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Eriksmoen: Civil War officer launched North Dakota banks

North Dakota "is blest with a larger number of banks per capita than any other state in the Union." "The first person to engage in the banking business" in what is now North Dakota was a Civil War officer who later was the treasurer for all of Da...

North Dakota "is blest with a larger number of banks per capita than any other state in the Union."

"The first person to engage in the banking business" in what is now North Dakota was a Civil War officer who later was the treasurer for all of Dakota Territory. James Raymond was one of the early movers and shakers vital in establishing a vigorous business climate in Bismarck. He relocated to Minneapolis to take over two large financial institutions in that city.

Raymond was born on April 25, 1841, in Chicago. After receiving his education in Illinois, he moved to Minnesota, where he first became involved in the mercantile business. After the Civil War began, Raymond enlisted with the 177th Ohio Infantry in September 1862. On Oct. 11, he was shipped to Harper's Ferry in West Virginia and assigned to the quartermaster's unit.

During the next 13 months, Raymond was involved in heavy fighting at the battles of Dumfries, Gettysburg, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Ringgold Gap. At the latter battle, Raymond was severely wounded in the thigh and, unable to evade the Confederate soldiers, was captured.

After his release, Raymond was commissioned on Oct. 4, 1864, and in short order, was appointed to 1st lieutenant and then captain. On March 7, 1865, he was assigned to the 91st Ohio Volunteers Infantry and three months later was mustered out of the Union Army with the rest of his company. Raymond returned to Minnesota, where he established himself as a merchant in Duluth.

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On May 14, 1873, Raymond came to Bismarck with John Whalen. When the first train arrived there on June 20, three of the freight cars were loaded with merchandise that Raymond had ordered. He used the goods from the train to establish a mercantile business at 47 Main Ave., which he named the Empire Supply Store. His store carried groceries, hardware, clothing, railroad supplies and grain. During the first year, sales amounted to $60,000. Business was so abundant that Raymond took in George Fairchild as a partner in May 1874.

At the time, there were no banks in northern Dakota Territory and only six in the southern part of the territory. In order for Bismarck to grow and thrive, Raymond established the Bank of Bismarck in October 1873. When Bismarck was incorporated as a city on January 14, 1875, he was appointed as city treasurer.

For the next seven years, as Bismarck grew to become a major city in the territory, Raymond became very wealthy. He helped fund many of the businesses in the city, and in gratitude, the citizens elected him as president of Bismarck Chamber of Commerce and mayor in 1882. On May 8, 1882, he organized a larger financial institution, Bismarck Merchants National Bank. Within a year, deposits in Raymond's bank totaled nearly a half-million dollars. He also helped establish banks in Jamestown and Courtenay, N.D.

The biggest event in Dakota Territory in 1883 was the relocation of the capital from Yankton to Bismarck. Many of the territorial executive officers lived in Yankton and did not wish to relocate in the new capital. William H. McVay had been treasurer of the territory, but with considerable "private business" interests in Yankton, he chose not to move to Bismarck. It was generally considered that Raymond had the greatest financial mind in northern Dakota Territory, and he was appointed territorial treasurer by the governor in 1883. He remained in this position until 1887.

As treasurer, Raymond appeared to be both honest and fearless. He took on the powerful Northern Pacific Railroad, which he declared had not paid sufficient taxes in 1887. When the railroad refused to pay what he established they owed, Raymond seized eight locomotive engines and threatened to sell them until their debt was paid in full. The railroad forced Raymond to return the engines through an appeal to the territorial court. Because Raymond was distrustful of the railroads, he helped establish the board of railway commissioners in Dakota Territory in 1885. The name was later changed to public service commission.

In 1888, Raymond moved to Minneapolis, first as vice president and later that year as president of the National Bank of Commerce. Three years later he took over as president of the Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis. As a bank president, Raymond was a strong advocate of getting rid of silver dollars, which he considered a "nuisance." He flooded "the northwest with paper money in hopes that he could drive the silver dollar out of business. He added several hundred thousands in bills to the circulating currency of Minneapolis and the northwest." This worked for a short period of time, but it was not long before the paper money in circulation was replaced with silver dollars. When his health began to fail him, Raymond resigned from the bank in July 1903 and died later that year.

"Did You Know That" is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net .

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