Prostitution in Fargo: An Overview

An photograph of the Crystal palace taken in 1917.

One of the best known “Houses of Ill Fame,” Malvina Massey’s Crystal Palace was only one of a half dozen or so brothels in Fargo at any given time in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Prostitution is known as the world’s oldest profession.  It should be no surprise then, that it was one of the earliest to arrive in Fargo, following the railroad into the city in its earliest years.   Rather than provide a thorough analysis of prostitution in Fargo or focus on one particular figure, what follows is a brief outline of the rise and fall of prostitution in Fargo in the late 1800s and early 1900s, designed to provide some basic context for understanding where it fits in with the city’s basic story.[1]

From the beginning, prostitution had important links to the regional and local economy. The railroad brought madams and prostitutes to the city, as well as many of their customers.  According to historian Caroll Engelhardt, traveling salesmen, but especially migrating farm workers who came to the Red River Valley during the wheat planting and harvest seasons, provided the bread and butter for Fargo area prostitutes.[2]  Prostitution tended to rise and fall with the agricultural cycle, as did the other vices to which it was so often linked, drinking and gambling.

As Engelhardt related in a recent interview and in his book, prostitution in Fargo featured a three-tiered system.  At the bottom were street-walkers who plied their trade without a permanent home base, followed by those operating independently and individually with their own “cribs.” At the top were women working for employers, mostly female madams, in recognized “houses of ill fame.”[3]  While Malvina Massey’s Crystal Palace was one of the best known establishments, more than half a dozen “houses of ill repute” were typically in operation in Fargo’s red light district, “The Hollow,” during this time period.

Prostitution was illegal under both state and local laws, but the way those laws were (or were not) enforced depended on the views of the community, especially of those who held power in the city.  Attitudes toward prostitution varied from complete opposition among church leaders and moral reformers, or “purists” to use Engelhardt’s term, to qualified acceptance and toleration from city business and government leaders, the “regulators,” who saw the trade as a necessary evil.  Over time, efforts were made to confine prostitution to the established brothels in the Hollow and to make sin “pay its way” through a series of regular fines that weeded out those independent contractors unable to pay them, and really amounted to an unofficial licensing system.  The city’s bottom line benefited from the growing fines and a portion of the money was used to police the Hollow and the city in general.  As Engelhardt describes it, this approach showed that city leaders and law enforcement saw the institution as catering to an important economic sector and chose “prosperity” over “purity” in the waning decades of the 19th century.[4]

The mixed opinions of the community toward prostitution also come through in newspaper accounts from the era.  On the one hand, brief reports from the court room and crime blotter sometimes adopt a winking or comic tone in referring to local madams and “soiled doves” (prostitutes).  To pick only one example from the dozens of articles found by student and academic researchers in recent years, a May 13, 1898, article in the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican under the heading, “Police Court,” follows the exploits of two local women.  “Meal Ticket” (Mary Guthrie) and “Crazy Annie” (Emma Anderson) were both arrested for plying their trade but were able to escape from the police station—the implication being they had help in doing so.  On the other hand, as Engelhardt notes, particularly tragic stories of young women in the profession suffering violence or maltreatment often brought a sympathetic response from the local press.[5]

While local newspapers sometimes took a somewhat detached or questioning tone, they generally supported the critiques and campaigns of the “purists” against prostitution in their city.  In general, these took place periodically, primarily in the off-season, when they would have less of an economic impact, since most of the potential customers (and some of the prostitutes, likely) were not in Fargo.  They typically waxed and waned with little long term impact.

With the beginning of the Progressive Era in the first decades of the 20th Century, local reformers, civic organizations, church groups and leaders, and most importantly, local politicians came together and began to act with greater urgency and effect.  Mirroring national trends, they focused their attention on reforming a collection of vices, including prostitution, with the anti-liquor effort at the core.  The links they saw between drinking and prostitution reflected reality as well as their moral concerns.  Prohibition had been state law in North Dakota since the early days of statehood and it was violation of this law in her establishment that eventually sent Malvina Massey to the state penitentiary.[6]  By 1916, aided by the county option law that finally outlawed liquor across the river in Moorhead, Minnesota in 1915, Fargo’s red light district was finally eliminated.[7]

In the end, of course, just as with drinking, eliminating prostitution was not as easy as changing a few laws.  Prohibition was defeated when people refused to obey the law.  Prostitution remains illegal, but continues to exist.  While no one can question the damage prostitution often causes to the people involved, it remains an open question whether a system that recognizes but regulates this vice is more realistic than one that forces it underground. What is clear is that with the end of business in the Hollow, an interesting, if morally-conflicted period in Fargo’s history came to an end.

– Chris Hummel, Digital History 2013

_________________

[1] Another reason this focus is not being taken here is that it has already been done very well elsewhere.  The best recent work on the history of Fargo and Moorhead is Caroll Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).  Chapter 6 focuses heavily on prostitution and other vices and is invaluable for anyone studying the issue. This has been recently supplemented by an interview conducted by Dr. Smith and David Flute of the 2013 Digital History Class with Dr. Engelhardt on 11/15/13.  A significant portion of this interview became part of the Malvina Massey documentary found elsewhere on this site, which does an effective job of dealing with the story of one of Fargo’s most notable (and notorious) madams.  This brief discussion relies heavily on information from these sources and other work of earlier researchers. Readers who wish to know more are directed to these sources.

[2] Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains (Kindle Edition), Location 2810.  Certainly permanent residents sometimes consorted with prostitutes and Engelhardt relates several stories of local scandals in which married men were outed for their illicit activities, sometimes in divorce proceedings (see chapter 6 of Gateway).

[3] Engelhardt, Gateway, Locations 2798-2802.

[4] For more on this, see Engelhardt, Gateway, Chapter 6.

[5] Engelhardt, Gateway, Locations 2854-2877.

[6] Engelhardt does an excellent job of telling Massey’s basic story near the end of chapter 6 of Gateway, Locations 2901-2919.  See also note at Location 4509.

[7] Engelhardt, Gateway, Location 2901.

Civil War Veterans In Fargo

GAR Monument, Island Park, Fargo.

GAR Civil War Veterans Monument in Riverside Park, Fargo, ND.

