Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations


In 1871 the first settlers staked their claims at the point where the railroad would cross the Red River. Railroads were crucial in the settlement of North Dakota. Fargo was named in honor of William Fargo, a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Early Fargo was a rough and tumble town with its fair share of saloons, bordellos, tents, and shanties. In 1876 the population was about 600.

But Fargo grew quickly. Settlers were attracted by cheap, fertile farmland. As families moved in, Fargo lost some of its wild reputation. By 1876 the tents and shanties were replaced by solid wood buildings. Restaurants, shops, hotels, and other “respectable” businesses sprang up. The population grew to more than 8,000.

But Fargo wasn’t alone. Fargo had a twin on the Minnesota side of the Red River. Some settlers moved into Dakota Territory, but a fair number stayed in Minnesota. Moorhead was named for William G. Moorhead, a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Just as the railroad fostered the growth of Fargo, it did the same for Moorhead. The railroad turned a journey that used to take weeks or even months into a trip of a few days.

Moorhead was officially incorporated in 1881. It gained a reputation as “sin city.” North Dakota was dry, so alcohol was not readily available. Moorhead was another story. In a city that was comparable in size to Fargo, there were over one hundred bars. North Dakotans could cross the bridge into Minnesota, riding on wagons provided by the bars. “Falling off the wagon” took on a literal meaning.

On this date in 1915, the merchants of Moorhead placed a full-page ad in the Fargo Forum. The ad urged North Dakotans to “Co-operate With Us” by shopping in Moorhead. The merchants were offering special sales and discounts to entice shoppers to cross the river. Newspaper readers were promised they would save on every dollar they spent. In doing so, they would “help in building up a model retail town.”

There was a sense that what was good for Moorhead was good for Fargo. A thriving Moorhead would attract a larger population. Land prices would go up and prices of goods would go down. Fargo would thrive as well. Even today, the region is commonly referred to as “Fargo-Moorhead.”

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Fargo Forum. “Co-Operate With Us.” Fargo ND. 11/4/1915. Page 11.

City of Fargo. “A Brief Glimpse Into Fargo’s Early History.”   Accessed 10/1/2019.  

Moorhead MN. “History.”  Accessed 10/1/2019.

Prairie Public Broadcasting provides quality radio, television, and public media services that educate, involve, and inspire the people of the prairie region.
Related Content