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Manuscripts by Subject - Politics / Government - #11038

Title: Job Wells (J. W.) Brinton Papers

Dates: 1918-1924

Collection Number: 11038

Quantity: .25 foot

Provenance: The collection was transferred to the North Dakota State Archives from the Nebraska State Historical Society in August, 2009. Archives Specialist Emily J. Ergen prepared the inventory to the J. W. Brinton Papers in October 2009. The biographical sketch was researched and written by Erlys Fardal.

Property rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights: Copyrights to this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs. Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code or an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.

Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection, title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota all bibliographic references.



Job Wells (J. W.) Brinton was born on November 18, 1883 at Sykeston, Wells County, Dakota Territory. Although not the first white child born in Wells County, J. W. was the first boy born in the county; it is this distinction that accounts for the name Wells.

His father, Marshall Brinton, was one of the first pioneers to arrive in the county. He was born of Quaker ancestry in Pennsylvania February 28, 1839. Marshall was a direct descendent of William Brinton, who came to America with William Penn and settled Pennsylvania. Marshall's parents were Joseph E. and Mary (Marshall) Brinton. Marshall was raised on a farm in Pennsylvania and received an excellent education in private schools. He tried many vocations and businesses in various states and towns.

In 1879 Marshall Brinton traveled to the Black Hills in search of gold. In 1883 he decided to come north into Dakota Territory to seek a farm home for his family. He located in the northeast quarter of section 26 in Sykeston Township. He also claimed a tree claim in the south half of section 32 Sykeston Township. On March 30, 1884, the Brinton family arrived in Sykeston on the first operating train on that branch of the Northern Pacific railroad. Job Wells was four and a half months old. As was customary, the family loaded moveable household items into a box car, which was dropped off at a site near the homestead claim.

Marshall Brinton was married three times. His first marriage was in Pennsylvania, and the couple had four children. On September 30, l874, he married Rosamond C. Masters at Phoenix Mine, Michigan. They were the parents of 10 children. All ten were raised in Wells County, North Dakota. The children were: Pearl Rosebud (Mrs. Mark Hunt); Marshall Ward Brinton (married Grace Randall); Lillian Florence; Charles M. Brinton; Job Wells Brinton; Clara Bell (Mrs. Roy John Glassco); Henry Masters Brinton (married Miss Lavin); Ethel Mary (Mrs. Thompson G. Robinson); and Donald A Brinton. Marshall Brinton divorced Mrs. Brinton and she moved west. In l905 he married Mary Piece of Fessenden, North Dakota. Marshall Brinton died January 24, l926 at St. Petersburg, Florida, and is buried there.

Marshall Brinton left his mark in Sykeston and Wells County. He was on the board and was chairman of the first Board of County Commissions in Wells County. It is this board that organized Wells County in l884. Marshall was County Superintendent of schools from l885 to l888 and county judge from l897 to l907. He taught at the first term of school in the county at Sykseton during the winter of l884-l885. He was elected a member of the first board of trustees of the Sykseton Congregational Church. Just as his father had exhibited leadership, Job Wells Brinton would also leave his mark on the state of North Dakota.

At age of nine, Job Wells Brinton began to earn his own living. When he reached fourteen years of age he entered the print shop to learn the newspaper business. He never left Wells County until after reaching the age of fourteen, and lived in Wells County until after he was twenty-one.

J. W. Brinton made his way west and settled in Beach, North Dakota, around 1906. Like his father, J. W. became involved in the affairs of the county and community. Beach was a village at the time, and Billings and Golden Valley were one county. Beach was incorporated as a city in 1909, and in 1912, a vote separated the counties into Billings County and Golden Valley County; Brinton was involved in both changes. He held the position of alderman, treasurer, and postmaster. Brinton was appointed temporary postmaster in l908 and later received a permanent appointment serving under President William Howard Taft for four years. J. W. Brinton was the fourth mayor of Beach, and held the office for two years. During his time as mayor, Brinton was known as the "Fighting Mayor." The New York based American Press referred to Brinton in 1914 as "the pugnacious editor and militant mayor."