Though North Dakota was not a state when the Civil War took place, its history was shaped by the contribution of hundreds of Union Civil War veterans.[1]  Though much research needs to be done to fill out the story,[2] some basic conclusions are in order.  First, Civil War veterans came to Fargo in significant numbers in the decades after the war, just as they did to many other Midwestern and western communities during this period.  These men were the quintessential “Yankees,” men who were often the first to settle with their families in the new towns and surrounding countryside, many of them arriving with the railroad.  Frequently in setting up farms they benefitted from not only the Homestead Act, but also their ability to claim additional land based on their status as veterans.  As Caroll Engelhardt notes, Civil War veterans often emerged as community leaders, including Fargo mayors “Colonel” Wilbur F. Ball, who had served in the Ohio Cavalry, and J.A. Johnson, who served in both the Confederate and Union armies.[3]

Many veterans joined the principal Union Civil War veterans’ organization of the time, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The John F. Reynolds Post No. 44 was organized on February 22, 1884, with local veteran Lafayette Hadley playing a major role.  Renumbered Post No. 5 with North Dakota statehood in 1889, it was named for Major John F. Reynolds, who died in action while commanding First Corps of the Army of the Potomac on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  The post grew from its initial 64 charter members to a peak of 287 members before it began a long decline before the death of its last member, Colonel John W. Carroll, on March 3, 1942.[4]

During its lifetime, like other GAR posts, members participated in state and national encampments.[5]  They played a significant role in Decoration Day, an early version of Veterans’ or Memorial Day, in which wreaths were laid at the graves of military veterans, as well as other patriotic celebrations.[6]  The men also participated in military parades and ceremonies, notably in the send-off and reception of members of Co. B of the First North Dakota Infantry during the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (1898-1899).[7]

One lasting accomplishment of the post was the creation of the GAR Monument in Island Park, Fargo, in 1916.  Constructed with funds raised by North Dakota Governor Louis B. Hanna and the Reynolds post, it was dedicated on Decoration Day 1916, and bears the inscription:

“To the Dead a Tribute, To the Living a Memory, To Posterity an Inspiration.”[8]

-Chris Hummel, Digital History 2013

 

_________________

[1] I am leaving aside the issue of the battles against the Sioux (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota) which took place during and after the Civil War.  There were recruits from Dakota Territory that took part in Indian War and Civil War battles as well, but they were relatively few in number and their stories have been tracked elsewhere in the historical literature. We don’t have a sense at this point of how many Confederate veterans came to the Fargo area, aside from Mayor Johnson (see below).

[2] Much of the background information from this entry come from the “Finding Aid to the Grand Army of the Republic, John F. Reynolds Post No. 5 Records,” at the Institute for Regional Studies & University Archives, North Dakota State University Libraries, at   http://library.ndsu.edu/tools/dspace/load/?file=/repository/bitstream/handle/10365/201/Mss1053.pdf?sequence=3  (last accessed 12/19/13).  At the time of writing (December 2013), the archives were in the process of being moved to a new location and were therefore temporarily inaccessible for researchers.  When the archives are re-opened, this would be the obvious place for a researcher on Civil War veterans in the region to begin.  The collections contain data about membership, meetings, and even burial plots lists for local veterans.

[3] Caroll Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Kindle Edition, locations 3243-3272.

[4] Information from the “Finding Aid to the Grand Army of the Republic, John F. Reynolds Post No. 5 Records” cited above (note [2]).

[5] For a brief account of the G.A.R. state encampment at Hillboro, ND, in 1896, see Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, June 4-5, 1896.

[6] Engelhardt notes that the GAR hosted their own Fourth of July picnics in Fargo’s early years (Location 1602) as well as providing Memorial or Decoration Day services (Location 2338).  The Decoration Day service for 1899, which included remembrance for the First North Dakota Infantry, then fighting in the Philippines, is covered in “Decoration Day,” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, May 30, 1899.

[7] For the reception of Company B after the Spanish-American War/Philippine-American war and the GAR role in it, see “Home at Last!” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, October 2, 1899.

[8] Information on the monument from “GAR monument, Island Park, Fargo, N.D.” entry at the Photo Gallery of the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies at http://www.digitalhorizonsonline.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/uw&CISOPTR=4863 (last accessed 12/19/13) and the “Look Around Downtown—Fargo Heritage Discovery Walk,” Spring 2007, page 31, “Stop 1: Civil War Soldier Statue—Island Park,” page 31 (accessed on 12/19/13 in pdf form at https://www.cityoffargo.com/attachments/ddc76ad5-4743-4dea-b996-b9c21a07a46d/Walking%20Tour-final%20from%20Pierce.pdf).

Company B: Fargo in the Spanish-American War (1898-99)

Spanish-American War monument in Kindred Cemetery, near Fargo.

Close-up view of the Spanish-American War Monument in the cemetery at Kindred, ND. It commemorates the loss of Ole Lykken, who served with Co.K of the 1st ND and died from disease near Manila, Philippines, November, 1898. (Photo by Chris Hummel, 2013)

“Captain Keye… asked all who were willing to volunteer their services… to step two paces to the front.  Every man of the fifty-four stepped up at once.”[1]

Thus did the local Fargo paper describe the response of Fargo’s National Guard company, Company B, to President McKinley’s call for volunteers to serve in the Spanish-American War.  Those men who were accepted for service by the U.S. Government would go on to form the core of what became Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry.  What they could not know at the time was that this was the beginning of an eighteen month journey from peace to war and back again, and a fight mainly against revolutionaries in the Philippines who sought their country’s independence, rather than one to liberate the peoples of the Spanish Empire.

Fargo experienced the same surge of patriotic enthusiasm as the rest of the country with the declaration of war with Spain in April of 1898.  It was in this context, with troops moving through the railroad town on their way to all the points of the compass, and patriotic meetings taking place throughout the city, that Captain Keye’s men had offered their services.[2] While other Fargoans would see service alongside men from throughout the region and the nation in the U.S. Navy, the volunteer cavalry (some of them serving under Teddy Roosevelt), and both state and regular army units, Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry was unique in being made up exclusively of Fargo men.[3]

Within weeks, by early May of 1898, Company B, its original members supplemented with new recruits drawn from the Fargo area, including cadets from the Agricultural College (later NDSU), was encamped in tents in what was dubbed “Camp Briggs” in Fargo’s Huntington’s Addition (probably near the Great Northern Depot).  Here they were united with other members of the First North Dakota Infantry, assembled from across the state, as well as various volunteer cavalry detachments.[4]  After a few weeks of drill and camp life for those who passed the physical examinations, Co. B, along with the other units from across North Dakota (including companies A-I of the First North Dakota), departed Fargo from the Great Northern Depot on May 26, 1898, amidst tears and cheers from local citizens.  Thus began a long journey toward their ultimate destination—the Philippine Islands.[5]

