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.”


“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

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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]

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

-Valerie Tescher

Frank Jay Haynes and Early Photography

Frank Jay Haynes was one of the first professional photographers working in the Fargo-Moorhead area.  With a creative eye and a flair for unique business architecture, Haynes maintained a prolific body of work from across the Northern Plains and early western settlement.

Please enjoy a brief pictorial biography of his life and nineteenth-century photographic pieces.

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”][/youtube]

Images courtesy of the Montana Historical Society and the North Dakota State University Archives

Soundtrack provided by Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech

Narrated by V. Diane Reikowsky

-Stacy M. Reikowsky, Digital History 2012

Songs/Poems of Inspiration

Bugs and Fleas

Bugs and Fleas Drawings copied by Robert Kurtz: Roger L. Welsch, Sod Walls: The Story of the Nebraska Sod House, (Broken Bow: Purcells, Inc., 1968), 177

Early pioneers to the Fargo area ran into hardships living on the edge of the Great Plains. They took comfort in the fact that most of their neighbors would come to their aid if need be. They also took comfort in a friendly game of cards, some fiddle, and shot or two of the local drink to calm their souls.  It was never easy for anyone, but to make thing just a little bit better they sang songs and wrote about their experiences in the new land. From North Dakota to Texas, poetry and song ran up and down the Great Plains; some healing, some helping people cope, while others helped people realize they needed to get out . . .get back to civilization . . . back to cities like Fargo.

Some of these folks lived in sod homes and shanties out on the plains for different reasons. Some couldn’t afford the milled lumber, while others didn’t have to tools or the know-how to construct a log cabin. There were some who simply wanted to save money and used the soddie as a temporary home. Others deemed the soddie as a proper home, but that is for another day.

The first song is called “Bugs and Fleas” and is focused mostly on the sod home, but could easily be sung for anyone living a tar paper shack or a dig out as well. It is sung by the tune of “The Little Brown Jug.” Give it a try.

Many of these songs could be used to support the efforts of those who were trying to stick it out on the plains while others used them as an excuse to get out! This next poem was used for both.

Starving to Death on a Gov’t Claim”

Starving to Death on a Gov’t Claim

Soddy Rally Song

Soddy Rally Song, Drawing copied by Robert Kurtz: Roger L. Welsch, Sod Walls: The Story of the Nebraska Sod House, (Broken Bow: Purcells, Inc., 1968), 174-176.

Of course, all of the lyrics to these songs could, and were, changed around to accommodate the region and the people. How the songs were sung could also vary greatly. It could be assumed that many pioneers would make up their own versions of a song or a poem the same way many of us do today when we need to pass the time.

The “Soddy Rally Song” was a song that drew fellow sod dwellers together. They may not live in a soddie any more but they all came from the same place. This song is sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

-Robert Kurtz, Digital History 2012

The Fargo Opera House

The Fargo Opera House was a source of pride and a symbol of prestige for the town’s early residents.  In contrast to vaudeville theaters, the Opera House was acceptable for all ages and genders in the community to attend openly.  The building stood on the corner of Broadway and N.P. avenues. It was originally called Chapin Hall and housed the Luger Furniture Company on the first floor.  Initially Chapin Hall was open to many events and ceremonies as well as performances by traveling musicians and thespians that began to visit Fargo in the late 1870s as transportation became readily available.  However, performance space was non-existent prior to 1879, and afterwards a lack of seating and appropriate stage space was a looming issue.[1]

Motions were first proposed to renovate Chapin Hall into the Fargo Opera House in a city council meeting in 1881; J.J. Guhey was given a wage of $25 per month to oversee operations in its constructions and renovations.[2]  After the grand opening in 1882 complaints were resounding through the community and feeding the need for constant renovation.  One common lament was the stage size. An article in the Fargo Argus called it a “mere toy of a stage”.[3]  These views may have led to the Opera House’s closing in late 1888 for renovations in which the interior was completely remodeled as well as the scenery.[4]  These renovations were ongoing  until the original Fargo Opera House burned down in 1893.  Construction of a new opera house began in 1894.[5]

