Boyd, James E

James E. Boyd (1834-1906), best remembered as one of Nebraska’s governors, also had a distinguished business and political career. He came to Omaha in August 1856 and went into the construction business. In 1858 he moved to Buffalo County, where he began operating a ranch near Gibbon, securing profitable contracts for furnishing hay and grain to the U.S. Army at Fort Kearny. In 1865 he began freighting across the Plains, and later got grading contracts from the Union Pacific Railroad. He served as mayor of Omaha from 1881 to 1883 and from 1885 to 1887. His Omaha business ventures included construction of a packinghouse and the Boyd Opera House. The Omaha Herald of March 8, 1882 (on microfilm at the Nebraska State Historical Society) included a brief interview with Mayor Boyd’s visiting father, Joseph Boyd, of Zanesville, Ohio. After asking what buildings the elder Boyd had seen in Omaha, the Herald reporter inquired, “‘You have been through the Boyd opera house?’

“‘Oh yes; I have been there two or three times and was much pleased with it. We have a fine one in Zanesville but this surpasses it.’

“‘I suppose you have been in your son’s packing house, too?’

“‘Yes, it is an extensive concern, and keeps many men at work, and I think that pleases my son. Money is made round and should go ’round . . . . ‘”

The Herald concluded with a flowery tribute: “His [Joseph Boyd’s] gratification on visiting Omaha may be imagined from that which a father from this city might feel on going into the new west and finding that his son was mayor of a city and had built an opera house and was giving employment to scores of men.”

Unfortunately, Boyd’s subsequent term as governor (1891-93) was marred by controversy. On inauguration day, former Governor Thayer refused to turn over the office to Governor-elect Boyd on the grounds that the latter was not legally qualified because he was not a citizen of the United States. (Boyd was born in Ireland.) A week later, however, on the advice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, Governor Thayer turned the office over to his successor. This court later sustained Thayer’s contention. It was only after the Supreme Court of the United States reversed Nebraska’s high tribunal–almost a year later–that Governor Boyd got back into the office to which he had been elected.

(January 2000)


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