The First North Dakota participated in the attack on the Spanish in Manila in August of 1898.  Though one man of Grafton Company C was killed and one of Bismarck Company A was wounded, no casualties were reported from Company B at that point. The war seemed to be wrapping up and the men expected to return to Fargo sometime after the final peace treaty, during the winter of 1898-1899.[6]  While peace was concluded between the United States and Spain in February 1899, the provision that Spain would sell the Philippines to America over the strenuous objections of a long-established and increasingly militarily-successful native independence movement under Emilio Aguinaldo assured that the North Dakotans would not be coming home as soon as they had hoped.[7]

Just two days before the signing of the final peace treaty with Spain, on February 4th, 1899, Aguinaldo’s troops attacked the American forces.  The First North Dakota was caught up in the first phase of the struggle, fought as a conventional battle between the two armies (after November 1899, the Filipinos switched to guerrilla warfare).[8]  Like many other American troops stationed near Manila, the First North Dakota appears to have been engaged with the Filipinos almost from the beginning. They were singled out for praise in official reports for their “eager and spirited” February 5th attack on enemy rifle pits after a tough march through the jungle.[9]  In the words of the official report, later printed in the Fargo Forum, “Major Frank White, with a battalion of the First North Dakota volunteers, left their trenches and made a gallant and effective charge on the insurgents concealed in the thickets in front of his position,” an attack that involved Co.’s B, D, G, and H.[10]  By June 1899, the First North Dakota was fighting alongside army regulars to capture the peninsula of Morong, forcing the Filipino army into the hills.[11]

The men of the First North Dakota were soon suffering more casualties, from disease, tropical conditions, and battle wounds, losing Sergeant Whitaker (Co. A) to dysentery with Corporal Byron of Co. D paralyzed by a gunshot wound to the spine.  Their regimental nurse, Miss Penney, was praised for her care for both men—and would be singled out more than once in future reports for similar devotion.[12]  A May 6, 1899, letter from Sergeant Edwards (probably the Corporal W.R. Edwards who shipped out with the Company in 1898 and was later promoted), revealed the situation in the Manila hospital where he was being treated for dysentery.  He describes his own state as hungry (he was receiving little food to reduce the impact of his dysentery) and nervous and observes that the men were coming in 10-20 at a time exhausted from the extreme heat and being driven hard by their commanders.  He also writes of Co. B’s Fred Hansche, shot through the right lung, and his long, painful journey to the hospital. Attitudes had also hardened toward the Filipinos, whom he refers to by the (apparently) racist nickname, the “Goo-Goos,” and he relays a story of the men being given permission to fire upon them if they refused to stop insulting the U.S. troops.[13]  Still, amidst what appears to have been worsening conditions and tensions, the North Dakotans continued to earn high praise for their behavior on campaign and in combat.[14]

More welcome than any praise, however, was word that the men would soon be returning home.  On July 5th, 1899, American commander in the Philippines General Otis cabled the War Department that within four days the North Dakotans would board the U.S. Grant alongside troops from Idaho and Wyoming for the journey home.  The news brought an enthusiastic response from the North Dakota home-front, with the Fargo Forum estimating the boys would return by early September.  Suggestions for a grand homecoming were immediately made.[15]  Planning began soon after, with representatives from across the state gathering in Fargo to prepare for the event.[16]

SpAmWorstMemGrove

To the right, through the NDSU main gate can be seen some of the 23 evergreen trees planted by North Dakota Agricultural College President Worst to commemorate the 23 students who enlisted in the Spanish American War.  (Photo by Chris Hummel, 2013)

 

Like the war itself, however, the voyage home proved longer, more complex, and more difficult than had been previously imagined.  July was over before the men would embark on the Grant.  There followed a long delay while the ship was held up in Japan for various reasons, with the men’s experiences detailed in passages from Sergeant “Billy” Edward’s diary, portions of which were published in the Fargo Forum.  They contain stories of the weeks the men spent visiting Japanese cities and tourist sites, including mention of a baseball game against a team from Yokohama (the Americans lost), more praise for the unit’s nurse, Miss Penney, and notes on the wounded.  A number of wounded men, including Joe Wurcer of Co. B, were aboard, and a soldier from Co. K had died on the trip.  The men finally left Japan for San Francisco on August 14th, though two men from Co. B apparently failed to make it back to the ship on time, making them technically deserters[17] (though they were probably only guilty of enjoying Japan a bit too much).

Preparations to receive the men at home reflected these delays and new information coming into Fargo.  When it became clear that the unit would be mustered out when it arrived in San Francisco—and therefore that the U.S. Government would not be paying for the North Dakotans’ train tickets home—citizens from throughout the state began to donate to a fund to pay the troops’ way home (though a few men planned to stay on to enjoy California for a while).  Such campaigns were carried out successfully in each community that sent a unit to the Philippines.  In Fargo itself, supporters received badges reading, “I Say Co. B Rides Free. What Say Ye?”[18]

After six weeks at sea and in port, the First North Dakota Regiment was finally mustered out of the federal service at San Francisco on September 25th, 1899.[19] Beginning apparently in San Francisco itself, where it was said “restaurants and cigar stores will not take their money” (they were being treated)[20], the First North Dakota seemed to receive a heroes’ welcome on its journey back, described as “one continuous ovation.”[21]  Stopping along the way to let out various companies, beginning with an enthusiastic 2 am, October 2nd, reception at Dickinson, the Jamestown, Devil’s Lake, Mandan, Valley City and other companies were delivered as the train traveled across the state.  Everywhere the reception was warm, but the estimated 10,000 people who greeted Company B (and I of Wapheton and C of Grafton who were traveling with them) mobbed the depot for a full hour before the balance of the First North Dakota arrived at Fargo at 8am.  Cannon salutes and a parade to the armory including bands and Civil War veterans of the G.A.R., as well as members of the local lodges, culminated in a massive meal served to the returning veterans and a series of brief, often emotional and patriotic speeches.[22]

The final act of the homecoming was a massive community barbecue and potluck held the next day in Island Park with an estimated attendance of 15,000.  A few speeches were given and music was provided by the First North Dakota Infantry band, but a major attraction was the huge amounts of food, “stacks of meat—beef, pork and lamb… hundreds of loaves of bread, thousands of doughtnuts… a stack of pies… all the good things to eat that could be desired.”[23]  Of course, the real draw was the return of Fargo’s native sons and the chance to welcome them back to the community.

