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Frank M. Byrne


Posted By: Errin Wilker (email)
Date: 8/8/2007 at 15:25:56

Nearly forty years ago, two young farmer boys, who lived about four miles apart in Allamakee county, Iowa, were at school together in a little old building about eleven miles southeast of Waukon, amid innumerable tree-covered hills, skirted with layers of stone, not far back from the huge bluffs of the Mississippi. Although they were approximately the same age, yet one was teacher and the other pupil. The equality in their years caused them to become chums. They grew fond of each other. Then they separated. Years later; they came together in Dakota; and the teacher is today Senator Coe I. Crawford, while his industrious pupil is the Honorable Frank M. Byrne, governor of South Dakota.

Governor Byrne has "made good" in every way. A large per cent of the sanest legislation on the statute books of our state, eminated from his brain, was drafted by his pen and was enacted largely through his own individual exertion.

He was presented to his father and mother in their humble farm home in Allamakee county, Iowa, by a Good Gypsy, as the tradition goes, away back in 1858 -- two years after the birth of the republican party, with which he has since been so prominently identified. Had he been born the year he was inaugurated governor of South Dakota, instead of 1858, he would no doubt have been delivered by parcel post.

His boyhood years were spent on the farm. At twenty years of age the western fever got hold of him and he struck out, landing in Sioux Falls in 1879. The next year he homesteaded in McCook county. He and Lieut. Governor Abel both became identified with McCook county. He broke up part of his own farm and did some work for the Honorable Rollin J. Wells, now of Sioux Falls, one of his neighbors, and who has since earned the distinction of being the state's finest dramatic poet. Wells paid Byrne the first dollar he ever earned in South Dakota; and today there isn't a man in the state who is prouder to see Frank M. Byrne governor, than is Mr. Wells himself.

But Mr. Byrne's western fever proved "intermittent," as the doctor would say; at least he suffered a relapse, for, after proving up in 1883, he again pulled west and settled in Faulk county. At that time the little inland town of La Foon was the county seat. Here he made his home for two years. Then he struck for Fargo, now in North Dakota, but at that time a prominent village of Da­kota Territory. For the next three years, he roamed between Fargo and Sioux Falls. However, in 1888 he came back to Faulk county and settled on a farm where he remained till 1900 when he moved into the city of Faulkton, where he has since made his home.

During all these years, he prospered, so that today he owns twelve quarter sections of land in Faulk county, and a nice home in the city of Faulkton. Seven quarters of the land lie together in one farm near Miranda. It is a splendid farm -- one that Governor Byrne may well feel proud of, because he earned it instead of inheriting it.

Governor Byrne was the first state senator from Faulk county. Later, he served four years (1899-1902) as treasurer of that county. These early experiences gave rise to his growing knowledge of our public affairs. He then retired from politics for four years. But again in 1906 his friends turned out and sent him back to the state senate. He was making good. Faulk county placed confidence in his ability, his integrity and his judgment. It was during his second service in the senate that the eyes of the state were attracted to him. He had some "insurgent" or "progressive" or "reformatory" (whichever you wish to call it) ideas -- not red-eyed, fire-eating, irrational, radical, panaceas for all of our political evils, both real and imaginary -- but some genuine, sane, manly conceptions of rational progress. So he introduced into the state senate, and succeeded in their enactment, the following laws:

(1) Anti-Pass law -- which has since proved one of the greatest blessings to the state of any law which we have ever enacted.

(2) The Two-Cent Passenger Fare Law -- which has since been tied up in the courts.

(3) The Reciprocal Demurrage Law -- which requires railroads to pay damages for delay in furnishing cars to shippers.

(4) A Law Taxing Railways' Terminal Property.

(5) A Law Reducing Express Rates 20 per cent -- and authorizing the state railroad commission to reduce these rates still further.

(6) A Law Requiring Standard Forms of Life Insurance Policies.

(7) An Insurance Law-one requiring the insurance commissioner to turn over all fees to the state treasurer, and providing that they could be paid out only on regular vouchers; and

(8) The Anti-Lobby Law.

His legislative record made him an easy winner for the lieutenant-governorship in 1910. Here again, in the organization of the state senate, he showed himself to be a man of great poise, judgment, tact and fairness and withal a statesman. As presiding officer of the state senate, he won the friendship and confidence of the leaders in both factions of his party. So, in 1912, the natural -- the logical thing -- happened. He became a candidate for governor. There was plenty of opposition, to be sure. A primary is a bid for multiplication of candidates. But when the votes were counted, Frank M. Byrne had polled a plurality of approximately 10,000, over his nearest competitor and a majority of 6,000 over all. He had a tough fight in November, but he won.

On January 7, 1912, amid imposing ceremonies, Frank M. Byrne was sworn in as governor of our great and growing state. His inauguration was one of the grandest in the history of the commonwealth.

From the standpoint of our state's needs, his first message to the legislature was a masterpiece. Again, in detail recommendations, it showed that the governor is not only a man of broad comprehension but that he possesses an exceedingly analytical mind. In all, he made recommendations for specific legislation at once on nineteen different subjects, chief among which were our state institutions, freight and passenger rates, and public printing.

The message, in printed form, consists of fifty pages -- exactly one half of which are devoted to our state institutions. His most sweeping recommendations are in a complete change which he recommends for the management of our state educational, our charitable and our penal institutions. At present the five regents have complete control of the state schools, while the five members of the board of charities and corrections have equal authority over the charitable and penal institutions. Instead of dividing the work perpendicularly, so to speak, as it now is, Gov­ernor Byrne recommends a constitutional amendment that will reduce each board to three members and authorize the legislature to enact a law dividing the boards' responsibilities horizontally; that is, a board of administration to employ the heads of all of the institutions, and other members, and another board to look after the strictly business affairs of the same. His reasoning invites admiration. A class of men, competent by education, training and experience, to select normal school presidents and faculties, might not be equipped to handle successfully the technical part of the various institutions' business affairs, while a board of three, consisting of an experienced contractor, a banker and a lawyer, would unquestionably look closely after the erection of buildings, the
insurance of the same and various kindred matters.

His foresight in asking the legislature to begin at once to equip the state's grounds, near Watertown, for another asylum, so as to be prepared to take care of our unfortunate citizens, as soon as the Yankton institution has reached an enrollment of 1,200, is an act of statesmanship, and it shows that the people made no mistake in electing Frank M. Byrne governor.

As a public speaker, Governor Byrne is plain-spoken, straightforward and convincing. As a writer, his first message shows him to be a man capable of expressing himself in simple, modest, but high grade English. His message is that of a thoroughly trained business mind.

He was married in April, 1888, to Miss Emma Beaver of Kenton, Ohio. Mrs. Byrne possesses a modest, kindly, democratic temperament, similar to that of her distinguished husband. As the "First Lady" of our state she has proven companionable, sympathetic and hospitable.

To this couple who have now become so prominent in the public eye of our state, have been born five sons, Carrol B., who graduated June, 1912, from the naval academy at Ana­polis; Francis J., Malcolm, Joseph and Emmons.

Governor Byrne, as has been shown, has had splendid preparation in the school of experience to equip him to make South Dakota a great executive. He is a sturdy Irishman -- one possessed of a high sense of civic duty, a member of the Congregational church, and a Knight of Pythias, a Mason and an Elk. Governor Byrne was re-elected in 1914, and is now serving his second term.

Source: Who's Who in South Dakota, Volume II by O.W. Coursey, 1916, Educator Supply Company, Mitchell, South Dakota


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