Eriksmoen: Early North Dakota political figure became the namesake of a county and three towns in the state
Judson LaMoure was the most geographically honored person in the history of North Dakota. LaMoure County and the towns of Jud, Judson, and LaMoure were all named in his honor.
LaMoure served continuously in the North Dakota Senate from the time of statehood in 1889 until his retirement in 1912, and he was one of the most influential political people in the state government. On a number of occasions, he made the decision as to who would be the U.S. senator from North Dakota.
Prior to moving to Pembina in 1870, LaMoure steadily earned respect from those who knew him in southern Dakota Territory because of his honesty, determination and hard work. In 1860, he began farming with his brother in the southeastern corner of the territory. LaMoure later worked for a transportation company before becoming a subagent at an Indian agency.
While working as a subagent, LaMoure was also named deputy U.S. marshal and was transferred to Pembina in 1870 to monitor a possible invasion of Canada by anti-British rebels. During the late 1860s, U.S. Irish Catholic rebels (Fenians) launched several raids into Canada with the goal of overthrowing the Canadian government and holding it for ransom in exchange for the independence of Ireland. These attempts were bloody because the U.S. government did not try to stop them.
However, when Ulysses Grant became president, he made it known that America would intervene if any attempts were made to invade Canada through the U.S. in the future. A plot was hatched to launch an attack on Canada through Pembina and seize Manitoba, a new Canadian province, and offer to annex it to the U.S. In early October 1871, a small group of rebels crossed the Canadian border and seized the Dominion Customs House and looted the nearby Hudson Bay Co.'s trading post.
Capt. Loyd Wheaton, the commander of Fort Pembina, took a group of soldiers into Canada, captured the Fenians and turned them over to LaMoure. On Oct. 7, the prisoners were brought to trial with Wheaton representing the U.S. and Enos Stutsman and George F. Potter representing the defendants. The Fenians were not found guilty and released.
As a deputy U.S. marshal, one of LaMoure’s duties was to interview and secure Pembina County citizens for jury duty. Pembina County was organized in 1867, and it covered much of present-day North Dakota directly west of Minnesota. Fulfilling his duty, LaMoure became acquainted with nearly all of the non-Indian residents in the county. Up until this time, almost all of these residents lived in, or near, the towns of Pembina and St. Joe/Walhalla, and candidates for the territorial Legislature who resided in the extreme northeastern corner of the territory were always elected.
This was about to change because, as the Northern Pacific Railroad neared the Red River from the east, land speculators rushed to the west side of the river and established land claims where they believed the railroad would cross the river. The majority of the speculators settled on claims in, or near, present-day Fargo, which they called either “The Crossing” or Centralia.
In June 1872, Nelson E. Nelson chaired a county convention and called for the selection of candidates for the upcoming election. The candidates selected for the northern region of the county were Stutsman for the Council/Senate and LaMoure for the House. The citizens from the southern part of Pembina County nominated G. H. Stone, of Centralia, for the House and A. C. Moore, of Wild Rice, for the Council. When the election was held, the candidates receiving the most votes were Stone and Moore, and they were declared the winners.
However, “the skill and finesse of Stutsman was brought into play, and through him the entire vote of the south was thrown out, and he and LaMoure were given seats in the Legislature.” Stutsman was not only a gifted attorney, but also a veteran of Dakota Territory politics. He had served four terms in the Council, and in three of those terms, he was Council president.
The 10th Dakota Territorial Legislative session, which met in Yankton from Dec. 2, 1872, to Jan. 10, 1873, was very instrumental for northern Dakota Territory. Not only were Stutsman and LaMoure seated, but E. A. Williams, from Bismarck, was elected, becoming the first legislator in northern Dakota from west of the Missouri River.
As the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks were laid west to Bismarck, settlements sprang up all along the tracks, and Stutsman, LaMoure, and Williams were busy naming new counties to be created: Bottineau, Burbank, Burleigh, Cass, Foster, Gingras, Grand Forks, Kidder, LaMoure, Logan, McHenry, Morton, Mountrail, Ramsey, Ransom, Renville, Richland, Rolette, Stutsman and Williams. The name of Burbank County was later changed to Barnes County and Gingras was renamed Wells County.
During the next election, no candidate from Pembina was elected to the Legislature, largely because the candidates from the more populous town of Fargo were elected. Another reason may be that LaMoure’s good friend and mentor, Stutsman, who was a very successful and popular politician, died Jan. 24, 1874. He and LaMoure became friends in the early 1860s, when both men were active members of the Republican party in southeastern Dakota Territory.
LaMoure was elected to the Council in 1876 after Cass County was placed in a different district, but he was defeated in 1878 when George Walsh, a popular politician from the rapidly growing town of Grand Forks, was elected. Rather than run against Walsh in 1880, LaMoure was successful in getting elected to the House.
In 1882, LaMoure decided not to run for reelection and encouraged his father-in-law, Nelson E. Nelson, to run for the House in his place. Nelson was elected, and he was so admired by his fellow legislators that they created a new county named in his honor. Nelson County was created March 3, 1883, by annexing territory from Foster, Grand Forks and Ramsey counties.
LaMoure was reelected to the Council in 1884, and after his term was over, he took time off to attend to other affairs, making powerful alliances in the process. He was elected to the Dakota Territorial Commission of Railroads in 1888 and named chairman. When North Dakota became a state in 1889, LaMoure was in an excellent position to become a strong political force in the new state.
We will conclude the story of Judson LaMoure next week.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at email@example.com.