What thoughts the men of Company B had about their service experience, which had so quickly turned from the defeat of what many Americans saw as a corrupt and oppressive Spanish empire to a fight against would-be Filipino independence fighters, is perhaps to be revealed by later research. While other men served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War from the Fargo area both before and after Company B, perhaps the chairman of the welcome committee, North Dakota Agricultural College President Worst, whose own son Clayton, served as first sergeant of Cavalry Troop G [24], said it best for all of them in his welcome home speech at the reunion barbeque:

“(Y)ou patriotically enlisted… you never questioned an order for duty… It was not a question of our soldiers—as to what were causes—they were soldiers—they obeyed orders and come home to us.”[25]

-Chris Hummel, Digital History 2013.  (Additional research provided by Dustin Olson)

____________________

[1] “Co. B Stand Together,” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, April 22, 1898.  (This newspaper will be hereafter referred to as FFDR).  Later articles, many of them cited below, make clear that not every man of the 54 was accepted for overseas service. Some failed the medical examination while others stayed home to care for their families—it seems sometimes against the soldier’s own wishes.  It is likely these men were a bit older than the average volunteer for the war, given that a number them appear to have been National Guard members for several years. Still, they provided the core for Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry, a unit exclusively made up of Fargo area recruits.

[2] See “Troops Galore” and “A Mass Meeting,” FFDR, April 22, 1898.

[3] On the cavalry company offered by Wheatland, ND, for service under Roosevelt, see “Wheatland Cavalry Company,” FFDR, April 26, 1898.  Articles in the FFDR provide a wealth of information on Fargo during the Spanish-American War, only a small portion of which could be examined in the course of our research and included in this brief entry. There is much that remains to be uncovered and written about by later historians both in local newspapers and archival collections.  If nothing else, this brief discussion will hopefully generate interest in doing further research.

[4] See “The Soldier Boys,” FFDR, May 5, 1898; “Saturday Night,” FFDR, May 7, 1898; “The White City,” FFDR, May 8, 1898.  These and other articles detail visitors to the camp, gifts and tributes given to the soldiers by local citizens, groups, and businesses, and personal details about some of the soldiers and their officers.  Other units of the First North Dakota were also recruited or nationalized from the National Guard on a local basis by company. Thus Co. A was from Bismarck; Co. C, Grafton; Co. D, Devil’s Lake; Co. G, Valley City; Co. H, Jamestown; Co. I, Wapheton; Co. K, Dickinson; etc.

[5] For the departure, see “Getting Ready,” FFDR, May 26, 1898 and especially “Tears Were Shed,” FFDR, May 26, 1898.  According to the Forum and Daily Republican, when the men first heard they were going to the Philippines they were “jubilant,” looking forward to “a magnificent ocean voyage” to “a country much healthier and prettier than Cuba” where they were “pretty sure to see some service” (“To the Philippines,” FFDR, May 13, 1898).  Whether they shared this rosy assessment of ocean travel after their difficult return trip and of the country after suffering from tropical diseases and guerrilla attacks there is a bit unlikely—but they certainly did see some military service. The FFDR continued to follow Co. B on the trip to San Francisco from where they shipped out and through letters throughout their deployment in the Philippines.

[6] “North Dakota Heroes,” FFDR, August 27, 1898.  Data on casualties from Co. B is scattered and spotty in the newspaper and the time we had for research did not allow a thorough and systematic study of the entire war period.  More research in official records, other archives, and the local newspapers would doubtless provide a fuller picture to later researchers.

[7] Much has been written about the Philippine Insurrection or the Philippine-American War and it is not our purpose to review it in detail here.  For a brief, solid discussion of the key points in the conflict, see the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian website article, “Milestones: 1899-1913—The Philippine-American War,” at http://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/war

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Dakotans Commended,” FFDR, June 22, 1899. The battle took place in February, but the report had not appeared until months later, shortly before it was published in the newspaper.  Judging from newspaper accounts, such praise of the unit was fairly common.

[10] “Major White Complimented,” FFDR, June 21, 1899.

[11] “Again on the Warpath,” FFDR, June 5, 1899.

[12] “Whitaker’s Death,” FFDR, June 5, 1899.

[13] “From the Hospital,” FFDR, June 9, 1899.

[14] “North Dakotans O.K.,” FFDR, June 22, 1899.

[15] “General Otis Cables Washington…,” FFDR, July 5th, 1899.  For an update, see “Will Sail Sunday,” FFDR, July 26, 1899.

[16] “The N.D. Boys,” FFDR, July 31, 1899 and “For the Soldiers,” FFDR, August 5, 1899.

[17] The diary appears in several separate installments, all entitled, “Sergt. Billy’s Diary,” in the FFDR on September 14, 15, and 16, 1899. There was apparently one on September 13th, but I somehow missed this one in my research.  This appears to be the same Sergeant Edwards whose letter was cited above (“From the Hospital,” FFDR, June 9, 1899).

[18] Ads for the campaign and a running tally of the donations received appeared daily in the FFDR.  See the September 15, 1899 paper for one example.

[19] “The End,” FFDR, September 25, 1899.

[20] “What Hansbrough Says,” FFDR, September 18, 1899.

[21] “Home at Last!” FFDR, October 2, 1899.

[22] Ibid.

[23] “The Barbecue,” FFDR, October 3, 1899.

[24] This is briefly mentioned in the second column of the article, “Getting Ready,” FFDR, May 24, 1898.

[25] “The Barbecue,” FFDR, October 3, 1899.

Fraternal Organizations in Fargo and Moorhead

Like much of the nation in 1900, Fargo and Moorhead were smattered with various fraternal orders. As of 1900, both cities combined listed fifty-one fraternal organizations.[1] The Masonic Order was perhaps the most popular order established because of its celebration of Victorian principles in the life of American men. A man’s membership in a Masonic order showed his commitment to masculinity and set him up for success in business. The Ancient Free and Accepted Masons were established in Fargo as the Fargo Shiloh Lodge No. 105 in 1872, along with the Moorhead Lodge No. 126 in 1876. The Masonic order rose above all orders as it provided a prime example for the organization of other orders such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Ancient Order of United Workmen, Grand Army of the Republic and the Knights of Pythias.[2] Such was the success of the Masonic order that wives of Masonic members formed their own auxiliary known as the Order of the Eastern Star. In 1893, Fargo saw its own Mecca Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star organized and Moorhead’s auxiliary was established ten years later. In order to house the new fraternal organizations sprouting in Fargo, the Masonic Scottish Rite Order built a new temple in 1900 that provided space not only for Masonic interests but also for organizations such as the El Zagal Shrine and the Order of the Eastern Star.[3]

Masonic Temple, Fargo, N.D. Taken in 196-? Built in 1899. North Dakota State University Libraries, Institute for Regional Studies, Digital ID rs010766.

