Crossing the Red River: Fargo Begins

Tents and Headquarters Hotel.

The image above is fascinating because it shows the bridge builders office on the far right (Fargo's first frame building), Fargo on the Prairie (the tents of General Rosser and his Northern Pacific crew), and the Headquarters Hotel (Fargo's first significant building and Fargo's first hotel) in the background. Note the ladies sitting in front of the tents. The photograph is from a stereoview by Caswell & Davy of Duluth. (State Historical Society of North Dakota, A3315). The hotel was completed in the fall of 1872, so this photograph is likely taken in the summer of that year.

A second settlement grew between "Fargo on the Prairie" and the Red River. This was called "Fargo in the Timber" and was in sharp contrast to its neighbor "on the prairie." Fargo in the Timber was a wild place of huts, rough log houses, tents, dugouts, and even caves in the banks of the river. Although known as a settlement of saloons and bordellos, Fargo in the Timber had many respectable settlers. It was here that Gordon J. Keeney, Fargo's first postmaster, had his office. The community occupied both sides of the road (later to be named Front Street) that stretched from the ferry crossing at the river to "Fargo on the Prairie." Among Fargo in the Timber's more noteworthy citizens were A. F. Pinkham (who ran a tent hotel), and H. McChesney and John Ross (both blacksmiths).

The two groups were constantly at odds with each other. Fargo on the Prairie was family oriented and Fargo in the Timber was known for its drinking and shooting. A constant rivalry between the two groups always made life interesting. Several incidents are remembered. Once, when a wagonload of potatoes arrived for General Rosser of the "Prairie", the residents of the "Timber" loosened the rear gate of the wagon and shot their pistols to frighten the horses. As the wagon rushed rushed away, the load of potatoes rolled off the back of the wagon to the delight of the "Timber" residents who rushed to pick them up. In a somewhat similar incident, as a sleigh driver (heavily enrobed against the cold) drove through the "Timber", the residents surreptitiously lightened the load until it was entirely gone when the driver arrived at the "Prairie".

The "Prairie" community, however, prevailed in the end. Fargo was still officially Indian territory at the time. The Lake Superior and Puget Sound Company (in an attempt to regain control of the entire west side of the Red River) informed the government that "Timber" residents were illegally located on Indian land and selling liquor. Federal troops were dispatched from Fort Abercrombie and camped at the "Prairie" site on the evening of February 16, 1871. Their "cover story" was that the troops were on their way to fight Indians. At daylight the next morning, however, the troops arrested all residents of the "Timber". They were taken to a tent used for a temporary jail. Those accused of selling liquor were taken to Pembina for trial. The others were ordered to leave the city. Thus "Fargo in the Timber" came to an end less than six months after it began.

Some "Timber" residents appealed to the government for their land rights. A treaty was made with the Indians whereby the land was opened to settlement and the former residents of the "Timber" who were guilty of no other offense had their original land claims restored. By this time, however, Fargo had become a single community.