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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published February 07 2010

Fargo businessman was nearly first governor of North Dakota

A highly successful Fargo businessman was denied becoming the first governor of North Dakota by only three votes.

Evan S. Tyler owned thousands of acres of Red River Valley land and businesses in Fargo and surrounding towns. He was the second mayor of Fargo and served two terms in the state Legislature.

One of the more touching stories about him was the deep and lasting love he had for his wife. Clara Barnes Tyler died one day short of their sixth anniversary and, for the remaining 40 years of his life, he never remarried. Prior to his death, he requested that he be buried next to her in Delavan, Wis., even though he had never lived in that city.

Evantine Sobieski Tyler was born March 23, 1842, in Damascus, in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. After serving with the 112th of the Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, Tyler stayed in the South to help with Reconstruction in Petersburg, Va.

In fall 1867, he moved to Owatonna, Minn., where he helped his older brother, Ezra, in the grocery business. After five years in Owatonna, he got a job with the U.S. Express Co., hauling parcels of mail on the railroad. In June 1872, the Northern Pacific Railroad crossed the Red River from Moorhead.

In spring 1873, Tyler’s job brought him to Fargo, where he met Newton K. Hubbard, a successful businessman who operated stores in Brainerd, Moorhead and Glyndon in Minnesota, and Jamestown in Dakota. Hubbard convinced Tyler to become his bookkeeper.

In 1873, Hubbard realized Fargo would soon outgrow Moorhead because the Northern Pacific designated Fargo as its “division point.” As a result, Hubbard purchased the first three business lots in Fargo. He made Tyler a business partner and helped Tyler establish “the first general mercantile house in Fargo.”

On Aug. 1, 1874, Hubbard and Tyler took possession of the Headquarters Hotel. It was built by the Northern Pacific in fall 1872. On Sept. 12, Hubbard and Tyler began a weekly newspaper called the Northern Pacific Mirror, which they consolidated with the Fargo Express one year later. On Sept. 22, the Headquarters Hotel burned down and the two men rebuilt a larger, more accommodating hotel in just 90 days.

At the same time, Tyler began to deal in grain and real estate. He operated a bank in the rear of his store and got involved in city politics. In 1876, he was elected mayor. One of his priorities was city beautification, so he persuaded the park board to acquire Oak Grove Park and urged the Northern Pacific Railroad to donate 40.5 acres of Island Park to the city. In 1878, Fargo Mayor George Egbert appointed Tyler as Fargo’s first park superintendent. In February of the same year, Hubbard and Tyler founded the First National Bank in Fargo.

Tyler met Clara Barnes, the daughter of Alanson Barnes, a judge on the Supreme Court for Dakota Territory and the district judge for northern Dakota. The two were married on Valentine’s Day in 1877.

Judge Barnes and Tyler became close, and the newlyweds lived with the judge and Clara’s step-mother. Barnes and Tyler began buying up large tracts of land south and west of Fargo, and land in Clay and LaMoure counties. Tyler dissolved his partnership with Hubbard in 1880.

Tyler decided to build a home for his family on eight acres of scenic land on the bank of the Red River in Oak Grove. He hired the firm of Megan and Kelly to design and build his wife’s dream home. The firm had earlier designed Red River Valley Bank and Fargo High School. Construction began in 1882, and it was nearing completion by the end of the year.

They wanted to move into the “Tyler Castle” on their sixth wedding anniversary. They went to Minneapolis to purchase furnishings when Clara became very ill. She died on Feb. 13, 1883, one day before they planned to move into their new home. Tyler never lived in the house and he never remarried. Tyler sold his “castle” to G.S. Barnes, a wealthy Minnesota farmer.

On March 12, 1887, Dakota Gov. Louis K. Church appointed Tyler as public examiner for northern Dakota. As North Dakota was about to become a state in 1889, the first Republican state convention was held in Fargo on Aug. 21, 1889.

Because northern Dakota was predominantly Republican, it was a foregone conclusion that the people selected at the convention would become the state officers at the general election. Republicans were divided between the “old guard” headed by Alexander McKenzie, and the members of the Farmers Alliance.

The candidate for the old guard was Harrison Allen, a Fargo resident who had been U.S. marshal for Dakota Territory. The Alliance candidate was John Miller, the manager of a bonanza farm in Richland County. When the convention became contentious, Allen withdrew in favor of Tyler. Miller beat Tyler by a vote of 130-126. In the general election, Miller was easily elected. Tyler lost out on becoming North Dakota’s first governor by only three votes. Tyler was then elected to the state Legislature. He won re-election in 1894.

Tyler continued to run his vast business interests. He was appointed state examiner by Gov. Frank White on March 21, 1903. Tyler died in Fargo on Aug. 20, 1923.

“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.