Masonic Temple, Fargo, N.D. Taken in 196-? The Masonic Temple was built in 1899. North Dakota State University Libraries, Institute for Regional Studies, Digital ID rs010766.

 

Although the Masonic order was highly sought after it did not offer one benefit that other organizations such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Ancient Order of United Workmen did. These orders offered insurance to their members that was more affordable than commercially sold insurance. With these benefits at the forefront, the Order of the Odd Fellows was established in Fargo in 1874 and Moorhead in 1879. The other insurance offering order, the Ancient Order of United Workmen, permanently established itself in Fargo in 1889 and later in Moorhead as of 1890.[4]

Another fraternal order, the Grand Army of the Republic, organized itself around veterans. It provided veterans with food, cash, and even railroad transportation. This organization developed as the John F. Reynolds Post No. 44 of Fargo in 1884. The women’s auxiliary, Woman’s Relief Corps, aided the men’s order by providing assistance and refreshments at the orders’ banquets. Both the men’s and women’s organizations also provided the community of Fargo with an annual Decoration Day observance every May 30th in which veterans were celebrated through community programs and decoration of veteran graves at local cemeteries.[5]

Not only did fraternal organizations offer the citizens of Fargo and Moorhead physical benefits such as insurance and memorial services, but it also provided citizens an outlet for communal gatherings in a growing and changing society.

Amber N. Lien, Digital History 2013



[1] Carroll Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 181.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., pp. 182.

[4] Ibid., pp. 184.

[5] Ibid., pp. 185.

 

North Dakota Children’s Home Society

childrens home

North Dakota Children’s Home Society
804 10th Street South, Fargo

In the late 1800’s, it was the practice of the New York Children’s Aid Society to round up homeless children from the streets, and send them west on the train to be distributed to farmers. Sometimes the children ended up in good homes, in other cases they were chosen just for their ability to serve as free labor. Children’s Home Societies were created in towns along the railroad to protect the “orphan train” children from abuse and neglect and provide them with good homes.

The North Dakota Children’s Home Society was organized as a branch of the Minnesota Society by Rev. E.P. Savage, and the first Superintendent, Rev. C.J. McConnehey, arrived in Fargo in November 1891. His mandate was to “act as friend and protector to homeless, neglected and destitute children—both children arriving on the orphan trains and those from across the state of North Dakota whose families could no longer care for them.

As the only project of its kind in the Dakota territory, the original North Dakota Children’s Home Society focused on the maintenance of an active and flourishing orphanage and through the provision of foster care and adoption.¹  In 1895, Rev. McConnehey resigned his position in order to move further into the new frontier and establish the Montana Children’s Home and Aid Society. In 1897, under the new leadership of Baptist Minister B.H. Brasted, the society was officially incorporated as the North Dakota Children’s Home Society, and eventually a permanent “temporary home” was built at 804 10th Street in Fargo.

Frank Hall

Frank “Daddy” Hall

The arrival of a new Children’s Home superintendent in 1902, Frank “Daddy” Hall, initiated a period of great energy, growth, and change. According to the Grand Forks “Evening Times,” by 1907, the society had “received and provided for 740 children from all sections of the state.”²

As superintendent, Hall participated in the first White House Conference for Dependent Children in 1909, fought vigorously for the Mother’s Pension Law in 1915, and in 1923 was a member of North Dakota’s Children’s Code Commission. Through these events and other activities, Hall influenced significant legislation for the protection of children. Frank Hall led the Society for 24 years, before ill health resulted in his resignation from the position.³  The society continued its work as an orphanage and in 1957, having outgrown its facilities, moved to a new building at 1721 South University Drive, Fargo. At the same time the name was changed to Children’s Village. Due to rapid changes in our society and a decreasing need for orphanages, the board of directors voted to terminate the institutional child care program (orphanage) in 1968.  In 1972, the name of the organization was again changed–to The Village Family Service Center–the name it still goes by today.

¹“A Legacy of Love,” publication of The Village Family Service Center, Fargo, N.D., December, 1990.
²”Evening Times,” Grand Forks, N.D., August 1, 1907.
³”A Legacy of Love,” publication of The Village Family Service Center, Fargo, N.D., December, 1990.

-Tammy Noteboom, Digital History 2013

Ku Klux Klan

A photograph taken of a Klu Klux Klan meeting sometime in the 192?

A photograph taken of a Ku Klux Klan meeting sometime in the 192?

Klan Background

The Ku Klux Klan began in the American South after the Civil War to defy Reconstruction efforts to allow blacks to vote and hold office. It was inactive by the early 1890s, but resurfaced in 1915 when the film Birth of a Nation was released. The film depicted the original KKK as the heroic protector of Southern honor against the horrors of minorities. As the Klan moved beyond the South, it recruited F. Halsey Ambrose, a Presbyterian minister who came to Grand Forks in 1918. He publicly espoused the merits of white Protestant Americanism and incorporated a North Dakota Klan Chapter in 1922 with headquarters in Grand Forks. The Fargo-Moorhead Chapter was incorporated the same year. They had enough robed, hooded followers that in 1922 the legislature ruled that no one over 15 could wear a mask or head covering that obscured identity. By the end of the 1920s the popularity of the Klan in North Dakota declined and the organization later disbanded.

KKK Differences in the North

Unlike the rest of the nation, the Red River Valley had very few non-white settlers during the early 20th century. The majority population was white Northern Europeans. Nationally, the Klan targeted black Americans, immigrants, Jews, and Catholics, but in this region the target were Catholics, Jews, and morally lax individuals like drug addicts and bootleggers.

Rudolph Bener (Rudwoj Bojcio)

Rudolph “Rudy” Bener, originally Rudwoj Bojcio, was born in 1891 in Uljanik in what is today Croatia. He moved to the United States in 1910 and filed for naturalization in 1925 in Fargo, N.D., where he worked for Ford Motor Company across from the Great Northern Rail depot. Characterized as a short man with an olive complexion and a thick Slavic accent-derogatorily, a “swarthy” man- he was not the stereotypical KKK member. He never married, but was known as “Uncle Rudy” to his friends. They discovered his KKK involvement after his death in 1964, and suspect that his membership was an attempt to prove his patriotism and to be accepted as an American.

Hood Law

In 1923, North Dakota passed the Anti-Klan Law, which banned the wearing of hoods or masks in front of public places. Violators faced $25-$100 in fines and/or 10-30 days in jail. The law directly targeted the KKK, but marches and “konclaves” populated by men in Klan regalia continued through 1925.

