Dakota Datebook

Alexander McKenzie

Monday, June 25, 2012

 

Alexander McKenzie was a political boss in North Dakota’s early years. He was part of a political machine and had many interests in the state, often shady ones, even after he moved away.

 

In June of 1922, while involved in a civil suit in Minnesota, McKenzie started to feel ill. He told friends he just had a touch of the flu, but within 24 hours, he was failing fast. On June 22nd, McKenzie died in St. Paul, much to the surprise of residents in Bismarck; McKenzie had been in fairly good health, and he had been expected to be in town that week.

 

People began to remember him for his generosity and his involvement in the state’s development. Judge George T. Flannery of St. Paul, who knew McKenzie from his first days in Bismarck, “declared that he was absolutely without fear and that his remarkable strength of character and indomitable good will stood him in good stead in the turbulent days on the frontier.”

 

After the report of his death, residents in Bismarck successfully lobbied for McKenzie’s body to be returned to the state. They wanted to bury him in the city.

 

So, on this date, his body returned to his old home of Bismarck, accompanied by two daughters, a son-in-law and by his old friends Capt. I. P. Baker and Col. C. B. Little. McKenzie was laid in state in the old capitol building. That building had once been the old territorial capitol, which McKenzie had helped to move to Bismarck. Flags throughout the city were sailed at half mast. It was estimated that more than 2,000 people visited the body.

 

The Bismarck Tribune reported: “As the body lay in a massive walnut coffin before the rostrum of the House of Representatives, a silent line of men, women and children passed to view the face of the deceased. Four uniformed men stood as guards at the coffin while others scattered about the house chamber directed the lines of people with a wave of the hand. …The funeral probably was the largest public funeral tribute ever paid in the state. Beside the glass-covered casket passed with bared heads many whose gray hair and bronzed faces testified to their right to be called pioneers of the state. … Others, younger, passed who perhaps only were curious to gaze upon the face of one of whom they heard their fathers and mothers speak with awe. Former political associates and political foes alike were there.”

 

McKenzie was buried in St. Mary’s cemetery. Some of his papers and correspondence reside today at the State Archives of North Dakota. His memory and his work, and his influence—good and the bad alike—live on.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

 

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune, June 22, 1922

The Bismarck Tribune, June 23, 1922

The Bismarck Tribune, June 24, 1922

The Bismarck Tribune, June 26, 1922

 

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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