Dakota Datebook

LaRoy Baird

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

LaRoy Baird was born at Martel, Wisconsin on February 27, 1881, obtained his law degree from the University of Minnesota and came to Dickinson in 1907 to set up a law practice. He joined the North Dakota National Guard and served in the Mexican Border campaign in 1916 and in WWI he was stationed at Bismarck as property and disbursing officer. He attained the rank of Brigadier General and commanded the 164th Infantry from 1931 to 1941. From 1941 to the end of World War II, he had also served as Chairman for the North Dakota Defense Council. He served as a state senator from 1921 to 1927 but resigned his fourth term to accept the post of receiver of closed banks.

The post war boom had seen a huge increased in rural banks and at the peak of the banking frenzy in 1919, the state had one bank for every 750 persons. The average bank was capitalized at $18,000 which made it difficult to prosper even in good times. When the Federal Reserve attempted to halt inflation, beginning in 1919, banks across North Dakota were unable to meet the demands of their creditors and became insolvent. The North Dakota Depositor’s Guaranty Fund, which attempted to insure all deposits without limit, soon found it impossible to keep up with the financial whirlwind that struck it. By 1923 the number of “busted” banks was up tp 75 and the 1923 Legislature passed a law which placed the administration of closed bank into the hands of the State Supreme Court which delegated the power to the District Court of Burleigh County naming Judge C. M. Cooley as supervisor who then appointed LaRoy Baird as receiver.

When Baird took over most banks, he found that they normally had sold their best assets to stay afloat, even mortgaging the bank building and had discounted their notes as much as 10 to 1 in an attempt to secure funding, so he had very little capitol to work with. Throughout the 1920’s banks continued to fall “like leaves from a tree in autumn” and the only assets left in the banks were normally notes given by individuals, usually farmers, and these notes were secured by mortgages. Throughout the years from 1927 to 1933, when he got his last case, Baird supervised the distribution of over 500 banks. Over that time period he had controlled over 1,000 farms with hundreds of thousands or acres. By compromising debts and encouraging creditors to do the same, he was able to keep many farmers on their land and many businesses afloat. When on March 4, 1933, Governor William Langer declared a state bank holiday and a moratorium on all debt, and he eventually called out the National Guard to stop sheriff’s sales, it was Brig-Gen Baird ,who was also the commander of the 164th that he called on, probably a hearty supporter of this action.

Baird’s ability to soften the hardship on so many farmers and businessmen won him much praise during the Depression. On January 29, 1947, he closed the doors on the State Receivership of Closed Banks and on this date in 1950, General LaRoy Baird succumbed to heart failure. He had received many awards and was involved in many community organizations but it was his humane treatment of thousands of desperate, Dust Bowl-era citizens that won him the love and respect of North Dakotans from across the state.

By Jim Davis

Sources:
Mandan Daily Pioneer March 6, 1950 page 2.
The Bismarck Tribune January 30, 1947 page 8.
History of North Dakota by Elwyn Robinson1966 page 405.

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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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