A.S. Capehart was one of the early managers of the Fargo Opera House. He was popular within the town due to his thoughtfulness and taste in running the establishment.  According to the Fargo Argus he scraped the mud off the walls of the theater[6] and provided safe transportation for patrons.[7]   He was responsible for contracting its performances as well.  One of the main performing companies in Fargo was the Hess Company out of Minneapolis, which was secured by Capehart.  The Hess Company is mentioned favorably in the Argus for its performance of “Martha”.[8]

Performances included not just traditional opera, but also operettas, burlettas, grand operas, light operas, and comic operas.  Popular performances included “The Mikado” by Gilbert and Sullivan, “Il Trovatore” by Verdi, “The Mascotte” by Edmond Audran,  and “The Magic Slipper” by Rossini. [9]

Valerie Tescher, Digital History 2012

[1] Browning, Richard James. Early Fargo Theaters: Record of the professional theatre activity in Fargo, Dakota

[2] Fargo City Records 1881

[3] Daily Argus, November 8, 1880

[4] Sunday Argus, November 4, 1888

[5] Browning, Richard James. Early Fargo Theaters: Record of the professional theatre activity in Fargo, Dakota

[6] Fargo Daily Argus 15 March 1883: Print

[7] Fargo Daily Argus 10 August 1881: Print.

[8] Fargo Daily Argus 23 May 1883

[9] Browning, Richard James. Early Fargo Theaters: Record of the professional theatre activity in Fargo, Dakota

Fargo’s Opera House in the Fargo Fire

Fargo Opera ad June 17,1893

Ad for the Fargo Opera the night of the fire. This show would not go on.

The first opera house of Fargo received little respect in its early years for either presentation or design. In November of 1890, Alex Stern and Harry O’Neill offered to build a new opera house for Fargo if the city would provide aid.[1] Stern repeated this offer as late as February of 1892, still hoping to provide a new opera house for the growing city.[2] A theater manager from Minneapolis, Charles A. Parker, acknowledged that Fargo had a good reputation for theatre, but such a reputation was significantly inhibited by the lack of a “handsome theatre.”[3] Plans for rebuilding were discussed, but were not fully implemented. The Fargo Forum on June 7, 1893 announced that there would be an Olde Folke Concerte at the opera house on June 9.[4] The events of June 7 would force that particular show to be postponed.The fire that swept through the city caused $2,000 worth of damage for the manager of the Fargo opera, Charley Gottschalk.[5] The downtown area of Fargo received far greater damage, but the opera house provides an invaluable opportunity to examine the rebuilding effort. As was typical for Fargo businesses following the fire, the opera house would only be out of operation for a short period. Before the end of June, Gottschalk announced his plans for a temporary opera house on Broadway between First and Second Avenue.[6] A crowded house showed up to watch Paige’s Players present Man and Master on July 3, 1893. Though it was obviously only a stopgap measure, the reviewer for the Fargo Forum still thought it was an improvement over the previous location.[7] Numerous productions were held in the temporary location, until winter came and the temporary location found itself redesigned as an ice rink for the winter. By September, Fargoans established plans to build a new opera house to replace the old one. Initially, the backers planned for it to be built on the Keeney block owned by Mr. N. Stanford and Alex Stern. Stanford had put forth the plan, but Alex Stern once again put himself forth as one of the primary advocates. Stanford requested that $5,000 be raised for him to build the opera house, and Stern quickly agreed to provide the first $100. The Fargo Board of Trade took up the plan, though the amount needed had been raised to $7,000. Stanford backed out of the plan, but was replaced by Mr. Hagaman. The overall price settled on was $7,500, and Walter Hancock acquired as the architect. The eventual site agreed upon by the Board of Trade was Second Avenue North, a block west of Broadway.[8] Construction began quickly on the new location, with Hancock taking the initiative. Alex Stern, one of the largest backers, attempted to view the construction of the opera house and was told to leave. Stern noted that this offended him, but he maintained his support for the opera house. By May of 1894, the new opera house opened up to notes of praise in the Fargo Forum. In regards to the lighting, the Forum noted that the new opera house was one of the best equipped in the United States.[9] As with many other businesses, the opera house had risen stronger than it was before.

– Chad Halvorson, Digital History, 2012

[1] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), November 14, 1890.

[2] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), February 16, 1892.

[3] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), May 28, 1892.

[4] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), June 7, 1893.

[5] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), June 8, 1893.

[6] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), June 19, 1893.

[7] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), July 5, 1893.

[8] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), October 14, 1893.

[9] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), May 14, 1894.