William Budge

William Budge
  • Born:

    South Ronaldsay, 11 October 1852

  • Died:

    California, 1938

  • Father:

    John Budge

  • Mother:

    Jean Budge

  • Married:

    Minnie Gow

  • Children:

    Alexander, Jane

American universities work hard to encourage their former students to give generously to them. Like all the others, the University of North Dakota has several exclusive societies for donors, entry depending on how much they have given to the university. To become a member of the William Budge Circle, the grateful graduate must have given at least one million dollars to the university. Why is an Orkney ploughman's son honoured in this way?

In the 1861 census John and Jane Budge are living with John's parents, James and Hellen nee Richan, on the 14-acre farm of Upper Town, somewhere around Hoxa. They have six children, Tomimia, James, John, William, George and Henry.

John Budge senior died in 1869 and William joined the Hudson's Bay Company that year but didn't stay with the company long. Accounts differ as to whether he left of his own accord but by June 1870 he was in Pembina, a settlement that had grown on the site of an HBC trading post. It is still a very small town, on the road from Winnipeg to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and in 1870 you could count the inhabitants on the fingers of one hand. Until 1823 they had thought they were Canadians but when the 49th Parallel was drawn, they found they were in the Dakota Territory.

Over the next ten years all the surviving members of the Budge family found their way to the Dakota Territory and to the town of Grand Forks. It gets its name from the junction of the Red River and the Red Lake River and is now a city of more than 50,000 but it was very small and new then. It was founded in 1870 and William was the first Budge to arrive, only four years later.

A website, www.reshaping thetornadobelt.com, has biographies of pioneers of Grand Forks and Jane, William, John, Henry and George are all there. The biographies are mainly cuttings from local papers and give a real flavour of pioneer life.

William found work in Pembina because George Winship, the assistant manager of the fur-trading post, took a liking to him and persuaded his boss to take William on as a cook. When the a stagecoach began running from Breckenridge, Minnesota to Winnipeg, the two men went into partnership to build a log cabin rest station on the Turtle River, 14 miles north of Grand Forks.

An account of their business is quoted on the website, "After erecting their cabin, which was the only human habitation in 1871 between Grand Forks and Pembina, unable to agree on the name for their place, as the story runs, they agreed to label it 'Winship's Hotel.' so as to meet the view of those coming from the south and that 'Budge's Tavern' should be the sign displayed for the observation of those coming from the north. They disagreed in many things but united in one, 'We are not here for our helth,' was to be conspicuously printed on a card to be hung on the wall over the fireplace.

Budge was an expert in turning the flapjacks while Winship was equally good as a valet de chambre at both house and barn, Budge assisting however between meals… When there were any objections to paying $2 for flapjacks a la Budge and stable accommodations a la Winship the unfortunate objector was invited to read the card over the fireplace and move on… It sometimes happened that objections were made to the economical spelling of the word health in the sign upon the wall. If the kick was made to Budge he added a half to the bill for extras."

The business did well but there wasn't really enough profit for two, so Winship sold his share to Budge in 1873. The following year William Budge sold the station and moved to Grand Forks, where he and his partner Jacob Eshelman bought land west of the town and began to deal in real estate.

William's brother George arrived in 1875. He and John had emigrated to the United States about 1873 and George had worked as a sailor on the Great Lakes. The family seem to have had a head for business and George evidently spotted a business opportunity in the small but growing town and became a druggist. He must have done well in business because in 1886 he is described as a self-made man and one of the leading residents of Grand Forks.

George moved his business to Neihart, Montana and died of pneumonia in 1902, aged just forty-seven, despite the strenuous efforts of his friends, reported in The Saint Paul Daily Globe.

"FAST RACE FOR A LIFE Special Train Carries Invalid to Lower Altitude

One hundred and thirty-five miles in four hours is the record time made by a special train on the Montana Central last evening between Neihart aand Great Falls, and George Budge now lies in a hospital in the latter city with a chance for life for which the run was made. Budge was taken suddenly ill with pneumonia, and by noon the disease had made such alarming inroads that attending physicians agreed that there was but one manner in which his life could be saved, and that was instant removal to a lower altitude, Neihart being nearly 7,500 feet above the sea level. A special train was telegraphed for, and left Neihart with the patient aboard at 3 o'clock, arriving at Great Falls at 7pm. Budge's physicians at Great Falls expressed the belief that he will recover. Budge is well known throughout the state."