-Intro to Museums Class, 2012

Fargo: the Divorce Capital of the Midwest

While Fargo was still a rough-and-tumble outpost, one commodity became a steady source of income: divorce. Even when lawmakers put a three-month residency requirement in place, a steady stream of unhappy spouses came to Fargo on the Northern Pacific. Hotels were built so they could live and dine in luxury while waiting three months, and lawyers set up shop to help them navigate the legal waters. The waiting period was one of the most lax in the U.S., and one Fargo judge granted 350 divorces in just one year. The divorce economy faltered in 1899 when the legislature extended the residency requirement to one year; divorce seekers moved westward, and Reno became the new “divorce capital.”

-Intro to Museums Class, 2012

Prostitution

When houses of prostitution cluster in a city, they form what is commonly called a “red-light district”. “The Hollow,” as it was called in Fargo, had a scarlet glow from the 1880s to the early 20th century. Some “working girls” or prostitutes followed the men building the Northern Pacific Railroad, while others settled along the route. Many of the patrons visited Moorhead’s legal saloons, and then crossed the river to thriving brothels. On the first day of every month, Fargo’s police chief visited Malvina Massey’s Crystal Palace and the brothels of Minnie Smith, Clara Devine and others. He instructed the girls and the madams to go to the station and pay fines, usually for “vagrancy.” From July to December of 1889, the arrests brought in $2,668, or what amounted to a steep business tax on houses of ill fame.

An photograph of the Crystal palace taken in 1917.

An photograph of the Crystal palace taken in 1917.

A Fargo Forum headline in May 1911 told Fargoans “Aging Negress is Dead.” Many knew of the deceased, Malvina Massey, madam of the Crystal Palace. From the late 1880s, Massey provided an eager clientele with prostitutes and illegal liquor; the latter cost her nine months in prison in 1901 and the former just a long string of $25 fines. When she returned to Fargo from serving her sentence at the North Dakota State Penitentiary, a group of friends met the train, and she was back in business. Another arrest came within months, but her case was dismissed “when the prosecuting witness forgot his lines.” Massey’s business continued at least until 1905. On her death, her estate went to her husband, H.C. Rae and a son, Henry.

-Intro to Museums Class, 2012

Bootlegging

Liquor once flowed freely on both sides of the Red River at Fargo and Moorhead, but when North Dakota statehood came, saloons had to be closed by July 1, 1890. Moorhead saloons quickly filled the gap, offering free transportation to Fargoans still needing a lawful drink. That liaison lasted until Clay Countians voted dry in 1915, closing Moorhead’s saloons ahead of national prohibition in 1920. But intoxicants of questionable need were available before and after prohibition in both states. North Dakota’s 1895 Druggist Permit Amendment allowed physicians and drug store owners to administer alcohol for medicinal and sacramental purposes. In 1923, a 640-gallon shipment of alcohol disguised as hair tonic was seized at the NP freight depot in Moorhead.

Prohibition Laws (ND and MN)

North Dakota’s territorial days were full of liquor and saloons. In 1887 counties were given the choice to vote to go dry. The entire state went dry when it was admitted to the Union on November 2, 1889. It was the first state to be admitted with a prohibition clause in its constitution. All saloons in the state had to be closed by July 1, 1890. At this time Minnesota was still a wet state. Fargo and Moorhead had opposing liquor laws for 26 years. Counties in Minnesota were given the option to go dry in 1915. Clay County ended its wild and wet days on July 1, 1915 by voting to go dry. National prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920. Prohibition years lasted until December 1933 when both Minnesota and North Dakota voted to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment.

Jag Wagons

Jag wagons were a free transportation system sponsored by Moorhead saloons to bring thirsty customers from Fargo over the river to wet Clay County. They were commonly a large wagon pulled by a single horse that operated day and night. The main pick up station was on NP Ave just east of Broadway in Fargo. Jag wagon drivers got in trouble for delivering booze orders across the river and even transporting North Dakota Native Americans to Moorhead in order to drink. Fargo had hoped passage of a new streetcar law franchise would put jag wagons out of business, but the free rides still continued until 1913.

Blind Pigs

The lower class version of a speakeasy, blind pigs popped up all over Fargo-Moorhead during Prohibition. The name came from owners of these establishments charging a fee to see an attraction, such as an animal (pig) and then providing alcoholic beverages. Newspapers from the time period were littered with arrests and raids of local blind pigs. If found guilty, blind pig owners could be fined up to $1,000 and sent to jail for up to a year.

Druggist Permit

In 1895 North Dakota passed the Druggist Permit Amendment. This allowed physicians and drug store owners to administer alcohol for medicinal and sacramental purposes. A permit could be obtained by submitting a signed petition by 25 reputable community members and a bond of $1,000. Prescriptions for alcohol were supposed to be only a half a pint per sale and only for emergency cases. Christianson’s Drug Store in Fargo was one such place a person could get alcohol legally. Common orders were whiskey for heart disease and liniment brandy for fever. Friday nights were busy down at Christianson’s as people stocked up for the weekend. Mr. Christianson was eventually accuses of running a blind pig and forced to go to court.

Hair Tonic Case

In 1923, 640 gallons of alcohol disguised as hair tonic was confiscated at the Northern Pacific freight depot located at 15th Ave and 2nd Ave Moorhead. The shipment was postmarked to Franklin Drug and Distributing Co. of Moorhead, which did not exist, from a warehouse in the Twin Cities. After investigation, it was thought that 7,600 gallons of the 85% grain alcohol was being stored Minneapolis.

Rum Running

With the implantation of Prohibition, some citizens of North Dakota turned to smuggling alcohol into the state. As time progressed, the illegal sales of booze increased as the sellers became better organized and more skilled at evading the authorities. Police officers from Minot decided to take a stand and ‘befriended’ some of the bootleggers so they could help them hide the alcohol on ‘farms’ and later confiscate it. Bootleggers had developed an effective system, however, that could sometimes spoil the authorities’ plans. Lights were left burning in upstairs rooms of farmhouses along roads stretching from Minot to Canada to warn smugglers of police officers who were on duty in the area. These systems were so efficient that the price of whiskey began dropping because the illegal supply had increased so much. People also went ‘clubbing’ together to cut down on the high prices. Authorities were having such difficulty apprehending bootleggers that they often pulled over cars full of innocent ladies at gunpoint.

-Intro to Museums Class, 2012

Violent Crime

Crime Overview

As railroad construction continued and industry expanded in the late 19th century, the gap between the upper and lower classes grew. With an influx of people looking to work along the tracks, complications arose, leading to an increase in crime. Although the introduction of the Northern Pacific and SPM&M improved economic opportunities, with it came prostitution, alcohol consumption, and conflict.

