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Events - Lincoln Bicentennial: Lincoln Connections to North Dakota

Some Lincoln Connections to North Dakota

Compiled by Rick Collin

Appointed the First Two Governors of Dakota Territory
With just two days left in his Presidency, James Buchanan on March 2, 1861 signed an act that created two new territories: the Nevada Territory, which Congress carved out of Utah, and Dakota Territory, which included what would become North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and part of Wyoming by 1890.

Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861, and soon appointed as Dakota Territory's first governor Dr. William Jayne (1826-1916), his personal physician from Springfield, Illinois. Prior to his appointment as territorial governor, Jayne had been the mayor of Springfield (1859-61). He became a member of the Illinois State Senate in 1860, and resigned in 1861 to accept Lincoln's appointment as the new governor of Dakota Territory. During his first months in the Territory’s capital of Yankton, Jayne lived in a small log cabin that served as the governor’s executive office. He resigned in March 1863 to serve as a non-voting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives until June 1864, when he returned to Springfield and continued his medical practice. He served three terms as mayor of Springfield during the period of 1865 to 1880.

Lincoln also appointed the second governor of Dakota Territory, Newton Edmunds of Yankton (1819-1908), who took the oath of office on November 2, 1863, the only resident of Dakota Territory ever to hold the office. His most important contribution was participating in the 1865-66 negotiation of treaties with the Sioux and other tribal groups along the Missouri River. As territorial governor, he also served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Dakota Territory. Upon his return from a peace mission in August 1866, he was replaced as governor, as a result of political quarreling between President Andrew Johnson and Radical Republicans in Congress.

Other officials from the Dakota Territory days who had contact with Lincoln included Enos Stutsman (1826-74), an elected representative to the territorial legislature in Yankton and customs agent for the federal government; and Walter Burleigh (1820-96), who represented Dakota Territory as a non-voting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1865-69. Counties in North Dakota are named after both men – Stutsman County in southeastern North Dakota and Burleigh County in south central North Dakota, which includes the state capitol of Bismarck.

Signed the Homestead Act
On May 20, 1862 Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act, which had a major impact in opening up settlement of the Northern Plains, including what is now North Dakota. A total of 275 million acres, or 10 percent of the United States, were claimed under the act. Under its provisions, which took effect on January 1, 1863, anyone who was the head of a household and 21 years of age was eligible to claim 160 acres of land. The only cost to the homesteader was an $18 filing fee, after making the necessary “land improvements” of constructing a house and plowing the ground. The homesteader had five years to make the required improvements. The act spurred a great land boom in the western United States, and was largely responsible for populating what is now the state of North Dakota. Pioneers settling in North Dakota came in two waves as a result of the Homestead Act. Between 1879 and 1886, more than 100,000 people settled in the northern Dakota Territory, which became North Dakota after statehood was granted in 1889. The second great movement began in 1898 and continued until about 1915.

Signed the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862
President Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Land Grant College Act on July 2, 1862, which provided grants of land nationwide for the establishment of colleges specializing in agriculture and engineering in addition to, in U.S. Representative Justin Smith Morrill’s (R-VT) own words, “the higher graces of classical study.” The act resulted in the establishment of what is today North Dakota State University in Fargo. At the time of its opening in the late 19th Century, the institution was named North Dakota Agricultural College. In November 1960, the citizens of North Dakota voted to officially change its name to North Dakota State University.

Signed Legislation Approving the First Transcontinental Railroads
President Lincoln signed legislation approving the first transcontinental railroads. As part of this action, he signed the charter for the Northern Pacific Railroad (NPR) on July 2, 1864. The railroad did not attract investors until 1869, when financing was provided by the banking house of Jay Cooke and Company of Philadelphia. By 1873, track had been completed from Duluth, Minnesota to Bismarck, North Dakota, where it stopped when the NPR went bankrupt during the Panic of 1873 and had to reorganize. Eventually, the line ran on to Oregon.

