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Towner Clam Bake

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As a land-locked state, North Dakota is not known for sea fare. But on this date in 1914, Towner, North Dakota was gearing up for a good, old-fashioned clam bake!

This was the McHenry County town’s 8th annual clam bake, an event that drew from all over the northwest. Held around the end of August, the event had developed into an institution, stemming from a picnic held by Earl Talmadge near his ranch.

Talmadge, born in 1870, was originally from New York. His parents, Carlton and Mary Talmadge, operated a dairy business until moving to Grand Forks in 1882 and buying land in McHenry County to operate a cattle ranch. Earl assisted and then took over the ranch 1900. He briefly raised shorthorn Hereford cattle, then raised registered Galloways until he retired from that line of work. He married Myrta Read Herneman in 1912, and adopted her daughter, who had been born August 31, 1900. So, the clam bake happened to coincided with her birthday.

Those early New England roots certainly contributed to Earl’s taste for clams and his desire to make that taste available for North Dakotan palates—doing the clam bake “in regular York state style.” In 1909, the Grand Forks Evening Times reported, “probably no event occurs in the state that is of more individual merit than the annual clam bake given by E. B. Talmadge… son of Towner, N.D.”

In 1914, it was reported that “four thousand little neck clams were secured from the Pacific coast. Several hundred ‘springers’ and unlimited sweet corn, steamed with the husks on, made up a part of the menus.” Food and entertainment had been prepared for around 500 guests, and Bert Williams, chef from the Colonial Hotel in Devils Lake, came to “take command of the situation with the title of brigadier general of the barbecue department.”

And on this date, the clam bake served “from 10 o’clock in the morning until ‘Home, Sweet Home’ was rendered by the orchestra.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Bismarck Daily Tribune, September 1, 1914, p1

The Evening Times (Grand Forks), September 7, 1909, p5

McHenry County Centennial book, 1985

Devils Lake World, November 26, 1914, p9

Grand Forks Daily Herald and the Evening Times, August 29, 1914, p2

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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