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

Education in Fargo, North Dakota, 1870-1900

The education system in Fargo in the early stages of the city’s development was heavily rooted in, and influenced, by religion. There were educational centers as early as there were churches. In fact, many churches started schools so they could develop their children’s minds in the way they wanted them to be; so the curriculums were filled with references to the Bible and God. The people of Fargo, N.D., wanted their children to become good, God-fearing citizens, who would become productive, active members of society. The first catalogue of classes at North Dakota Agriculture College defined the mission and objective of the college this way: “The object of this institution is not the making of farmers, but rather the making of men and women, and then equip them that, if their inclinations draw them toward the farm, their efforts there may be reasonably expected to be attended by success. It is not the intention, however, to limit or restrict the capabilities of students, and while the curriculum is made sufficiently rigid to enforce the principles on which the work of the institution is founded, abundant scope is given by means of electives for the display of individual preferences and the development of personal abilities,[1]” which means that the board members, the president, and the teachers did not just want to turn out farmers, they wanted to turn out men and women who would have the tools needed to go through life successfully and well.

-Rebecca Paton, Digital History 2012

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[1] NDSU Archives, North Dakota Agricultural College, First Annual Catalogue, May 1892.



The number of school children that were in the school district of Fargo in the year 1882-1883 is as follows:

High School 25, (12 boys and 13 girls)
Intermediate, 106 (62 boys and 59 girls)
Primary 246 (133 boys and 123 girls)[1].

There were a surprising number of tardies and people who dropped out, for various reasons like: sickness, death, they were wanted on the farm, or they just could not handle the course load for the year[2]. For High School; there were 145 tardies, 29 dropouts, and a 100% daily attendance rate, Intermediate; 324 tardies, 141 dropouts and a 93% daily attendance rate, and for Primary; 584 tardies, 233 dropouts and a 98% daily attendance rate[3].

-Rebecca Paton, Digital History 2012
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[1] NDSU Archives, Fargo (N.D.) Public Schools Records1874-1980.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Vaudevillian Culture in Fargo

Vaudeville shows were a major form of entertainment in the early years of Fargo.  Records of these theaters are numerous, but  but due to the culturally tabooed art forms played in vaudeville theaters and their association with sinfulness, alcohol consumption, and sex these theaters were minimally mentioned in the press of early Fargo and are mostly noted on accounts of deaths, crime, disturbances, or imposed fees.[1]  The Argus refers to vaudevillian theaters as “dens of vice”[2] and the Coliseum itself was tied to a billiard hall and saloon, which did not improve its reputation.

The audience for vaudeville was predominantly adult males.  Any visitation of these theaters by women would be considered scandalous.[3]  Many reports of loud and rude audience behavior were reported in the Argus.  It mostly was said to come from the galley of the theater, the center seats closest to the stage.[4]

The performances in vaudeville theaters were varied and often spectacular.  They included acts such as boxing, contortionists, gymnasts, acrobats, club swinging, and knife juggling, instrumental soloists, orchestras, trapeze, tight ropes, loose ropes, right wire, character artists comedians, Scandinavian dialectician, fire eating, magicians, rifle marksmanship, female impersonation, and knife throwing.[5]

There was also a particularly interesting report in the Argus concerning a woman named Rosa Thu-Zett. The description of this act was as follows:

“Miss Rosa Thu-Zett holds cannon said to weigh 239 pounds, in her teeth, while she hangs suspended from a trapeze.  The cannon is discharged while she is in that position.  She is said to be the only woman in the world who has accomplished this feat.”[6]

One of these vaudevillian theaters was the Coliseum which opened in March of 1880.  On its opening night it featured acts such as operatic selections, Irish sketches (with the “burnt cork” blackface of the era), jigs, clogs, comic, sentimental songs, and ballads.  It was not certain when the theater itself closed down but it remained active for at least eight years.  Ballets, acrobatics, full-length dramas, plays, musicals, and burlesque were also featured in this theater.[7]

The vaudevillian theaters were monitored closely in early Fargo.  Each theater needed specific licenses for operation and liquor sales.  If not in compliance owners were arrested, such as W.M. Talbot of the Odeon Theater (located on Front Street) and B.P. Reynolds were arrested for failing to obtain licenses for their shows.[8]  The arrests occurred on the same day and showed a crackdown on the vaudevillian culture of Fargo.

Much of the pressure being exerted upon vaudevillian theaters in the mid-1880s was due to a community dilemma which occurred after vaudevillian actors employed at the Star Theater passed out tickets to school children.  The community was enraged, writing scathing complaints to the Argus, most of which demanded all vaudevillian theaters be closed.  There was a fine given to the Star Theater, license prices for all theaters were raised, and an additional fee given to the mayor was also tacked onto monthly expense.  Later, all were ordered to close at midnight rather than 2 a.m.  Many of the theaters folded in the following years as a result of this as well as the economic effects of prohibition.

The actors of the vaudevillian theaters were usually given short contracts before moving onto the next job.  It was a rough life with early rehearsals and late nights six days per week.  However, the early economy of Fargo had a significant tie to vaudeville theaters.  Aside from alcohol sales. the theaters employed 458 people alone between 1880 and 188.

Valerie Tescher, Digital History 2012

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

[2] Fargo Daily Argus 6 December 1884:  Print.

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

[4] Fargo Daily Argus June 14 1881.

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

[6] Fargo Daily Argus 22 May 1884: Print

[7] 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.

[8] Fargo Daily Argus August 1884: Print

Hector House

Hector House

Hector House Cass County Historical Society, 2007-028-009

Two men, Andrew Henry Moore and George Mann, decided to take a chance in Dakota Territory in 1869. They left from Waupum, Wisconsin, and arrived in the Red River Valley the same year. Upon their arrival, all that stood in what would be known as Fargo was a small city of tents occupied by Northern Pacific Railroad personnel and a few soldiers. Fortunately, Mann had experience in carpentry work and it is assumed that he brought some of his own tools.  Moore and Mann immediately began building what is arguably the settlement’s  first permanent structure, which was located in present day Island Park. During this time the land had not yet been surveyed, so Moore and Mann established “squatter’s rights,” meaning that they had to settle (build, farm, etc.) the land until they could file a claim of ownership.

-Robert Kurtz, Digital History 2012