Erastus Appleman Williams
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About Erastus Appleman Williams
Erastus Appleman Williams (1850-1930), legislator when state was a territory and former mayor of Bismarck. He played a large part in naming many of the counties of North Dakota. 1980 population 22,000.
There are few people in the history of North Dakota who figured as prominently in the political and economic establishment of the state as Erastus Appleman Williams. Born to Daniel R. and Matilda Appleton Williams on October 14, 1850 in Mystic, Connecticut, Erastus spent the majority of his youth in his home state, as well as Illinois and Wisconsin. At an early age, Williams expressed interest in the bar as a future occupation. After he received his legal training at the University of Michigan, he was admitted to the bar in Freeport, Illinois in 1871. That same year Williams moved to Yankton, Dakota Territory where he practiced law. In 1872, Williams accepted the opportunity to move to the future site of Bismarck, then a railroad camp on the east side of the Missouri River known as Edwinton. He traveled north from Yankton with a group of railroad employees, and even took his turn as armed guard on the lookout for hostile Sioux Indians. Williams arrival in northern Dakota Territory marked the beginning of a colorful career in many fields of endeavor.
Erastus Appleman Williams held jobs in a wide variety of professions. Upon his arrival in Bismarck in 1872, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company hired him on as land surveyor and agent. To Williams' surprise, he was elected to the lower House of the Territorial Assembly within a few months of his arrival. A short two years later, Williams was elected to the Territorial Council. By 1875, the railroad camp known as Edwinton was renamed Bismarck. It was at that time that Williams began his law practice. He was, in fact, the first attorney to hang a law sign advertising his profession in what then comprised the town of Bismarck. As the decade of the 1880s approached, Williams was a familiar part of the Dakota Territorial political and business scene.
In 1883, Williams was once more elected to public office. Elected to the Dakota Territory House of Representatives that year, Williams' fellow solons chose him as the Speaker of the House. Williams was re-elected to the Territorial House in 1885, and again in 1887. In 1899, he was a member of the North Dakota House of Representatives. Seven years later, Williams again served as a Speaker of the House, this time for the State of North Dakota. Erastus Williams' service as a politician in North Dakota's lower legislative body continued into the 20th century when he was re-elected for consecutive terms in 1911, 1913, and 1915. Highly successful in politics, Williams proved himself in other endeavors as well.
In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Williams as the United States Surveyor-General for North Dakota. He served in this capacity until 1894. In 1898, President William McKinley reappointed Williams to the same position. Williams continued as surveyor-general until the position was eliminated in June 1908. As a result of his experiences in politics and land development, Williams was an active participant in the construction and development of both Dakota Territory and North Dakota proper. In a less spectacular way, Williams and his family contributed to the social life of Bismarck.
In 1882, Erastus Appleman Williams married Jennie Hettinger and together they made their home in Bismarck. The couple had known each other during their years in Freeport, Illinois. The Williams had five children: Eva, Odessa, Matilda, Erastus, Jr., and Alice. Mrs. Williams died after a four-day illness in April 1894, however, and left her husband to care for their young children. During her short life in Bismarck, Jennie became involved in a number of social organizations. Likewise, Erastus was a member of the Masons and Knights Templar; Mr. Williams was also a Presbyterian. Erastus Appleman Williams died on March 26, 1930, at the age of 79. He left a considerable legacy of participation and service to the state. The state recognized Williams' contributions several times during his lifetime. Funeral services for the "General" were held in the House Chambers in Bismarck and were attended by family, friends, and an array of then past and present politicos.
Sources: Compendium of History and Biography, (Chicago, George A. Ogle and Company, 1900), pp. 1296-1299 W. B. Hennesey, History of North Dakota, pp. 439-440 Bismarck Tribune, April 27, 1894 Ibid., March 26, 1930 Ibid, March 27, 1930.