Lincoln and the Dakota Conflict, Including the Siege at Fort Abercrombie
In the summer of 1862, President Lincoln sent his personal secretary, John G. Nicolay, to accompany the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, William P. Dole, on a treaty-making mission to the Chippewa nation. In preparation, Dole’s party assembled in St. Cloud, Minnesota in mid-August. However, they had barely started west to Fort Abercrombie when the Dakota Conflict broke out. Dole, Nicolay and U.S. Senator Morton S. Wilkinson (R-MN) wired Lincoln that a “wild panic prevails in nearly one-half of the state.” The causes of this conflict were many and complex, including the failure of agents and traders to furnish the Dakota Sioux with their annuities. Fort Abercrombie, near what is now Wahpeton, North Dakota, was besieged by Dakota Sioux warriors for more than six weeks.

As a result of the Dakota Conflict, 393 Dakota and mixed bloods were put on trial for “murder and other outrages” committed against white settlers. Of these, 303 were sentenced to be hanged. Lincoln pardoned all but 39, those convicted of rape or participating in the massacre of settlers. One of them was reprieved between the date of Lincoln’s order and the actual execution date of December 26, 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota, which marked the largest mass execution in American history. Lincoln’s clemency created considerable resentment, enough so that in the 1864 Presidential Election, he won Minnesota by only a narrow margin over his Democratic opponent, General George B. McClellan.

Alexander Ramsey, the new U.S. Senator from Minnesota who had been its governor during the 1862 uprising, told Lincoln he that if he had executed more Sioux, he would have won the state by a landslide. “I could not hang men for votes,” Lincoln responded.

Forts Named in Lincoln’s Honor
Located seven miles south of Mandan, the U.S. Army established an infantry post on June 14, 1872 and originally named it Fort McKeen, for Colonel Henry McKeen, killed during the Civil War at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia in June 1864. On November 19, 1872, it was renamed Fort Abraham Lincoln, in honor of the assassinated President. In 1873, it became a nine-company cavalry and infantry post, with a garrison of about 1,000 people, including 655 soldiers. Beginning the same year, Fort Abraham Lincoln served as the final base of operations for Lt. Colonel George A. Custer and the Seventh U.S. Cavalry. The flamboyant “Boy General” of the Civil War departed from the post with his troops on May 17, 1876. Six weeks later, 265 soldiers, including Custer, were killed in a battle with Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors along the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory. Fort Abraham Lincoln was abandoned on July 22, 1891.

A second fort, also named after the 16th President (this one did not include the first name of Abraham), was authorized for construction in 1895, to replace nearby Fort Yates. Built in what is now south Bismarck, Fort Lincoln was first occupied in 1903, with facilities for four companies of infantry and supporting detachments. It was used as an active U.S. Army training base for World War I trainees. Fort Lincoln was used during World War II as an internment camp for German and Japanese military and civilian personnel. After the war, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used it as the planning center for the Garrison Dam Project. Today, it is the campus of United Tribes Technical College, which opened in 1969.

Lincoln’s Tomb Includes Statue Designed by Sakakawea Sculptor The sculptor of the Sakakawea statue on the state capitol grounds in Bismarck and in National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., Leonard Crunelle (1872-1944), also designed a statue, entitled Lincoln the Soldier, that is featured inside Lincoln's tomb in Springfield, Illinois. The original statue of Lincoln the Soldier stands in Dixon, Illinois. The sculpture shows Lincoln as he might have looked as a soldier in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Lincoln recalled that he “went to the campaign, served nearly three months, met the ordinary hardships of such an expedition, but was in no battle.”

Lincoln Statue in Norway Funded/Dedicated by North Dakotans
In 1914, as part of the 100th anniversary of Norway adopting its constitution and declaring itself an independent nation, a group of Norwegian-Americans in North Dakota collected enough money to erect a statue of Lincoln in Oslo, Norway. The idea for the heroic sized bust of Lincoln was inspired by a similar sculpture North Dakota Governor Louis Hanna had seen on a trip to Gettysburg to attend the 50th anniversary of that battle in July 1913.

A delegation traveled to Norway to present the bust as a gift from the people of North Dakota, with the unveiling taking place on July 4, 1914. The delegation included Governor Hanna, former Grand Forks Herald editor George B. Winship, who sent frequent reports via cablegram to the newspaper, and Smith Stimmel, a Fargo man who had once served as a bodyguard to President Lincoln. A poem was read, entitled Abraham Lincoln, written by North Dakota poet laureate James W. Foley, Jr., and Stimmel delivered a eulogy to the late President. Winship reported in a July 4 cablegram that “the presentation of the statue further cements the friendship between Norway and the United States, and especially North Dakota, about one-third of the population of which is Norwegian.” Governor Hanna's daughter, Dorothy, unveiled the statue, which still stands today in Frogner Park in Oslo. It was accompanied by two engraved bronze tablets. One featured an excerpt from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and reads “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The other reads, “Presented to Norway by the people of North Dakota, U.S.A., July 4th, 1914.”

