Dixon, Joseph M. (Joseph Moore), 1867-1934

Alternative names
Birth 1867-07-31
Death 1934-05-22

Biographical notes:

Joseph Moore Dixon was born at the Quaker enclave of Snow Camp, North Carolina, in 1867 to Hugh Woody and Adaline Murchison Dixon. He was the third of four children and their only son. The Dixons were Quakers who traced their origins to England.

Dixon attended the Sylvan Academy and the New Garden Boarding School, both Quaker institutions, then Earlham College in Indiana. He withdrew from Earlham in 1888 and finished his education at Guilford College that spring. In 1891, he wrote a letter to Frank Woody, a first cousin of his father who practiced law in Missoula, Montana, asking if he could assist and study law with him. Woody accepted, and Dixon left North Carolina at the age of twenty-four.

He began to read law with Woody and his two partners, Frederick C. Webster and Joseph K. Wood. Dixon was admitted to the Montana bar in 1892 and quickly became closely involved with Republican politics, elected as secretary of the Republican county central committee that same year. He served in that post until 1897.

Dixon was elected to the Montana legislature as a Republican in 1900.

Montanans elected Dixon to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1902 and 1904. While in the House, he introduced and passed the bill that opened the Flathead Indian Reservation to white settlement. In 1906 the Montana legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate. There, he dealt with issues of interstate tariffs and unequal rail freight charges.

In 1912 he headed Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party and was defeated in his bid for popular election to the U.S. Senate. Dixon and Roosevelt had an affinity from their first meeting.

After Roosevelt's defeat, Dixon retreated to Missoula to focus on his law practice and business affairs. His businesses were considerable. In 1900 he acquired a controlling interest in the Missoulian, Missoula's Republican newspaper. Between 1912 and 1917, when the paper was sold, he was vitally involved with the paper's editorial policy and its editor, A.L. Stone as they engaged in a bitter battle with the Democratic (and Amalgamated Copper Company-owned) Missoula Sentinel . In 1909, with partner Charles L. Cowell, he built the Dixon Block in downtown Missoula (the location of the Western Montana National Bank), adding to his already considerable real estate holdings in the area. He owned a dairy near Polson, Montana, and a farm near Ronan, Montana, as well as some mining claims in Montana. After 1917, he retired from politics and business and spent most of his time on his farming interests. By 1919, he was ready to re-enter politics; he announced that he would run for Governor of Montana against Burton K. Wheeler.

He was elected governor and served one term. While in office, he dealt with the beginnings of drought and agricultural depression in the state, a large deficit, continued to fight the Anaconda Copper Company (formerly the Amalgamated Copper Company) and its control of the state, the state's system of taxation, and the need for administrative reform. He clashed significantly with fellow Republican Wellington Rankin. Throughout his tenure, he endured unrelenting attacks from the Company-owned press and other Company allies.

Those attacks were perhaps most intense over the Frank Conley case. Conley was the warden of the Montana State Prison at Deer Lodge from 1908 to 1921, when Dixon replaced him with M.L. Potter. Conley was also mayor of Deer Lodge and a powerful man in Republican circles. Among other things, he used convicts to break strikes in Butte and Anaconda, which earned him strong Democratic support. Dixon appointed T.H. MacDonald to investigate allegations of maladministration and misuse of state funds under Conley's administration. Conley and his supporters quickly asked that the investigation be conducted by the State Board of Prison Commissioners instead of by Dixon's private investigator. When MacDonald handed his report to Dixon, he charged Conley with misappropriating or misusing more than two hundred thousand dollars. C.B. Nolan, Conley's attorney, fought bitterly for his client. Conley was ultimately acquitted.

Dixon was not re-elected in 1924, losing to Democrat John E. Erickson. He returned to Missoula and the ranch for his second retirement. He increased his real estate holdings in Missoula, with purchase of more downtown properties and the construction of a two-story building next to the Montana Building.

In 1929 he was appointed First Assistant Secretary of the Interior. He had been under consideration for the Secretary post since his involvement with the Bull Moose campaign. In 1930, he became vitally involved with a project to develop water power on the Flathead Indian Reservation, with its accompanying complex network of water rights.

He married Caroline M. Worden, daughter of prominent Missoulian Frank Worden, in 1896. They had seven children: Virginia, Florence, Dorothy, Betty, Mary Joe, Peggy, and Frank. Frank died shortly after birth.

Dixon died in May 1934 after a short battle with a serious heart ailment.

From the guide to the Joseph M. Dixon Papers, 1772-1944, (University of Montana--Missoula Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library Archives and Special Collections)


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  • Droughts--Montana
  • Wildlife conservation--United States
  • Indians of North America--Cultural assimilation--United States
  • Conservation of natural resources--United States
  • Flathead Indian Reservation (Mont.)
  • Water-power--Government policy--United States
  • Indians of North America--United States--Government relations
  • Political campaigns--Montana
  • Finance, Public--Montana
  • Water rights--Montana
  • Business, Industry, and Labor
  • Taxation--Montana
  • Governmental investigations--Montana
  • Budget deficits--Montana
  • Presidents--United States--Election--1912
  • Montana
  • Women
  • Native Americans
  • Elections--Montana
  • Public lands--United States
  • Cultural property--Protection--United States
  • Agriculture--Montana
  • Press and politics--Montana
  • Indian termination policy--United States
  • Agriculture
  • Irrigation projects--United States
  • Water resources development--Montana--Flathead Indian Reservation
  • Government and Politics


  • Businessmen--Montana--Missoula
  • Legislators--United States
  • Politicians--Montana
  • Conservationists--United States
  • Governors--Montana
  • Lawyers--Montana--Missoula
  • Ranchers--Montana--Missoula County


  • United States (as recorded)
  • Montana (as recorded)