Early Fargo and Alcohol

During the 19th century, the battle over alcoholic beverages was fierce in the United States, and the young community of Fargo was not immune to this social issue. On February 17, 1871, a U.S. Army regiment that had been dispatched from Fort Abercrombie disbanded “Fargo in the Timber,” a collection of shanties and huts that constituted the less affluent section of town. The charges levied against the deportees: selling alcohol on Indian land. Thus began a difficult relationship between Fargo and the cultural and legal acceptance of alcohol.

During the 1870’s and 1880’s, a collection of saloons, sporting houses, and brothels sprouted up in Fargo  and both the town’s gentlemen and “rougher elements” frequented them. However, in 1887, a local election was held to determine whether the city should discontinue the sale of alcohol. According to an early resident, G. Angus “General” Fraser, the balloting was held at the request of local farmers because, on rainy days, the farmhands would go to town and “frequent the saloons and rarely would they return until a week later.”[1]  Liquor was briefly voted back, but in 1889 North Dakota was admitted to the union as a dry state. The efforts of the Fargo-based North Dakota Women’s Christian Temperance Union  was influential in granting the “dry” status to the new state. This group was founded in 1888 and was headed by Elizabeth Preston Anderson for more than forty years. According to Fraser, many thought the loss of the saloons and gambling halls would be devastating to the infant community. However, he stated, “There were men here who believed in Fargo. They saw a future for the town. Among such men was the late Alex Stern.” [2] Fargo remained a dry community until the repeal of prohibition in 1933.

“I hereby solemly promise, God helping me, to abstain from all distilled, fermented, and malt liquors, including wine, beer, and cider, and to employ the proper means to discourage the used of and traffic in the same.” — Oath from North Dakota Women’s Christian Temperance Union literature, c. 1892.


[1] “Fargo Once Was ‘Wide Open,’ Fraser, Here In 1880, Says.”Fargo Forum, March 17, 1946.

[2] Ibid.

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