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Manuscripts by Subject - Family / Local History - #10227

Title: George H. Fairchild Papers

Dates: 1874-1893

Collection Number: 10227

Quantity: .25 feet/ 1 roll microfilm #4557

Abstract:  Correspondence concerning life at Fort Abraham Lincoln, references to Libby Custer in Bismarck, accounts of the Black Hills gold strike and the 1874 Custer Expedition to the area, descriptions of Bismarck and surrounding environs, a letter concerning the Little Big Horn massacre written a day or two after news of the event reached Bismarck, and an insurance policy register recording policies on Bismarck properties. Includes policies on the Marquis de Mores' ice houses. Fairchild, a banker, served as an agent for Germania Fire Insurance Company of New York.

Provenance:  The State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired the George H. Fairchild insurance policy register from Martin Thompson in 1977, and the George H. Fairchild Papers as a gift from Edgar Wyman in August 1986.  Gregory S. Camp prepared the inventory to the George H. Fairchild Papers in September, 1986.

Property rights:  The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyright:  Copyrights to materials in this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs.  Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code or an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements are needed.

Access:  This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation:  Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.

Transfer:  A total of thirty-nine (39) photographs were transferred to Photo Archives.  A list of the photographs can be found in the manuscript case file.



George H. Fairchild was an important pioneer of banking and insurance interests in early Bismarck.  During the 1870s, when the railroad camp of Edwinton was renamed Bismarck, Ohio-born George H. Fairchild was present to add an important foundation to the future territorial and state capital.  That foundation was banking.  Along with another famous Bismarck resident, Dr. Henry Porter, Fairchild established the First National Bank branch in the small prairie village.  His roots, however, go back to his hometown of Oberlin, Ohio.

Fairchild was born in Oberlin, Ohio in 1844.  His father was president of Oberlin College during the second and third quarters of the 19th Century.  It was at this time that Charles G. Finney, the famous fire and brimstone preacher of the Second Great Awakening and founder of Oberlin College, was at the zenith of his career.  It was from Oberlin College that a good many abolitionist thinkers emerged.  Under the influence of the Evangelical zeal of Finney, as well as the host of reformist ideas that burgeoned during the evangelist's tenure, the young Fairchild grew and developed his impressions of the world and his place in it.  Upon reaching majority age, Fairchild relocated to Keokuk, Iowa where he entered the wholesale grocer business with his four uncles.  The greatest challenge for Fairchild, however, was his relocation to Bismarck.

After spending a few months in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1874, Fairchild moved to Bismarck to take charge of a bank branch office located there.  Besides the adventure such a move provided, Fairchild relocated because of the poor health of his wife, Helen.  Mrs. Fairchild's health improved after living in the semi-arid plains environment, and allowed her to visit Ohio on numerous occasions.  Although she did not accompany her husband to Bismarck in 1874, she did meet him there sometime after the news of the Custer debacle in 1876.  Their first child, Katherine, was born in Bismarck at an unknown date.  Besides the excitement generated when the Seventh Cavalry was destroyed, Bismarck offered opportunities and experiences of note.

George H. Fairchild arrived in Bismarck during the summer of 1874, and was immediately caught up in the excitement surrounding the discovery of gold in the Black Hills.  Despite the fact that the Hills had been promised to the Sioux Indians in the Ft. Laramie treaty, miners, settlers, and soldiers soon were in open violation of the agreement.  As a banker, Fairchild handled many gold nuggets and large amounts of gold dust brought back from the Black Hills.  Like many Bismarckers at the time, Fairchild believed the gold finds would eventually lead to their town's growth into a "metropolis of the northwest."  Of course, his hopes did not materialize.  The ensuing Indian wars, along with the harsh weather and economic downturns, laid to rest any delusions about Bismarck's role as an urban oasis in the midst of the Great American Desert.

While Bismarck did enjoy modest growth through the 1870s and 1800s, Fairchild's involvement in the expansion became increasingly limited as his health began a slow decline.  By the early 1890s, George Fairchild's physical condition deteriorated, forcing his retirement.  He returned to Oberlin, Ohio in late 1893, and he died the following February of complications related to dropsy, a condition that results in the abnormal accumulation of liquids in the body.

George Hornell Fairchild's experiences in Dakota were of great importance to the eventual settling of the region in general and the city of Bismarck in particular.  Along with other pioneers of Bismarck, he helped promote the village as a place with a future.  In addition to his efforts to foster economic and civic growth for Bismarck, Fairchild experienced something of the untouched wilderness that still existed in the American West of the 1870s and 1880s.  In 1883, George Fairchild and his father toured Yellowstone National Park on horseback.  The trip provided the two with a breath-taking tour through the unsullied park.  In many regards, the trip reflected Fairchild's personality and life:  bold and innovative, subject to risk, yet rewarded with success.

Sources:  The George Fairchild Papers case file, and the George Fairchild Papers.


The George Hornell Fairchild Papers date from 1874 to 1893 and occupy one-quarter of a foot and include a bound volume. The Fairchild Papers consist of two (2) records series:  Correspondence, 1874-1893; and the Insurance Policy Register Book, ca. 1880s.

Series I.  Correspondence, 1874-1893, contains letters to and from Fairchild to his wife and family in Ohio.  This series, which occupies one-quarter of a foot, contains some fine insights of early Bismarck.  Included in the correspondence are descriptions of life at Fort Abraham Lincoln, descriptions of Libby Custer in Bismarck, accounts of the Black Hills gold strike and the 1874 Custer Expedition to the area, descriptions of Bismarck and surrounding environs, and an emotion-filled letter concerning the Little Big Horn massacre, written a day or two after news of the event reached Bismarck.  Despite the small size of the series, it provides a wealth of information about early Bismarck and the growth it enjoyed between 1874 and 1893.

Series II, Insurance Policy Registers Book, ca. 1880s, is a bound volume which details and describes insured property.  As an agent for the Germania Fire Insurance Company, Fairchild insured some of the earliest residents and businesses of Bismarck.  Fairchild's most famous client was the Marquis de Mores.  The Marquis had a number of his ice houses (meat storage facilities) along the Northern Pacific Railroad line in Dakota Territory insured through the Germania Company.  The usefulness of this series is in its documentation of early residents and businesses.


Series I:  Correspondence, 1874-1893

Box  1:
1              Correspondence, 1874-1879
2              Correspondence, 1880-1881
3              Correspondence, 1882-1883
4              Correspondence, 1884-1885
5              Correspondence, 1887-1889
6              Correspondence, 1890-1893

Series II:  Insurance Policy Registers, ca. 1880s

 Bound volume 
Lists of insured individuals and properties for the Germania Fire Insurance Company, n.d., assumed to be 1880


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