Dakota Datebook

1889 Session Begins


The Territorial Legislature met on Tuesday, January 8, 1889, for the beginning of what was hopefully the last session as a territory. On the first day, the Republicans in the House called a caucus to select their leaders and map out their strategy, while their Democratic counterpart decided against it. Edwin McNeil from Cass County concluded it involved too much time and paperwork since he was the sole Democrat in the House! On the other side of the hall, of the twenty-five members of the Council, only three were Democrats.


Although both houses had a heavy Republican majority, it should be noted that there was a strong representation by the Farmers Alliance, which aligned with the Democrats on some issues. The Farmers Alliance planned to introduce legislation to eliminate or reduce the control of the grain buyers, millers and railroads, and had effectively campaigned to send a significant number of representatives to the legislature; among them was Smith Stimmel, the president of the Senate.


On the second day of the session, the two houses met in joint session as Governor Louis K. Church delivered an hour and thirty minute message. Church, appointed by a Democratic president, was a friend of James J. Hill. Church was unpopular in Dakota Territory and was referred to as a carpetbagger, who had, under the Spoils System, replaced all the official territorial positions long held by faithful Republicans with Democrats. This did not sit well with a Republican-dominated population, and most people resented the power wielded by the Democrats. Using veto power and special appointments, Church protected eastern and railroad interests and opposed the Farmers Alliance. His administration had also been involved in some shady dealings relating to the construction of the asylum at Yankton, which due to poor materials and cost cutting, resulted in several deaths when the walls collapsed. This was Church’s last session as he was sure to be recalled when Harrison assumed the Presidency.


That evening, after the Governor’s message, it was time to hear from Dennis Hannifin, a character called the Territory’s “Squatter” Governor. A reporter for the Bismarck Tribune stated that Hannifin was there to cheer his constituents on their way to a conflict with the world and a reversal of all customs, styles, practices and beliefs. In commenting on the politicians descending upon Bismarck, Hannifin stated that they needed to purify the political atmosphere with five hundred funerals – fifty at Yankton, fifty in the Red River Valley, fifty-one on the Missouri Slope and three hundred and forty-nine in Fargo. It was the start of an interesting session.


Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune January 18, 1889

The Jamestown Capital January 18, 1889

History of North Dakota by Elwyn Robinson, University of Nebraska Press 1966


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