Dakota Datebook

Dr. Paul H. Burton

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Over the years, November 4th has often been Election Day. It was on this date in 1884 that Devils Lake was chosen as the seat of Ramsey County. In 1902, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, at age 23, was defeated in his bid for the ND State Superintendent of Public Instruction. In 1924, A.G. Sorlie was elected the state’s 14th governor. In 1958, ND voters rejected a constitutional amendment to change the name of North Dakota Agricultural College to North Dakota State University. And, also in 1958, Quentin Burdick became the first Democrat ever elected by this state to the U. S. House of Representatives.

Today is also the anniversary of the death of Dr. Paul H. Burton. He was 76 years old and came of age during the days of making house calls on horseback. Burton was born at Boscobel, WI, on July 16, 1876, and studied medicine at the University of Minnesota. During those years, he also practiced at Kenmare for several months. He graduated about 1901, practiced for a time in northern Minnesota, and then moved to Fargo, where he went into private practice.

Dr. Burton’s medical internship was relatively unusual. He was appointed to the Stillwater Prison. Among the many patients he saw were Jessie James’ brother, Frank, and Cole Younger, following their infamous Northfield Bank robbery.

Burton’s friends said he didn’t like to talk about himself, but they knew that if properly persuaded, he would tell the story about the day somebody tried to rob him. He was in his office above the Fout and Porterfield Drug Store on Broadway at the time.

“A fellow came in demanding narcotics,” a friend later said. “The man carried a good-sized gun which he trained on Dr. Burton, but Burton with his experience in the Minnesota penitentiary simply got out of his chair, knocked the gun from the fellow’s hands, and gave him a sound beating. While the doctor used to say that he threw him downstairs, he probably escorted him gently to the exits.”

Dr. Burton was one of the founders of Dakota Clinic, which opened in 1926. Other members of the founding group included Kent Darrow, Frank Darrow and R.E. Weible; all four men were part of a complicated partnership of brothers, sisters, and brothers-in-law. The fifth member was unrelated – Doctor William H. Long from Dickinson.
They began their clinic with offices on the fourth floor of deLendrecies Department Store and then moved into a building a few blocks away. Dr. Burton was no longer alive when the new clinic in south Fargo opened in 1957.

Burton was a member of the American College of Surgeons, served as president of the Cass County Medical Society, and in 1932 was given the highest honor that physicians can give to on of their contemporaries; he was elected president of the North Dakota Medical Society. The doctor also served on the Fargo Board of Education and was instrumental in bringing to Fargo a child welfare program financed by the Commonwealth Foundation.

Dr. Burton went out to vote on the morning of November 4, 1952. Afterwards, he spent a few hours at the Shrine Club and then went home to take a nap. His wife found him lying on the couch late that afternoon. He passed away in his sleep.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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