Curtis Eriksmoen, Published October 29 2011
Eriksmoen: Incumbent forced off ticket by opposition
An article written by historian D. Jerome Tweton states, “Party leaders (in 1900), fearing a Democratic sweep in the Valley, decided to replace (Fred) Fancher with (Frank) White.”
Fancher was easily elected governor in 1898 because he had a broad base of support that included the Farmers’ Alliance and Alexander McKenzie. By 1900, however, according to Tweton, Red River Valley Republicans fed up with McKenzie “had enough conservative bossism.” Because Fancher was McKenzie’s man, he had to go.
Fancher was born April 2, 1852, on a farm near Albion in western New York. In 1866, the Fanchers moved to southeastern Michigan, where Fred attended high school. He then enrolled at the State Normal School (now Eastern Michigan University) in Ypsilanti, where he obtained his teaching certificate in 1870.
Early in 1871, Fancher moved to Chicago and became involved in the insurance business. He then moved to New York City and became a fire underwriter with the Continental Insurance Company.
In May 1881, Fancher and his wife, Florence, moved to northern Dakota after he obtained a homestead six miles out of Jamestown. Besides his own farm, Fancher managed large Jamestown-area farms owned by Stevens, Buck and Co. out of Troy, Vt., and William Preston out of Harrisburg, Pa.
Many farmers were angered in the early 1880s because of abuses by railroad, elevator and financial interests. As a result, the Farmers’ Alliance was formed. In December 1884, at a meeting in Huron, in southern Dakota Territory, the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance was born, which created the Alliance Hail Association with active involvement by Fancher. In 1886, he was elected vice president of the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance.
When North Dakota was preparing to become a state, a convention was conducted to draft the state’s constitution. On July 5, 1889, the second day of the Constitutional Convention, Fancher received more than 75 percent of the votes to become the convention’s president. After North Dakota became a state on Nov. 2, Fancher was elected president of the board of trustees for the North Dakota Hospital for the Insane. He also created and presided over the Alliance Hail Association of North Dakota and was named manager of the Jamestown Electric Light Co.
At the Republican State Convention in Fargo in 1892, Fancher was nominated to be state insurance commissioner. He was defeated by James Cudhie. In 1894, Fancher was again nominated by the Republicans and won the general election by 6,364 votes and was re-elected in 1896 by a large majority.
Frank Briggs was elected governor in 1896 but was suffering from tuberculosis when the North Dakota Republican Convention met in Fargo on July 20. Briggs died three weeks later. Lt. Gov. Joseph Devine was “considered too progressive for the McKenzie machine” and was passed over. Instead, it nominated Fancher, who had some Alliance support and “was a steadfast disciple of McKenzie.” Fancher was handily elected.
Tweton wrote that near the end of the 1890s, progressive Republicans in the Red River Valley began to protest the domination of McKenzie in the state’s politics. Many of them supported George Winship, editor of the Grand Forks Herald, for governor in 1900.
On July 9, delegates to the Republican State Convention met in Grand Forks. It was apparent at the outset that McKenzie’s operatives had already been busy whipping up support to get Fancher re-elected. When the votes were cast, Fancher received twice as many as Winship. One person who received support from almost all of the delegates was Frank White, the candidate for lieutenant governor.
Following the convention, a rumor of Fancher’s illness became more believable when he failed to become involved in a vigorous campaign. Fearing that Max Wipperman, the Democratic candidate, might be elected governor, the Republican State Committee gathered in Grand Forks on Sept. 26. At that meeting, a letter was presented that was claimed to have been written by Fancher, withdrawing from the race because of ill health. White was then advanced as the gubernatorial candidate and was subsequently elected.
Fancher visited California, where he claimed he remarkably regained his health. In 1901, he moved to Sacramento, California’s capital, and became actively involved with the American Cash Store, a popular grocery store. Attempts were made to get him to run for mayor, but he refused, claiming he was through with politics.
Fancher died on Jan. 19, 1944. In 2008, his alma mater, EMU, inducted him into its hall of fame.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.