Edmund Hackett (also spelled “Edmond” or “Hacket”) was the first mayor of Bismarck, and later appointed first president of Mandan’s first townsite organization – the precursor to its city commission. In addition to his political positions, Hackett held many occupations, including carpenter, blacksmith, prospector, and even patented inventor.
Edmund Hackett was born in Bombay, N.Y. on November 21, 1832. His father died when he was a teen, so Hackett entered the workforce as a laborer to support his mother and three younger siblings.
He enlisted with the New Hampshire Third Infantry Regiment during the Civic War. Upon his discharge, Hackett moved to Sioux City, Iowa, where he became a reputable builder.
In 1872, Hackett was among the first civilians to arrive in present-day Bismarck. He either arrived as a laborer for Doctor Burleigh, or perhaps as a member of Colonel Sweet’s survey party. Regardless, he assisted John Jackman – who left Sweet’s party upon discovering the proposed Missouri River crossing of the railroad – to assert land claims using the principle of using adverse possession, colloquially known as “squatter’s rights” as an agent for James Hill – a chief Northern Pacific competitor. Hackett claimed of land west of present-day 5th Street to the river.
By June, Hackett was working as a carpenter for constructing Doctor Walter Burleigh’s first buildings in town.
The following year, Hackett campaigned for and was elected the town constable to combat rampant lawlesses. In this role, he arrested a gambler who shot and killed a soldier stationed at nearby Fort Abraham Lincoln.
In 1874, Hackett was successfully elected to the territorial legislature, but never served due to political maneuvering from his opponent. In response, friends of Hackett pushed for the legislature to reorganize Bismarck into a city and appoint him as mayor. Their efforts succeeded, and Hacket became the city’s first mayor when the city incorporated on January 14, 1875. He held the position for mere months, having been defeated by John McLean in a formal election that April.
By 1876, Hackett had accumulated a small fortune and invested building a railroad from Bismarck to Deadwood: The Bismarck, Fort Lincoln and Black Hills Railroad. That year, he once again won a seat in the territorial legislature.
In 1878, Hackett organized another railroad, the Lake Kampeska Railroad, with other investors to run between Bismarck and Watertown, Minnesota.
In April 1879, when the official plat for Mandan was filed and a townsite organization established, Hackett was elected president of the Association.
Both of his railroads quickly failed, but it didn’t discourage him from financing a third railroad, the Bismarck, Mouse River, Turtle Mountain and Manitoba Railroad Company, in 1881 that would run from Bismarck into northern Dakota Territory towards Canada. Alexander McKenzie, Erastus Williams, James Emmons, John Dunn were also investors – all four of which have counties named for them.
Late in 1881, he was approached by two of his friends, Erastus Williams and Alexander McKenzie, with the idea of running a railroad from Bismarck to north-central Dakota Territory, which would then proceed into Canada.
Hackett founded two towns along the planned rail line, Souris City (also known as Hackett Falls) and Villard in McHenry County, the latter of which became county seat and he a County Commissioner. Both towns fail along with the railroad.
He married Leah Hortense Youngs, a much younger woman, on December 14, 1883. They had a son soon after, but he was grief-stricken when his wife committed suicide in December the following year by slitting her throat. For a time, he was investigated as a suspect in her murder until it deemed a suicide.
Hackett moved to Florence, Alabama in 1889. It was there that he filed a patent for an automatic railroad car-coupler. Newspapers of the era hailed his invention and proclaimed that he would become a millionaire. Sales proved light, however.
He moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma before again relocating to Seymour, Texas, where he received another patent, this time for an all-in-one potato digger and sacker. This deviced never gained traction either, so Hackett moved to Kalispell, Montana in a last-ditch attempt to regain his fortune, this time in gold prospecting.
He died on October 7, 1905.
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