On February 21, 1906, the "Brinton Brothers" purchased the Golden Valley Chronicle; J. W. served as editor. The brothers immediately changed the font and purchased a new printing press. Throughout their ownership they wanted to keep the paper "modern" and made changes; they also purchased new presses regularly. The paper covered news from a wide area including Billings, Golden Valley, and Slope Counties in North Dakota, and also in eastern Montana. To increase the readership of the paper, J. W. sponsored a variety of contests. Several contests offered a prize to the person who sold the most subscriptions to new readers. One prize was two tickets to the Seattle World Fair; another contest gave away an automobile and a piano.

It was widely believed that Brinton had a good paper; his editorials show him to be a skilled writer. Although most of the editorials written by Brinton were of a political nature, he always promoted the election of honest men who would work for the people, especially the farmer. This concern is what led him to be interested in being one of the founders of the Non Partisan League in 1915.

In Beach, Brinton was a neighbor of A. C. Townley, who was engaged in operating a 10,000 acre flax farm. Townley eventually went bankrupt, blaming unfair practices against the farmers for his problems. In the hope of promoting a change, Townley organized the Non Partisan League (NPL), a farmers' political organization. Brinton was one of the founders of the League. Brinton had an interest in an organization of this type; three years before the League was formed, in 1912, he had organized a political group which had swept out of office all the incumbent political figures in the large county of Billings/Golden Valley. Although Brinton was not specifically given credit, one source stated that "Brinton laid the foundation on which the League was built."

Brinton had an active interest in the NPL and was a constant booster. In 1915, as mayor of Beach, Brinton traveled throughout the state for three months in support of the League platform. The goal of the NPL in l915 was to elect to NPL supporters to all offices. Brinton was the first Republican to support the NPL platform (the NPL became a faction of the Republican Party in l915, but in 1954 aligned itself with the Democratic Party). Dues to the Non Partisan League were $6.00. Speakers traveled around North Dakota signing up members, and Brinton registered more members than any other speaker. He also held the record for getting more members at one meeting, and also for having more meetings than any other speaker. Brinton was a fluent debater and during the 1916 campaign, was chosen to debate NPL opponents. The most noted debate was with John Burke, former governor and United States Treasurer. Burke was opposed to NPL candidate Lynn Frazier.

A free subscription to the NPL newspaper, The Leader, was a part of being a member of the organization. The Leader was published in Fargo. In l915, Brinton traveled to the Fargo post office to request mailing privileges for the paper. Upon arrival, Brinton found that the postmaster had never heard of the newspaper, or the organization, and questioned whether there were enough subscribers for a mailing. The postmaster was amazed when Brinton told him there were 8,000 subscribers from all over North Dakota.

The NPL needed to spread the news of the organization, and controlling local papers was the method used to accomplish this goal. If a town's newspaper was anti-NPL, the League would start a new paper in that town, and tell their members to boycott the old local paper. At one time, the NPL controlled forty-five newspapers in North Dakota. To tie all the papers together, the League organized the Northwest Service Bureau, which was later called the Publishers National Service Bureau. Brinton, with years of newspaper experience, and who was a fluent, skilled writer, served on the Board of Trustees for the Bureau. The Bureau sent articles to the weekly papers supporting both the NPL and A.C. Townley. In one article in support of Townley, Brinton wrote: "Business men that gave Townley seed and machinery were just as much gamblers when Townley went bankrupt. Everyone lost because of weather and the market, but others were not called deadbeats."
Beginning in l920, Brinton was writing a section called, "Brinton Weekly." It was published in the Burleigh County Farmers Press. As evidenced by this manuscript collection, the J. W. Brinton Papers (MSS 11038), some of the NPL newspapers were having financial problems, and Brinton was well acquainted with both the publishing and the business dealings of the papers and the Publishers National Service Bureau.

A.C. Townley was president of the NPL, but only with the aid of Brinton and others did the NPL become a strong political faction. In l918, the NPL voted into office every elected candidate and controlled the House of Representatives in North Dakota. Brinton, in 1917, started a campaign in North Dakota against graft and corruption in Billings County. He sighted embezzlement and mismanagement of funds and found over $50,000 in misused funds. During this time, he was also serving as private secretary and personal representative to A.C. Townley, and was head of the Townley headquarters in Bismarck.