During Germany’s occupation of Norway in World War II, the Lincoln bust became the site of silent anti-Nazi protests. Each July 4 beginning in 1940 until the war ended in 1945, Norwegians gathered at the site by the thousands, their heads bowed in silence. Typically, the Germans forbade any public gatherings or demonstrations, but did not halt this annual event.

The statue was done by 21-year-old Paul Fjelde (pronounced Fell-dee) (1892-1984), an artist living in Valley City who had a long and successful career as a sculptor and was known for his sculptures of famous Norwegian-Americans like Charles A. Lindbergh. Fjelde was selected by a committee chaired by Governor Hanna to create the bust of Lincoln, which was cast in bronze in Chicago. This is the only statue in Oslo’s Frogner Park that is not the work of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). A replica of the Lincoln bronze bust is located on the front lawn of the Traill County Courthouse in Hillsboro, where it was dedicated in ceremonies on September 8, 1918. A second bronze replica, now at the Geneseo Historical Museum in Illinois, was originally located at the Union Stockyards in Chicago. When the stockyards closed in 1971, it was moved elsewhere in the state before being purchased by a former resident of Geneseo and donated to the museum in 1998. The original plaster cast of the bust is housed in the Allen Memorial Library at Valley City State University. Fjelde was a student at then-Valley City State Normal School when he created the statue.

Signed the Department of Agriculture Act of 1862
On May 15, 1862 Lincoln signed legislation establishing the Department of Agriculture as an agency designed to promote U.S. farming and agricultural technology and techniques. He called it the “people’s department.” It was headed by a commissioner without Cabinet status. In February 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill into law establishing the Cabinet level Department of Agriculture.

Ford’s Theatre Restoration Spearheaded by North Dakota Sen. Milton Young
In February 1946, 11 months into a 36-year career in the United States Senate, North Dakota’s Milton R. Young (1897-1983) introduced a resolution to direct the Secretary of the Interior to estimate the cost of restoring Ford’s Theatre. Built in 1863, it closed as a theatre on April 14, 1865 after the assassination of President Lincoln and was purchased by the federal government. Melvin Hildreth, Jr., (1890-1959), a Fargo native and prominent Washington attorney active in Democratic Party politics, had suggested to the Republican senator that he try to restore the theatre. Young was dismayed at the theatre’s poor condition during a visit and agreed to champion the cause. It took eight years before his resolution, which he introduced every year, passed and was signed by President Eisenhower in May 1954. It took another 10 years for Congress to appropriate restoration funds. The $2.7 million project was completed in January 1968, and Young participated in the theatre’s grand opening on February 13, 1968, when the theatre featured its first live performance since Lincoln’s assassination. He was quoted in an article about the restoration in the February 2, 1968 issue of Time magazine, “For those who revere Lincoln, it is a dream come true.” For several years following its reopening, Senator Young served on the Ford’s Theatre Society Board of Trustees.

4-Cent Lincoln Stamp ‘First-Day Cover’ Issued July 31, 1958 in Mandan
According to the Mandan Historical Society, the 4-cent Lincoln stamp was issued because of an August 1, 1958 increase in first-class postage after 26 years at three cents. This red-violet stamp features Lincoln, inspired by a portrait by American artist Douglas Volk (1856-1935). It was issued July 31, 1958 in Mandan, North Dakota. The stamp’s booklet panes (sections from which a sheet of postage stamps is cut for distribution) were issued in Wheeling, West Virginia the same day, as were the 4-cent rolls. However, first-day covers were issued only at the Mandan post office, which was singled out for the honor because of nearby Fort Abraham Lincoln. “First Day Covers” feature unique artwork, known as cachets, applied to envelopes affixed with the new postage stamp but only on the date of first issue and only from the selected post office(s). Lincoln ranks as the third most frequently featured subject of a U.S. postage stamp. Only George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have appeared on more stamp issues.

For information about the national commemoration, visit the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission website at

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