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Battle for the Territorial Capital

Alexander McKenzie controlled business and politics in Dakota and often used his influence to enrich the Northern Pacific Railroad. (SHSND A2279)

Since the majority of the members of the Commission were from southern Dakota, it was assumed that the capital would be located in one of the cities of that area.  The Commission made the rounds of the towns in competition and was royally entertained by all; the reception at Bismarck was especially extravagant.

Alexander McKenzie was one of the nine members of the Capital Removal Commission. He first came to Dakota in 1867 with a wagon train carrying supplies to Fort Rice. During the summer of 1872, at the age of 22, he worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad, in charge of laying track on the main line west of Fargo. He settled in Bismarck, and in 1874 was appointed sheriff of Burleigh County, a position to which he was subsequently re-elected and served with distinction for 12 years.

The location of the territorial capital at some point on its main line in northern Dakota would prove immensely profitable for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and it chose McKenzie as its political agent to accomplish this purpose. It turned out that the choice was a wise one.  A natural leader, Alexander McKenzie was tall, handsome and fearless; he had a friendly greeting and a hearty handshake for everyone. His personal magnetism drew allies to his cause; his power of organization held them together and made them willing helpers.

The capital city had to donate at least 160 acres for the site and contribute the sum of $100,000 for construction of the capitol building. The Northern Pacific Railroad furnished the required tract of land, and Bismarck residents raised $100,000 in cash, but not without considerable difficulty.