part of the territory, were assistant marshals; Warren Cowles was United States attorney. This was the first court held in North Dakota. (History of the Red River Valley, Chapter IV "Forty Years of Development of the Red River Valley", by George Winship)