1913 School Shooting

On March 5, 1913, Bennie Tinjum began a dispute with school teacher Anna Skeim, leading to gunfire and casualty. Details of the incident vary from story to story, including the exact date as well as the spelling of Miss Skeim’s name.

Students recall the day their teacher was shot at a schoolhouse near Glyndon, MN. A man, believed to be the teacher’s boyfriend, appeared and requested to speak to Miss Skeim in private. After a few moments of the two conversing in the cloakroom, the children heard a couple of gunshots. The teacher came running out of the cloakroom and attempted to hide. The school children, terrified, ran out the door and into zero degree weather without as much as a coat or gloves. The schoolhouse was located in a rural area so the children had nowhere to escape. Miss Skeim was seen running out of the schoolhouse towards a nearby church. The shooter, Bennie Tinjum, continued to fire his weapon until Miss Skeim was shot in the neck and collapsed. She was shot six times before the assailant then shot himself in the head, ending in his fatality.

The teacher was found sitting at her desk when help arrived. Miss Skeim survived her attack and spent two weeks in the hospital. No children were shot with the exception of one boy being slightly grazed by a bullet in the arm. Although it is still unknown what happened to Miss Skeim, according to the MN death certificate database, an Anna Rebekka Skeim died June 11, 1951.

John Rooney: The Last Execution

John Rooney was the last person to be executed in North Dakota. Convicted of the murder of farm worker Harold Sweet, Rooney shot and killed the victim during a robbery near the railroad tracks in Fargo. Rooney was sentenced to death by hanging on March 31, 1903. Rooney maintained that the shooter was actually his partner, “Kansas Slim.” His appeals went as far as the Supreme Court, but to no avail. He was hanged on October 17, 1905 at the Cass county prison. It was the first private execution to be held in a prison rather than in public.

The death penalty was abolished in 1915 in North Dakota. It was restored from 1939 to 1977, although no one was executed during that time.

Saloon Shootout

On April 25th, 1872 Edward Curran, also known as Shang Stanton, and Dan “Slim Jim” Shumway began a dispute, leading to a shootout within a local saloon. Stanton and Shumway, both infamous gamblers, had been following the Northern Pacific Railroad in pursuit of wealth and willing opponents. The shootout, located where the Moorhead Mall parking lot now resides unraveled as follows…

After a dispute the day before, both men entered the saloon, coming in contact with the other. Stanton was the first to fire his weapon, discharging into Shumway’s abdomen. Shumway returned fire and a duel ensued. Stanton fled the scene to another saloon while Shumway continued fire, inadvertently shooting Orleans Club owner Daniel Thompson, ending in his fatality. Shumway continued shooting outside of the saloon until he collapsed. He was disarmed and died due to his injuries in early May. Shang Stanton was later apprehended but released under the terms of Justifiable Homicide.

-Intro to Museum Class, 2012

Fargo Churches: Then and Now

This slideshow features historic photographs of several of the churches of Fargo, accompanied by recent photographs, which allow for side-by-side comparison. The recent photographs were taken by Scott Becklund in 2012. Mr. Becklund attempted to recreate the original location and angle of the archival photographs. Most of the churches retain some of their original character, while some have been demolished.[divider scroll]

1. Elim Lutheran Church- 321 9th Street North. (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Elim Lutheran Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

2. First Congregational Church- 224 8th Street South.  (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Site of former First Congregational Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund. None of the original structure remains. It was demolished in 1979.

3. First Presbyterian Church-  650 2nd Avenue North.  (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) First Presbyterian Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

4. Gethsemane Episcopal Church-  204 9th Street South.  (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Site of former Gethsemane Episcopal Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund. The cathedral burned beyond repair in 1989.

5. Grace Lutheran Church- 821 5th Avenue South. (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Grace Lutheran Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

6. Methodist Episcopal Church- 906 1st Avenue South. (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) First United Methodist Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

7. Plymouth Congregational Church- 901 Broadway North.  (Left) Photo Mss 48.1.25, courtesy of NDSU Archives. Taken c. 1920. (Right) Plymouth Congregational Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

8. Pontoppidan Lutheran Church- 309 4th Street North. (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Pontoppidan Luthean Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

9. St. Mark’s English Lutheran Church- 400 Roberts Street. (Left) Photo taken from NDSU Libraries (http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/churches/st-marks-eng-luth.htm). (Right) Site of former St. Mark’s Church. Building was demolished, c. 2000. Photograph by Scott Becklund, 2012.

10. St. Mary’s Catholic Church-  619 7th Street North. (Left) Photo 2023.M-4, courtesy of NDSU Archives. Taken c. 1935. (Right) St. Mary’s Cathedral, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

11. Swedish Baptist Church- 300 4th Street North. (Left) Photo taken from NDSU Libraries (http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/churches/swede-bap.htm). (Right) Site of former Swedish Baptist Church. Photograph by Scott Becklund, 2012.

12. Unitarian Universalist Church- 121 9th Street South.  (Left) Photo 2003.2.3, courtesy of NDSU Archives. Taken c. 1935. (Right) Unitarian Universalist Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

-Zach Jendro, Digital History 2012

 

Mayors

1875–1876; George Egbert

1876–1877; Evan S. Tyler

1877–1880; George Egbert

1880–1882; Jasper B. Chapin

1882–1883; William A. Kindred

1883–1885; Woodford A. Yerxa

1885–1886; John A. Johnson

1886–1887; Charles Scott

1887–1888; Alanson W. Edwards

1888–1890; Seth Newman

1890–1892; Wilbur F. Ball

1892–1894; Emerson H. Smith

1894–1896; Wilbur F. Ball

1896–1902; John A. Johnson

1902–1904; William D. Sweet

The NDSU Archives has been compiling information about the life of these men.

-Mathias Zastrow, Digital History 2012

 

Music in Early Fargo

There were a significant number of thespians, musicians, and other artistic entertainers in Fargo between 1880 and the 1893 destruction.  Music and theater entertainment appears to have been a substantial industry in Fargo.  In 1888, according to the directory there were at least two music stores operating in Fargo.[1]  In addition to this, most theaters ran six nights per week and also had daily rehearsals.  The Vaudevillian theaters employed 458 individuals between 1885 and 1887, alone.[2]  Most of the performers of Fargo came through on short contracts or with traveling troupes.  Aside from traveling troupes, Fargo also had professional bands and orchestras which were permanently established in Fargo during this time.

