A governor and two U.S. senators owed their elected positions to Judson LaMoure, an early North Dakota legislator from Pembina.

John Miller became North Dakota’s first governor, primarily because LaMoure threw his support behind him in a deadlocked primary. In 1893, William Roach was elected to the U.S. Senate on the 61st ballot because LaMoure convinced legislators from Stutsman and Cass counties to vote for him. In 1899, Porter McCumber was not the favorite of seven candidates running for the U.S. Senate, but LaMoure was able to convince enough legislators to switch their votes over to get McCumber elected.

LaMoure came to Pembina in 1870 as a deputy U.S. marshal to monitor a group of Irish rebels preparing to invade Canada. As a marshal, there were other notable events he took part in, such as leading “a rescue party into a horrific (1873) blizzard to find and save a group of laundry women and small children accidentally left behind by Custer.”

In 1878, a man who went by the name of William Gale became a bartender at a Pembina saloon. It was later revealed that Gale’s real identity was William Collins, a former member of the Sam Bass gang that carried out a lucrative train robbery in Nebraska. William Anderson, a Texas Ranger who knew Collins, was sent to Pembina to arrest the outlaw. However, since Collins could identify him, Anderson asked for assistance from Charlie Brown, the sheriff of Pembina County, and LaMoure.

Brown and LaMoure went to the bar where Collins worked, hoping to catch the outlaw off guard and make their arrest, but the effort failed. Anderson later encountered Collins in the post office, and both men were killed when a shootout took place.

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Judson LaMoure. Special to The Forum
Judson LaMoure. Special to The Forum

Besides serving as deputy U.S. marshal, LaMoure also farmed near Pembina. In 1874, he married Minnie, the daughter of his good friend, Nelson T. Nelson. Four years later, LaMoure established a general merchandise store in Pembina, which he later moved to Neche.

Now that LaMoure was involved in business, he was looking to expand his market. A possible solution was floated to him by Alexander Griggs, who operated a large Red River shipping business out of Grand Forks. In July 1880, Griggs, LaMoure and other Grand Forks investors organized a syndicate to found a new community midway between Pembina and Grand Forks. They named the new community St. Andrews, and “the syndicate built some businesses there, but when the (Great Northern) railroad didn’t run through St. Andrews, it failed.”

Undeterred, the St. Andrews syndicate joined with Oscar Towner and George Walsh in a plan to organize a town on the shore of Devils Lake that could become the Dakota Territory capitol once it was removed from Yankton. On Nov. 11, 1882, they formed the Devils Lake Township Co., and Towner located a site 6 miles south of Crary. Towner purchased this land and he, along with others, began constructing buildings.

Griggs contacted his former business partner, James J. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway, to try and convince him to run tracks through the projected town that they named Odessa. When Hill refused to do this, the plan was abandoned.

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In 1883, LaMoure took action that demonstrated his integrity and ultimately earned him the respect of other political leaders. Nehemiah Ordway was governor of Dakota Territory and had a reputation for “under-the-table” deals. When the governor appointed his son, George Ordway, as auditor of Dakota Territory, LaMoure had seen enough. He called the governor “a bribe-taker, bribe-giver, as well as a malicious liar” and referred to George as “a drunken sot.”

In 1884, Nehemiah Ordway was removed from office, and LaMoure’s political profile continued to rise. When North Dakota became a state in 1889, LaMoure was already recognized as a respected political leader. Since the Republican Party was clearly the dominant party in the state, the Republican primary would likely determine who would be the successful candidates in the general election.

The Republican primary was held Aug. 21, and the nomination for governor became very contentious. After several ballots, the two leading candidates were John Miller, the manager of a large bonanza farm in Richland County, and Evan Tyler, a highly successful Fargo businessman.

“It appeared that Tyler would win until LaMoure crossed over and supported Miller.” Miller easily won in the general election, becoming North Dakota’s first governor.

Until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1912, U.S. senators were elected by members of their state's legislature. In 1893, Sen. Lyman Casey, a Republican, was up for reelection, and he was the preferred candidate of LaMoure. However, because many farmers believed that they were being exploited by Republican politicians, they elected many non-Republican candidates to the Legislature. This meant the opportunity for a Republican to be elected was greatly diminished.

The voting process lasted 47 days with 60 rounds of voting, and the two candidates with the most votes were John Benton, from Fargo, and William Roach, from Larimore, who were both Democrats. To break the deadlock, LaMoure went to the Cass County and Stutsman County caucuses and urged them to vote for Roach. On the 61st ballot, Roach was elected to the U.S. senate.

In 1899, there were seven Republican candidates running for the U.S. senate, and five of them were people that Alexander McKenzie and LaMoure approved of. One candidate, Martin Johnson, did not meet their approval, and another candidate, Porter McCumber, was someone McKenzie felt indifferent about.

Johnson was the most respected candidate by most of the legislators and would likely be the winner, so McKenzie sent LaMoure to check with legislators to see how that could be prevented. When LaMoure learned that the second choice of most lawmakers was McCumber, he successfully convinced a sufficient number of them to change their vote to McCumber.

A sign welcoming visitors to LaMoure, N.D. City of LaMoure / Special to The Forum
A sign welcoming visitors to LaMoure, N.D. City of LaMoure / Special to The Forum

LaMoure served in the North Dakota Senate until 1912, and in his honor, LaMoure County was incorporated in 1873. Also named in his honor were the cities of LaMoure, founded in 1882; Judson, established in 1901; and Jud, established in 1909.

Judson LaMoure died March 16, 1918.

“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 cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.