As the NPL grew, Townley wanted the League to start various subsidiaries. This was at the time Brinton was secretary and personal representative to Townley and was chosen by Townley to organize and manage the Consumers United States Company. A million dollar business venture, the company eventually ended in failure, and ultimately caused the break between Brinton and Townley.

The purpose of the stores was to sell general merchandise to League members at cost plus 10%. The purchasing of merchandise would be done by a state agency who would buy directly from manufacturers. The second purpose was to provide competition for the local businessmen, who were generally unfriendly toward the NPL. For $100, a NPL member could purchase buyers certificates which were good for ten years. Most of the certificates were paid for with notes, not cash. When a committee raised $10,000 a store would be established in the town. Merchandise would be purchased with 90% and the remaining 10% used at the discretion of the Board of Trustees. Special organizers who sold the shares were given credentials carrying the NPL letterhead and signed by A.C. Townley stating that the stores were sponsored by the NPL.

There were many reasons for the failure of the Consumers United States Company. The stores' funds were misused and mismanaged. Money was loosely handled with few records kept. Post dated checks were written, which contributed to a cash shortage. Many stores did not open as promised and there was a shortage of merchandise from suppliers. The stores did not provide savings for the buyers, and thus did not create competition for the local merchandisers. The NPL was using the stores as a source of revenue, and not as a buying aid to members. Brinton protested, and withdrew from the company, thus the split with Townely and Brinton being eased out of the NPL. The company failed in spite of an attempt to revive it in 1919.

There is complicated and conflicting information about the involvement of Townley and the NPL in the United States Sisal Fund. Involvement with Sisal began prior to l919 and continued until 1921. We do know that J. W. Brinton was the general manager and secretary of the sisal operation, which was a 22,000 acre sisal farm in Dade County, Florida. Brinton's friend and fellow Beach resident J.R. Waters was the president. Waters was a bank examiner, and manager of the State Bank. Sisal was used to make twine, a product needed by every farmer. The idea was that if they could produce sisal and sell twine at a cheaper price to farmers, the farmer would benefit. The fallacy was that the welfare of the farmer was probably not as much of a concern of Brinton, Waters, and other unknown investors, as making big money. Much of Brinton's time in 1919 and 1920 was spent dealing with the Sisal operations.

Documents and correspondence between Brinton and salesmen tell of selling stock or shares to NPL members and banks friendly toward the League. During these years, Brinton could be found at many locations, but his office as general manager of the United States Sisal Trust was in Minneapolis at the First National Soo Line Building. A letter to Brinton in 1919 is addressed to J. W. Brinton: "Fargo, Bismarck, Everywhere." In 1920, Brinton went to Florida to oversee the sisal operation.

The outcome of the United States Sisal Trust was failure. The 22,000 acres in Homestead, Florida had to be cleared, roads built, equipment purchased, and workers paid. There were many unexpected problems; the biggest of which was too many expenses and constant money problems. A New York bank was given stock options on the land, and in l921, the land went into receivership.

There were internal difficulties within the League and by mid-August, l920, J.W. Brinton and J. R. Waters had been eased out. They made an appeal to Governor Frazier against the mismanagement of the State Bank and the League. They demanded that certain high officials in the bank and political organizations be ousted; Townley and Frazier ignored their demands. Brinton and Waters said they had documents to prove the charges. No charges were filed and Townley made no effort to disprove them.

In spite of his difficulties and controversies, Brinton left a mark on North Dakota when he introduced into the legislature two Senate Bills that changed who published official notices in county papers. Senate Bill 158 provided that beginning with the next general election a single newspaper in each county would be selected by the voter to publish all state, county and municipal legal notices. At the time three papers in each county published the notices and they were selected by the Board of County Commissioners. Brinton's Bill would save money and eliminate political favors by publishing the notices in only one paper, which was chosen by the people.

Senate Bill 157 proposed establishment of a State Printing Commission to coordinate and supervise all state printing and it would have the authority to designate the official paper for each county until the general election was conducted. The NPL did not favor these two bills, but they were passed into law and remain so in North Dakota. They are referred to as the "Brinton Bills." There have been changes to the newspaper laws in North Dakota since Brinton's time, but the principle is the same that no one party or group can dominate the printing of newspapers in the state.

