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Judge Kneeshaw


Margaret Gooselaw


Judge Kneeshaw's full name is William James Kneeshaw. Hewas born in Byetown, Ontario, which is now called Ottawa, Ontario, on May5th, 1854. His Father's name was Dr. Richard Kneeshaw, who was English.He was a physician in Yorkshire, England and practiced in Canada. He wasthe first doctor to administer an anesthetic in Canada. His mother's namewas Amelia Muir who was Scotch. She was born in Montreal, Canada and herfather was a wealthy merchant tailor and came to Montreal in 1800. WhenJudge Kneeshaw was three years of age his father died and he was broughtup in the family of Muirs. He received his education at Montreal and thento McGill College and St. James Academy, at St. Andrew, Province of Quebec.

At sixteen years old, he enlisted in the eleventh BattalionArgenteiul Rangers as a bugler and was called to the front and took partin the Fenian Raid in the spring of 1870. The Fenian Raid was provoked bya bunch of Fenians living in New York and was commanded by General O'Neil.They crossed the border into Canada which they intended of capturing Canadaalong the whole Vermont and New York lines, and up as far west as NiagaraFalls. The Quebec Militia took care of the west end. Most of the fightingtook place in what is known as the eastern townships - east of Montreal.Far as the east end of the border the Fenians were very poorly equippedas to firearms and were not uniform. He received a large silver medal fromQueen Victoria in recognition for his military service.

In 1871, he moved to Paris, Ontario where he first metSusan Randall who later was to become his wife.

He emigrated to Manitoba from Collingwood, Ontario July4th, 1873. His transportation was mostly by water. He left July 4th, 1873on a steamer Chicora, an old blockade runner used during the Civil War forPort Arthur. He kept a diary during the month of July. It was most interesting.The part that interested me most was July 18th, Friday. Here he says "Asthe wind was high we could not leave port but at 5:00 P.M> we went downfive miles to the mouth of the Rainy River and camped there all night onMinnesota Point. We had a splendid time, singing, dancing, etc." (1)He loved to tell about nature and the wilderness and the beautiful sceneryalong lakes, the waterfalls, and the woods. He also pointed out the abundanceof wild berries and wild life. He frequently mentions the pike he oftenfished and wild life game, such as, grouse, pigeons, and partridges he huntedwhich he enjoyed so very much.

On July 21, 1873, he arrived in Winnipeg. At this time,Winnipeg was a small village and consisted mostly of old log cabins andframe shacks. Quite a difference from Winnipeg then, and the Winnipeg today.The chief hotel was the Davis House off Main Street about a half block northof Portage Avenue. The Post Office was an old log building next to the Prideof the West Billiard Hall.

W. J. Kneeshaw, at the age of 19, settled at Pembina, NorthDakota in the late summer or fall of 1873. On July 26th, 1877, he marriedMiss Susan Randall of Paris, Ontario. Born to them were four boys and fourgirls. They were: James, Gorden, Percy and Stanley. The girls were: Pettie,Hazel, Kate and Pauline. There are two boys living and two girls.

He studied law and was admitted to the Bar in 1879 whichmeans, as a lawyer, he could now plead his own cases. He held District Attorneyor Prosecuting Attorney for twelve years. On April 3rd, 1883, he was electedMayor of Pembina. He held other important offices, such as, County Commissioner,County Treasurer, and Justice of the Peace. In November 1900, he was electedJudge of The District Court. His Judicial district consisted of eleven countiesextending from the Red River to near the Montana line. He held this positionuntil the time of his death.

Active in Civic, Church and Fraternal organizations, alsoa member of the Republican Party, and the Methodist Episcopal Church. In1881, he helped organize the first Masonic Lodge in North Dakota and wasa life long member. He was charter member of both the Scottish Rite andRoyal Arch Masons of Pembina, North Dakota. He had been Grand Master ofthe Ancient Order of United Workmen and has been elected to the honorarymembership in Order of the Coif.

He toured Europe and also traveled from east to west andnorth to south in Canada and the United States. He had no particular hobbybut he was interested in farming and also ran a farm about 1,600 acres,although he did not do any manual work.

In 1929, the Pembina County Old Settlers Association atCavalier, North Dakota set aside a "Kneeshaw" day and more than4,000 people shook hands with the Judge. The Grafton Civic Club and thePembina Icelanders have honored him. He was very fond of the Icelandic people.In fact, on his 85th birthday, the Icelandic people of North Dakota honoredhim with a plaque extending their greatfulness to him.

Three portraits of him have been unveiled and hung in theCourthouse at Grafton, Langdon and Cavalier.

Judge W. J. Kneeshaw has seen and watched the developmentof the telephone, steamship, automobile and the airplane.

He died at Pembina, North Dakota September 23rd, 1943 atthe age of 89. His body laid in state at Grafton in the Masonic Temple forone day so the people could pay their respects. He then was brought to Pembinawhere a short service was held for the family at the Methodist Church. Fromthere he was brought to the City Hall where funeral services were held forthe people who came from miles around. He was then laid to rest next tohis wife, Susan, in the family plot at the Pembina Cemetery, Pembina, NorthDakota.

It was said by lawyers of North Dakota that Judge Kneeshaw,despite his forty-three years on the bench, had one of the keenest legalminds in the state. None of his decisions on the bench were ever reversedby the State Supreme Court.

A man named Usher L. Burdick wrote a book on Great Judgesand Lawyers of North Dakota. In this book he mentions a case in an Author'snote:

"I defended a man before Judge Kneeshaw in Cavalier County, who was charged with running a common nuisance. The facts were that he had been running a place where men gather in the evenings and played cards for money, a small part of the winnings going to the defendant. I told the Judge there was no use in selecting a jury and adding a lot of expense, and entered a plea of guilty - which my client confirmed. The Judge seemed much pleased and said, "In view of the frankness of the defendant in pleading guilty, I will impose a fine of $100." That was much better than I expected, but the defendant spoiled the case for himself. He got smart with the wrong judge. When the fine was announced, the defendant rose and slapped a pocketbook down on the attorney's table and said, "Judge I've got'er right there." The Judge then coolly announced, "And 60 days in jail - see if you've got that with you." (1)



The Minot Daily News said of him,

"Judge W. J. Kneeshaw of Pembina, who has been on the bench for forty-three years, will be long remembered for his impartiality as a presiding judge, his earnest desire to see that justice was accorded in the fullest measure.

The many times he was re-elected in his district testify to the high esteem in which he was held by the people who knew best. He was not a politician. He was a judge - - sturdy, fearless, and keen. He lent dignity to a court room and his court had the high respect which people enjoy paying to a fair administrator of Justice" (2)


(1) William J. Kneeshaw, Personal Diary. July, 1873

(1) Usher L. Burdick, Great Judges and Lawyers of NorthDakota. October, 1956. Page 22.

(2) Usher L. Burdick, Great Judges and Lawyers of NorthDakota. October, 1956. Page 22.


Burdick, Usher L. Great Judges and Lawyers of North Dakota.c. October, l956. Page 22

Kneeshaw, Katherine. Interview: December 29, 1971.

Kneeshaw, William, J. Personal diary.

Pate, Kneeshaw Hazel. Interview December 29, 1971.

, 1971.

Kneeshaw, William, J. Personal diary.

Pate, Kneeshaw Hazel. Interview December 29, 1971.