Henry Clay Hansbrough
Friday, January 30, 2004
Today is the birthday of Henry Clay Hansbrough, who was born in Illinois 1848. President James Polk’s opponent for the presidency, Henry Clay, attended the wedding of Elisha Hansbrough and Sarah Hagan. As he rode off, he suggested they name their first boy after them. And they did.
The Hansbrough family could trace their roots on American soil back to 1640. Young Henry was preparing for college while living on his father’s farm in Kentucky when the Civil War broke out, closing Henry’s school.
The family moved to San Jose, California, where Hansbrough instead learned the print and newspaper trade. After working for The Chronicle in San Francisco for some time, Hansbrough had a short stint in the business in Wisconsin, but then relocated to Grand Forks where he established his own newspaper, The News. In 1883, he sold it and moved to Creel City, in Dakota Territory, where he established The Interocean newspaper.
Hansbrough’s writings have revealed that he was in good stead with railroad tycoon, Jim Hill, who helped him out with an unusual favor. Hansbrough had become an adamant opponent of Heber Creel, the town’s founder, so he petitioned the U.S. Postal Service to open a second post office named “Devils Lake” in his publishing house. The Postal Service granted the favor and, a grand palatial building trimmed with Italian marble was erected just a few hundred feet away from the post office that already existed. It was put into use on January 10th, 1884.
Operating under completely different names, the two offices caused a lot of confusion. There were also some threats, and a few months later, the Creel City Post Office closed its doors. To add insult to Heber Creel’s injury, residents voted that same year to change the town’s name to “Devils Lake” and, after incorporating, they elected Hansbrough the new mayor!
Henry next got into politics. In fact, he was the first person to represent the new state of North Dakota in the 51st Congress in 1889. Following that term, he served as U.S. Senator for 18 years.
As a republican, Hansbrough became close to Teddy Roosevelt, and when TR became president, Hansbrough frequently shared morning coffee with his friend at the White House. But Hansbrough proved to be an unpredictable maverick. The McKenzie political machine in North Dakota was responsible for getting Hansbrough’s political career off the ground, but after serving in Washington for a number of years, Hansbrough turned against McKenzie’s gang. He also turned against Teddy Roosevelt when TR decided to run for a third term as an Independent. One thing, however, that he never did was turn against his fellow North Dakotans.
In 1933, when he was 85, Hansbrough visited his friend and fellow maverick, Senator Gerald Nye, with an unusual request. He pointed out Nye’s Senate office window and said, “When I die, I want you to bury my ashes under that elm tree.”
Several months later, a shoebox arrived in Nye’s office. It was against the rules to bury anyone on the grounds, but Nye gathered some friends under the elm tree, said a prayer and scattered Henry Clay Hansbrough’s ashes; making him the only person to have an eternal resting place on Capitol Hill. His headstone is an elm tree that Nye always claimed was, from then on, healthier than any other tree on the Hill.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm