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The Billings County Pioneer
Beach, North Dakota
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November 24, 1960     The Billings County Pioneer
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November 24, 1960
 

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BILLINGS COUNTY PIONEER IRma mR One of North Dakota's master politici~n~ of all time never actually held office, but relied instead on skillful manipulation of those who did. Sally Lovell of Beach relates the remarkable story of Alexan- der lYreKenzie in the article which follows. McKenzie's name has been recommended to the North Dakota Statuary Hall Commission for consideration in selecting a North Dakota subject for Statuary Hall in Washington, D. C. Mrs. Lovell's grandfather, John Wishek, was a friend of Mc- Kenzie, and her father, Max, recalls an occasion in St. Paul when McKenzie entertained father-and-son when as a lad he accompanied his father there. 0 CII'I.y" By Sally Loveil Today, the nume of Alexander McKenzie stirs only an echo ol remembrance. Yet. sixty years ago he was a potent political force in North Dakota. There are some who said he wa~ as crooked as hotmd's leg; and some who claimed he was a statesman. Be that as it may, McKenzie County and the names of the ,~wns of A4exan- der and Mrl~enzie are the tangible evidence of his one-time power. But th2 part he ptayed in placing .the capitol at Bismarck, in fram- ing the state constitution, and in making provision for a college at Fargo is less obvious, and more easily forgotten. MeKenz~e was seventeen years old when he came to Dakota Territory in 1867. Employed first by Stevenson's wagon train, which carried military supplies to Fort Rice, he later became a dispatch carrier between Forts Rice and Buford Tall and handsome, physi- cally courageous, yet quiet and soft-spoken, McKenzie was quick to grasl~ the opportunity this raw. bleak land offered. There was no lack of opportunity. The Civil War had ended two years before, and waves of land hungry settlens were flooding west. ~neouraged by the Homestead Acts. The Northern Pacific Railroad had received its charter from the government in 1864 with federal land grants of 50 million acres of public land, about 35 million of it in North Dakota, Montana and Washington. By 1872 the railroad h~d been built as far as Fargo. This same year Alexander McKenzie was put in charge of the track laying for the Northern Pacific from Fargo. west to B~smarck. MeKenzie proved himself o be a leader and an adept psycholo- gist. He became a citizen of Bis- marck, and by allying himself with the railroad interests, he formed a firm. McKenz.% and Coffin, to represent the huge land holdings of the Northern Pacific. Those were ,the years that the railroads were economic dragons, thrusting their fiery heads into every area of growth sometimes misusing their power An adroit policici~n, MeKen- zie became the Northern Pa- cifl~'s lobbyist and political voice in the earl,v legislatures. He was a behind-the4eenes figure, the man who pulled the strings to make his marionet- tes dance, by using a combina- tion of personal magnetism and judicial bribery (e.g free pas- es on the railroad.) He made enemies, of course. Rut even they spoke of his friendliness. An editor in South- ern Dakota at the time comment- ed: "There is not a political enemy with wh~m MeKenzie does not take time to speak -- he can slap them all on the shoulder and sit down for a con- fidential chat. He is generous to his friends, and know~s just which way to approach things and pea- Three Bismarck dandies pose in front of the McKenzie Hotel in Bismarck, on a brisk September day in 1919. Left-to-right: Isaac P. Baker, Mis.~ouri river captain and banker who at one time operated the Benton Packet Boat Line Co.; Gen. Hugh L. Scott of . Princeton, N. J. and the Honorable Alexan- der McKenzie. The picture was a gift of Mrs. Butt ple." (Reminds one of Bill L.) The selection of the capitol site involved McKenzie in one of his most devious schemes. T h Northern Pacific Railroad re'ach- ed Bismarck in 1873. The terri- torial captiol was at Yankton, a location that was most incon- venient for the citizens of north- ern Dakota. in those days of ani- mal horse-power. The Northern Pacific especi ally wanted the capitol relocated along its own right of way and the city of Bismarck was its choice. McKenzie. as the railroad's un- official representative, was the man who worked to bring this about. The politician exerted powerful influence over Terri- torial capitol was at Yankton, a way, und he persuaded him t, appoint a capitol commission o1' nine members who were empow. ered to name any site. This commission, which in- cluded McKenzie, was put in the form of a bill. which was rail roaded through the legislature before the lawmakers w er e aware of what was happening. It deprived the people of any voice in the selection of their capitol. The feeling was especially bit- ter in the Yankton area -~ and since the bill provided the com- mission must meet, organize and adjourn in Yankton, the mem- bers of the commission were warned - or threatened . not to come near the town. McKenzie was undaunted. With the help of his railroad con- nections, he provided ~ special train, with dimmed lights and a loyal guard and crew. The train left Sioux City, Iowa, at 3 a.m. and slid into Yankton at 5 a.m. The commission was called to order, elected its officers and ad- }ourned as the special rolled Original McKenzie Home Finney of Bismarck to the State Historical Library. Baker's daughter, Julia B. Leach of Bis- marck, recalls that her father ~nd McKenzie were good friends, despite their substantial differences in political matters. "Father was Ntaional Committeeman of the state Demo- cratic party at one time, and MeKenzie, of course, was a life-long Republican. slowly out of the Yankton limits. To still the indignant uproar the commission made a pretense Df considering other towns. But the capitol cornerstone ceremo- nies took place in Bismarck in 1883. Spoilers Head North Around the turn of the cen- tury i~ the time of the robbe~ barons there was many a plum ripe for picking. One of thes~~ plums was Alaska. Congres had finally passed in 1900, a civil code for Alaska, 33 years after Alaska nad been purchased from Russia. The citizens of Name were at last to have a judge, rrmr~hal, prosecuting attorney and a staff of clerks. This first judge, appointed in Washington, was Arthur Noyes. He was accompanied to Alaska by a friend, Alexander MeKen- zie, who was North Dakota state republican chairman at the time. The two men had perfected a completely unscrupulous plan, which was to have a false clai- mant re, take a mine already be- ing worked - one of the better ones. All Nice and Legal Pretending that the ownership of the mine was disputed, Judge Noyes would appoint 1VPcKenzie as receiver. The real owners were dispossessed with the help of soldiers. Noyes and McKenzie claimed that the gold ~hey were recovering from the min~s was being deposited in the bank, but they would not tell the owners how much ha~ been taken out. In less than ~ week they had possession of most of the richest mines. The owners protested, naturally. Judge Noyes paid no attention to them, par would he allow an appeal to be made ~to a higher court in San Francisco. Finally, the owners sent lawyers to Call- fornia who brought b*ack orders to return the seized properties. Confident of his Washington backing, Judge Noyes refused to c~mply. The owners' lawyers went again to San Francisco, and this time two U. S. Marshals came back with them on the boat. The game was up and Mc- Kenzie ~as arrested. By the following summer, both he and Judge Noyes had stood trial. Two of their staff mem- bers served prison sentences, but President McKinley effected Mc- Ke.nzie's release after he was convicted. Noyes wa~ let off wit~ a small fine. Basis For Book Rex Beach was working a claim in S~turday Gulch at the time, and he was so violently aroused that he described the whole sorry business vividly and quite accurately in his book '~he Spoilers". T h e mine owner~ never did learn how much of their treasure was drained away by the "Alaska Gold Mining Co. of N. Y.". although a large amount was returned to them. McKenzie survived the scandal well enough judging by the fact that McKenzie County was or- ganized in 1905 by an Act of the Legislature. The personal life of Alexander McKenzie was almost as bizarre as his business and political af- fairs. In 1873 he married Mary Allen Hayes and built a large, many gabled house in Bismarck. l~hey had three children, M~ry, Anne and John. John died of diphtheria in Bismarck. Divorce shattered this marri- age in 1887, and MeKenzie bought a home for his wife a~o two daughters in St. Paul. Mrs. McKenzie died there in 1896. In 1890 McKenzie married again. His second wife was Elva E. Stewart, a Bismarck school teacher. He established a home for her and the three children of this marriage in Yorkers, N.Y A strange thing it is that none of the many friends -- and enemies - of Alexander MeKen- zie l~ew of this second family The secret was well-kept unti! his will was read after his death. The ,second Mrs. McKenzie died may, 1922, jus~ a month before McKenzie. Many of McKenzie's later years were spent in St. Paul. [~rinn where he died on June 22, 1922 at the age of 71. He was buried in St. Mary's cometary. Bismarck. When Shakespeare wrote, "The evil that men do lives after them: the good is oft interred with their bones," he might have been speaking of Alexander McKen- say, as the Forum editor did ip zie. But perhaps it is enough to 1922: "There was a man". And he was a man to remember. Conlinenlal Io Buy Calvert Oil Properties ContInenra~ Oil Co. has of- fered to buy the producing and non-producing properties o f Calvert Petroleum Co which has a major office in Bismarck. The offer was disclosed by F. Allen Calvert, president of the Calvert Company, who explain- ed it was made subject to adop- tion of a plan for complete li- quidation presently under con- templation by Calvert Petroleum. Calvert said the offer would be considered by the company's board of directors in a few days and if deemed satisfactory would be submitted to stockholders at a date yet to be set. James V. Boxell of Bismarck is a vice president of the Cal- vert company and in charge of the company's extensive activi- ties in the Williston Basin. The continental offer involves $4.5 million cash and an addition- al production payment of $6 mil- lion to be arranged, for a total of 10.5 million. The deal has been in the making for several weeks and has been rumor- ed in industry circles. If made, it wou~d mean cussolu- tion of Calvert Petroleum, as such, Calvert said. ~owever. Continental is not buying the company's 16 drilling rigs and certain other equipment, and it is the intention of a group of key exeutives and employes to acquire these rigs, if possible, and to continue with out inter- ruption the company's contract- ing and exploration business. The rigs currently are opera- ting in Oklahoma, New Mexico. Colorado, Utah, North Dakota, Michigan and Illinois, Calvert Petroleum has had an exciting growth during a three- year period in which oil industry conditions were not the best. 'Falan~ly operated a~ Cal- vert Drilling, Inc the company was privately owned until Sep- tember 1957 when a public of- fering of approximately half the stock was made for $2,500,000. AaMERICAN BRANDT SEEN NEAR DEVILS LAKE Some strange waterfowl visi- tors to this area were observed near Devils Lake last week, by Bob Railings, biologist fat the game and fish department. Rollings saw four American Brandt in a field in Nelson county. Brandt are small geese associated with salt water along our coasts. The American Brandt is found along the Atlantic Coast, and it is unusual for them to wan~ der this far weather and excel- lent waterfowl conditions. The easiest way :to control mastitis is to keep it from getting started in the first place. Bruises, injuries and dirt are three cul- prits in getting mastitis started. Soil testing is just as much a part of today's farm operation as a modern tractor, fertilizer, pe- estieid er a modern record keep- ing system. McKenzie built his home in 1884, origi- nally locating it out of town. Before the home was built he had lived on Main avenue ~een Fifth and Sixth streets. McKenzie had moved the home to 722 Fifth Sz on property now occupied by the Zion Lutheran Church. After the McKenzie family leR Bis- marck, the home was occupied in turn by Judge J. M. Batholomew and several (other families) and later hou~cl the Mill Sm~a- torture. purebred it and loeattott at 1156 North Fourth St wher~ it is now the E. O. Agre home. Mrs. Peter Reid recalls that MeKenzie, when he was in his 60s, made a sort of pil- grimage to the house while her family was living there. "I recall that we were having the outside painted, when he asked to see the hot~se again," she says. "We ,took him through, and he pointed out the stationary tubs and the wood-and-coal stove he had purchased for the kitchen, the Italian marble flxeplace and the fine woodwork - most of it black walnut. In thos days the house still had its long veraaela which has since beet, removed." Pioneer eRizens of the Bismarck area braved a blustry Dec. 29th, !938 to erect a suitable monument over McKenzie's grave in St. Mary's Cemetery, replacing the origi- nal marker. Pictured left-to-right Rre four ~ho figur- ed prominently in the dedication ceremony md the effort to obtain the newer grave- stone: Dr. M. W. Roan, Minot Atty. Thomas Murphy, who was the dedication speaker; Gov. William L. Langer and Cass County Sen. G. W. Haggart, committee chairman. Other~ on the committee: Dr, W. E. Cole, F A. Tosteviln, Edmond A. Hughes, Rober~ Hughes, William Hughes, Peter Reid, Hugh McCullough, J. P. French, A. C. Wiper, Lee Nichols, Maj. J. M. Hanley, Alex As~nbridge, Angus Stewart, George Day, B. O. Ward, W. B. Couch, Roy Logan, Ed G. Patterson, Dr. V. J. LaRose, Dr. F. B. Strauss, W. A. Fal- coner, A. IW. Zuger, Walter Ray, Frank Ray, Morris Beck and .C J. Clark. The native granite stone was obtained about 20 miles weet of Mandan and fashioned Into two perfectly matching sections by Hy- nek Rybnicek. The upright portion weighs about five tons, and the foundation weighs an estimated 1 tons. (.Information supplied by the St'ate His- torical Society.)