J.W. Brinton moved to various locations as need and opportunity arose. Born in Wells County, he remained there until he was over 21. Brinton lived in Beach, North Dakota for ten years, from 1906-l916. There were times he called Bismarck, Fargo and Minneapolis, his home. He traveled extensively in the state promoting the NPL and other ventures. By 1919 he was living in Minneapolis managing United States Sisal Trust and in l920 he was in Florida overseeing the sisal operation. After the Sisal fiasco he returned to Minneapolis.

Although information about Brinton is sketchy at times it is known that after his move to Minnesota he served as organization director of the Minnesota Wheat Growers Cooperative Association, and also spent time in Washington, D.C. as a lobbyist. He ran for public office in Marshall County, Minnesota, but was defeated. In l931 he authored a book, Wheat and Politics. His social security number was issued in Illinois.

J.W. Brinton passed away in El Paso, Texas, on February 10, l970; he was 87 years old. Little is known of his family, other than while living in Beach he was married to Helena Piper. His second wife was Mildred Bury. It is not known how many children he had, but one daughter, Marda Woodbury, lived in California.


A.C. Townley, Dreamer, Promoter, and Boss Politician: His Failures and Defeat of the
Nonpartisan League, J. W. Brinton and J. R. Waters, J.W. Brinton & Co.: Bismarck, North Dakota, 1920. Social Security Death Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:
Operations Inc, 2009. Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration. "Job Brinton," Number: 350-09-5868; Issue state: Illinois; Issue Date: Before 1951. Texas Death Index, 1903-2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The
Generations Network, Inc., 2006. Original data: Texas Department of Health. Texas death Indexes, 1903-2000. Austin, TX, USA: Texas Department of Health, State Vital Statistics Unit. "Job Brinton." World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo,
UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. Original data: United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509. 4582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library microfilm. Registration Location: Cass County, North Dakota; Roll 1819406; Draft Board: 0. "Job Wells Brinton."

Golden Valley Chronicle, Beach, North Dakota, J.W. Brinton, Editor, 1906-1916. State
Historical Society of North Dakota, State Archives microfilm rolls #11154, 11155, 11156.

The History of Wells County, North Dakota, and Its Pioneers, With A Sketch of North
Dakota History and the Origin of the Place Names, Walter E. Spokesfield, Valley City, North Dakota, 1929: 58, 68-69, 259-360.

James Franklin Jaudin Papers, 1873-1938. Historical Museum of Southern Florida.
Identification: X-0055. Finding aid online at:

Job Wells (J.W.) Brinton Papers. MSS 11038. North Dakota State Archives.

Mandan Daily Pioneer, October 18, 1916, p. 1.

Political Prairie Fire: The Non Partisan League, 1915-1922, Robert L. Morlan, University
of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1955.

Sisal Plantation on the Perrine Grant, ca. 1920 Photograph Collection, Elite Photo
Concern. Florida International University Libraries. Digitized from photographs at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, Miami, Florida.

Wheat and Politics, J.W. Brinton, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Publication Office, 1931.



Folder Description/Date
1 Correspondence, 1918-1920
2 Agreement between United States Sisal Trust and T. P. Harvey, Dec 1919
3 Salesmen Daily Reports, T. P. Harvey, 1918-1920
4 United States Sisal Trust stocks financial information, Aug-Nov 1919
5 Subscriptions to Burleigh County Farmers Press, Sept-Oct 1919
6 Promise of payment to T. L. Beiseker, Nov 15, 1919
7 List of paid stockholders in Burleigh County, ca. 1919
8 Publishers National Service Bureau notes payable by county, 1919-1920
9 Business card - C. J. Solibakke, cashier, Citizens State Bank, Drayton, N.D.
10 Reminiscence by unknown author about H. D. Hagerty Inc., ca. 1919
11 "Non-Partisan Leaders Placed Books on Free Love in North Dakota Library" address by Minnie J. Nielson, Superintendent of Public Instruction, ca. 1919
12 Extracts from J. W. Brinton speech "National Co-operative Marketing of Wheat" delivered at Sioux Falls, S.D., Jan 16, 1924

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