Unfortunately, he didn't recover and died a few days later.

William got involved in local politics and was Chairman of the County Board in 1875 but then headed out on another venture. It almost sounds as if he'd strayed onto the set of Calamity Jane.

According to Curt Eriksmoen, writing in The Bismarck Tribune, "With the news of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, Billy saw new opportunities. He went to work for Oscar Ward, who hauled freight between Bismarck and Deadwood. On their first trip, the wagon train was surrounded by hostile Indians who attacked the freighters. Several of Ward's party were killed or wounded and the situation looked grim until Billy Budge took aim at the leading warrior, White Fish. Budge's shot was true and, with the death of White Fish, the Indians left."

In 1878, William returned to Grand Forks and went into business again in real estate and building supplies; his brother John arrived in 1879. According to the report of John's funeral in the Grand Forks Herald in 1922, he had spent the previous seven years in Chicago. He began as a carpenter in Grand Forks and is later described as a contractor and builder who 'carried his full responsibility in the upbuilding of the community'.

The last two surviving family members arrived the following year: Jane and her youngest son Harry. He was a blacksmith but died of consumption in 1885 when he was just twenty-seven. Jane died in 1883, aged sixty-eight..

That year the Dakota Territorial Legislature decided that Grand Forks should be the home of the territory's first university. By this time William owned land all round Grand Forks and he gave a site for the university, even offering the choice of two.

When the northern part of the Dakota territory was moving towards statehood, William was one of the three candidates elected to represent Grand Forks at the Constituitonal Convention in 1889. In 1890 he married Minnie Gow from New York and they had two children, Alexander and Jane.

William was now one of the most successful and respected members of the community and in 1891 he was elected to the Board of Regents of the university. Curt Eriksmoen wrote that the historian Louis Geiger labelled him "The Rockefeller of the University of North Dakota" because of his work as a Regent.

"One of the first duties of the board was to hire a new university president. The board chose Webster Merrifield, a small, shy, refined UND professor who was almost the exact opposite of Budge. Billy was big, uneducated and rough in speech and manner. However, the two bonded almost immediately. They were a dynamic tandem in getting appropriations to expand UND. In 1893 they got the trustees to approve $6,000 for an observatory and a boys' dorm. To receive this funding, money was diverted from other sources, including salaries. Billy believed this money could be made up later, but the Panic of 1893 created a financial crunch for the state. In 1894 the Legislature voted appropriations for UND but Gov. Roger Allin vetoed the school's funding. With no money to pay the salaries for the school's teachers, Budge led a drive to solicit private subscriptions to save the university. In the meantime, he also paid a number of bills out of his own pocket. Through his efforts, $26,000 was raised and the professors received a portion of the money they were due.

Budge took it upon himself to take care of many things that were normally done by hired staff. He helped repair buildings and planted trees. He also became more active in lobbying the Legislature to increase funding. Budge became very successful in getting the state to allocate more money for UND. A new dormitory was erected on campus in 1899 and named Budge Hall. To relieve the school's isolation from Grand Forks, Budge and Merrifield in 1903 organised a company to install a trolley line from the city to the campus. To build a gymnasium and an administration building, Budge authorised spending in excess of the $50,000 the university was allotted from the land endowment. Instead of being reprimanded by the Legislature, that body simply raised the ceiling from $50,000 to $150,000."

William Budge left North Dakota in 1908. It is suggested that he sensed opportunities were dwindling but he could have finally tired of winters with average daily temperatures between 2o and 20o F (-17o and -7o C). He moved to Medford, Oregon where the average winter temperature is about the same as ours and bought a fruit farm. When this didn't work he raised hogs. After a while he leased out the hog farm and moved to Berkeley, California where it is a bit warmer still. He died in California in 1938.

William Budge's name lives on at the university in Grand Forks but his descendants are carrying the name in warmer places. His son Alexander went to Hawaii in 1916 as a mechanical engineer with a degree from Stamford and, displaying the usual Budge family business acumen, became president of Castle and Cooke, one of the largest businesses in the state, which went on to become the Dole Food Company, the largest producer of fruit and vegetables in the world.