Few North Dakotans have likely heard of Jefferson Kidder, although most have heard of Kidder County, which was named for the 19th century North Dakotan. Kidder’s many and varied roles ranged from Lieutenant Governor to State Senator, and ran from his native Vermont to the wilds of Minnesota and Dakota Territory. His son was killed in action under Custer, and his grandson went on to become one of the greatest lawmen of the Old West, but Kidder himself made his name in politics.
Born in 1815, Kidder is remembered today as one of Braintree, Vermont’s most famous sons. He graduated from the Norwich Military Academy in nearby Northfield and went on to study law in Montpelier. He was admitted to the Vermont bar in 1839. Only four years later, Kidder became a member of the Vermont constitutional convention. At only twenty-eight, he was named Vermont State’s Attorney. He served two years as a State Senator, and was named Lieutenant Governor in 1853. He was afterward sent as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, but shortly after moved to St. Paul and became a Republican member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
In February of 1865, President Lincoln appointed Kidder to the Dakota Territory Supreme Court. Kidder moved to Vermillion to serve as an Associate Justice. While serving on the court in Vermillion, three important things happened to Kidder. The first was that his son, Lyman, was killed by a Sioux and Cheyenne war party in what became known as the Kidder Massacre in Kansas. The second was that Kidder County was created in Dakota Territory and named for the judge, and the third was that his grandson, also named Jefferson, was born in Vermillion. The younger Jefferson became an Arizona Ranger and was killed in one of the most memorable shoot-outs in the history of the Old West in 1908.
The elder Kidder was reappointed to the court on this date in 1869 by President Grant. He went on to become the territory’s delegate to Congress. After two terms, he returned to the Territorial Court in Vermillion, where he served until his death in 1883.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Lounsberry, Clement Augustus. 1919 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History. Liberty Press: New York: pp. 383.