Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rivalry & Politicking: Geography is Destiny

One of Dakota Territory's earliest territorial courts...
We first encountered the resistance to Pembina having serious territorial influence in 1872.  It's now 1873, and the resistance intensifies...
Three male members of one family were pioneers in many legal and political matters in North Dakota.

The patriarch, Alanson H. Barnes, held the first territorial district court hearing in Bismarck and established the judicial seat for the district court in Fargo. His son-in-law, Alfred D. Thomas, became the first U.S. District Court judge from North Dakota. Another son-in-law, Evan S. Thomas, became the second mayor of Fargo and came within three votes of becoming the first governor of North Dakota.

On Nov. 7, 1873, the acting governor of Dakota Territory, Oscar Whitney, reassigned Judge Barnes from Yankton to Pembina but, under federal orders, rescinded the order on Dec. 11. On Jan. 10, 1874, the Department of Interior reinstituted Whitney’s original proclamation.

Instead of going to Pembina, Barnes located the federal court for District 3 in Fargo. There was no courthouse in Fargo, so the trials were often held in business establishments.

In addition to court sessions in Fargo, Barnes held quarterly hearings in Bismarck. The first U.S. District Court to meet there began on June 18, 1874.

In December 1874, Alexander McHench, a Fargo legislator, successfully pushed a bill through the territorial Legislature that officially transferred the court from Pembina to Fargo.

Seal of the territory of Dakota

For major trials and appeals in Dakota Territory, Barnes traveled to Yankton to meet with the other two justices of the Supreme Court. He also had to travel to Deadwood to conduct trials in southwestern Dakota Territory.

Because of this, Barnes was a major proponent of dividing the territory into North and South Dakota. During a session of the Supreme Court in 1875 in Yankton, he stated: “The people of the northern Dakota want a division of the territory because they are so far removed from southern Dakota that they do not feel any identity of interest.”

Enos Stutsman, a noted lawyer and legislator of early Dakota days, started the separation movement, but died in 1874.

Source:  Fargo Forum