Would it be possible to in a lifetime be elected to serve on the commissions of both Morton and Burleigh County? And be elected to serve as mayor to both Mandan and Bismarck? Truly a man of the peoples; George Peoples (pun intended).
Born in April 1847 in Ireland at the height of the Potato Famine, George Peoples immigrated to the United States in 1869 at the age of 22. He first appears in North Dakota's history in Cass County, setting up a tent on the west side of the Red River selling hardware and farm supplies to settlers getting off at the end of the railroad line at Moorhead Minnesota as they prepare to travel west. So he was a Fargo area resident in 1871 and 1872.
As the railway extends its route west, so travels George. He repeatedly moves his mercantile west as each segment of the Northern Pacific railroad is complete, which would put his arrival into Edwinton (nee Bismarck) in 1873.
Progress of the rail line across the northern plains would be stymied by the cost of a bridge across the Missouri River as the financial Panic of 1873 forced the NP Railway into bankruptcy in 1875. Finally forced to put down roots, Peoples partnered with Mike Rush to establish a livery and delivery service in Bismarck. They served the upriver US Army forts at Fort Stevenson, Fort Berthold and Fort Buford/Fort Union delivering supplies and mail from the riverboat port and railway terminus at Bismarck.
1885 US Postal Route Map Exerpt - Click to Enlarge
Rather than sell from a tent, as was his prior practice, he purchased a store at Main and Third Streets known as Pioneer Hardware in 1878. Of interest, his competitors McLean & Macnider typically referred to their operation as "People's Supply Store."
George Peoples was among the original incorporators in 1879 of Bismarck's first bank and the state's second oldest financial institution "The Pioneer Bank of Western Dakota" (which later becomes part of First National Bank and subsequently today's US Bank system).
Not satisfied with only success in business, George Peoples ran successfully for a Burleigh County Commission seat in November 1876. A year later, he ran for and was elected mayor in Bismarck.
George Peoples, a resident of Bismarck at the time, purchased property in downtown Mandan in July of 1881 from the Northern Pacific Railroad. The price for the land was $375 for lots 14 and 15 of block six within Mandan, Dakota Territory. There he constructed the "Peoples Hotel" in 1882-83 for a cost of $23,500. The hotel, constructed of brick from a yard just east of Mandan, was the first three-story building in Mandan. The building was razed in early 2007.
Upon completion of his hotel in 1883, Peoples relocated to Mandan. In 1885, he ran for successfully for an open seat on the Morton County Commission. His opponent, Henry Rankin, challenged Peoples' eligiblity for office contending that Peoples had lost that right once convicted of a territorial felony. Judge Francis, while not citing the actual crime in his decision, ruled a territorial body did not have the authority to legislate any action as a crime against the United States. Peoples did in fact have the right to hold public office. The Bismarck Daily Tribune took to referring to Peoples as "The Invincible" from that point in time. Peoples also led the effort to string a power cable across the river to Mandan to bring electricity to the city in 1887. He was elected as Mandan's mayor in 1888.
While he reliquished management of the Peoples Hotel during his political career, he returned to the position in 1890. He was also re-elected to the Morton County Commission in 1905.
He remains the only person to hold the distinction of once being mayor to both Mandan and Bismarck.
George and his wife were married in 1879 at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Bismarck. Teresa E. Peoples was born in December 1862 in Pennsylvania from Irish immigrant parents. She was 14 years younger than her husband but 21 years old at the time of the marriage. The couple had a total of seven children, but only three lived to reach adolescence; daughter Frances M. (b. December 1883), William M. (b. March 1887) Robert F. (b. October 1891).
But George sought continued fortune in the mining boomtown of Butte, MT and moved his family there in the mid-1890s. Teresa opened a rooming house at 114 Dakota Ave less than half a mile from the Anaconda copper mine and only blocks from the city's famous "red light district" on Mercury Street. Brothers Cornellius "Con" and Patrick operated Peoples Bros. Saloon at 324 N Main Street, one of hundreds of saloons in the city at the time. George's younger brother James also moved to Montana and worked there as a driver.
Teresa Peoples remained in Butte, Montana the rest of her life. George was listed in Butte in the 1900 census but was returned to the Morton County Commission in the 1905 election. George died in Butte Montana on September 13, 1918. Teresa died on on November 9, 1937.
Note: George was probably the fourth of seven children of Hugh and Elizabeth (Woods) Peoples of Londonderry, Ireland who were of Irish-Scottish decent. Their oldest brother Hugh immigrated to the US after visiting George in Bismarck in 1880. Hugh Jr. was also a storekeeper and banker who settled in New Rockford in Eddy County. However confirmation of this family link is pending.
The MHSoc's museum and office is located at 411 W Main St, Mandan, ND 58554 Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave message at (701) 751-2983