The Union Orchestra was an example of such a group.  It was arranged in 1889 and led by C.W. Simmons until 1882; when Steven Braun, a music teacher and director, took over.  The group was comprised of violinists, a viola, a bass, a flue, two clarinets, two coronets, a trombone, drums and traps, a piano, along with the director and conductors.  Its members included A.M. Vorhees, G.C. Grafton, E. R. Wright, George Holgate, W.D. Allen, C.A. Douglas, R.C Henry, W. F. Cramer, B. C. Holes, H. L. Babst, T. A. Evans, William Hart, and C.W. Simmons.

There was also the Union Band which was a brass band with positions held by many players from the union orchestra and was also under the direction of Steven Braun.  Instruments included clarinets, saxophones, cornets, trombones, euphoniums, bass, and drums.  The presence of a drum major indicates that this was also a marching band in addition to a brass band.  The members included Herman Leushch, C.A. Douglas, R.C. Henry, W.D. Allen, J.F. Treat, W.F Cramer, H. Rud, B.C. Holes, George Holgate, Charles Beck, L. Lensrud, C.W. Simmons, Fred Irish H. L. Babst, E.R. Wright, Mark Ramer, P.A. Evans, P. Sloan, and William Hart as the drum major.

Another was Rupert’s Orchestra which was organized by A. O Rupert, a violinist.  It contained instruments such as cornets, two violins, and a bass.  It had a membership of four.  It later expanded to become known as the Fargo Orchestra and included instruments such as the flute, the piano, drums, and a trombone.  Its members included Mr. Rupert, A.j. Schirrmann, E.R. Wright, A.V. du Vall, H. Leusch, J.H. Rupert, Arthur Walves, W.A. Stickley, H.A. Lensrud, C.G. Baernstein, and James Butts.[3]

-Valerie Tescher


[1] Fargo City Directory. Fargo, ND: City of Fargo, 1891. Print.

[2] Browning, Richard James. Early Fargo Theaters: Record of the professional theatre activity in Fargo, Dakota Territory from 1880-1888. Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University, 1979. Print.

[3] Masonic Library Staff. Fargo Masonic Files. Fargo: North Dakota institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, 1979. Print.

Poetry and the Fargo Fire

This is a slideshow video reading of two poems written by an unknown Fargo resident and J.H. Burke following and regarding the Fargo Fire of 1893. Please click the links below to view video presentations of these poems on YouTube.[divider scroll]

Please click here for a reading of “Untitled.”

“Untitled”

“In our peaceful, quiet city,

(Oh what a change that day would see,)

That seventh day of June,

Eighteen hundred ninety-three;

None e’en deemed that swift destruction

Soon would come a rushing down,

Till the cry of fire! fire! Was heard ringing throughout town.

Then excitement and confusion

Reigned where peace reigned just before,

As the red-tongued, fiery monster

Madly swept the city o’er.

Bells pealed forth their notes of warning,

Mingled with the whistles’ scream,

And the fire’s roar and crackle,

Shouts of men and hiss of steam.

Onward swept the fiery tempest

Sweeping all within its track,

And it seemed no human effort

Could beat the flaming demon back.

Bravely fought the “fire ladies,”

Bravely fought man, woman, child;

But the fiery fiend was master

And on it swept in fury wild.

But relief was swiftly coming

From our noble sister Casselton,

And from other sisters near;

We soon met the monster’s frown.

Then was turned the tide of battle

And we ere the set of sun,

Had conquered the red monster;

But oh, such work as he had done.

Where once stood in seeming safety

Lovely home and business place,

Naught is left but blackened ruins

Which time alone can e’er erase

While it cost us precious treasure,

Yet it cost no precious life;

Although home’s gone, still remaining

Are the children, husband, wife.

We’ll ever hold in kind remembrance

All who helped us on that day.

And with emphasis we thank you.

It is all that we can say.

Let us offer now oblation

Until God who ruleth all,

And give heed to His commandments

Lest a worse thing us befall.

-Unknown—June 7, 1893

[divider scroll]

Please click here for a reading of “Fargo June 7, 1893”.

 

 “FARGO, JUNE 7, 1893.”

Fargo, Dakota’s prairie queen,

IN peaceful plenty lay

Begirt by fields of waving green

That sultry summer day.

Her lofty blocks of brick and stone

Seemed towering to the sky,

And cast their cooling shadows down

Upon the passer by.

The farmers from the country round

Did throng each busy street,

Their friends and neighbors greet;

For every road to Fargo led,

As did the roads of old

To Rome, when she by Tiber’s bed,

The restless world controlled.

And business men with eager face,

And keen observant eyes,

Were flitting by from place to place

As bee its calling plies;

And lovely women lent their grace

Unto the busy scene;

And childhood, with its guileless face,

Amidst the throng was seen.

When suddenly a shout was heard

Of agony and fear;

And through the noise the thrilling word

Of fire, struck on the ear.

Then other voices swelled the cry,

And soon the deep-voiced bell

Was pealing from the belfry high;

The doomed city’s knell.

And shooting up in whirling bands,

A smoking pillar rose,

Black as that, which on Egypt’s sands,

Screened Israel from its foes;

And spurting through the inky cloud,

The blood-red flames appear,

Like those which from Jehovah’s cloud,

Filled Pharaoh’s hosts with fear

And o’er their heads the south wind strong,

The blazing embers tossed

And soon the word was passed along,

“The water fails, all’s lost.”

But still they bravely stood their ground,

And did all men could do;

While overhead and all around

Naught but flames met their view.

The Fire Fiend rode upon the blast,

From roof to roof he sprang;

And round his fiery darts he cast,

And loud his laughter rang.

A sea of fire with human shore,

He saw beneath his feet;

Louder and louder grew his roar,

And fiercer grew the heat.

Twas o’er a hundred acres lay,

A lake of shouldering fire,

And perished in that swift decay

Had wall, and roof, and spire.

And homeless hundreds stood that night, beneath the drenching rain

Nor hoped nor cared to see the light

Of morning dawn again.

But one short year has passed away,

And now I stand once more

Just where I stood that awful day

Upon that red sea’s shore.

And what a change—that fiery flood

I see no longer there.

But stately blocks and mansions good

Have risen everywhere.

The massive blocks of brick and stone

The stranger doth amaze

As when Aladdin’s palace shone

Upon the sultan’s gaze.

I see the men, as good as gold,

Who’ve build again their town,

And lovely women, as of old,

Are passing up and down.

—J. H. Burke, June 7 1894[1]

[divider scroll_text=]

[1] Masonic Library Staff. Fargo Masonic Files. Fargo: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, 1979. Print.

-Valerie Tescher