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Firemen's Tournament, Part Two

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The month of June in North Dakota saw many firemen’s tournaments over the years. These events had a long history beginning in the 1880s. Though they were typically held in June, two Dakota Territory tournaments took place in October of 1884.

One occurred in Aberdeen, to which “all fire companies in the territory” were invited. It pulled in 350 fireman, mainly from southern Dakota. It was then that the Dakota Firemen’s Association was organized. Meanwhile, a northern Dakota tournament took place in Fargo, which also attracted several hundred firemen.

Firemen’s Tournaments consisted of a lot of showcasing of equipment and abilities of fire companies via parades, races, and contests showing how quickly or how well the firemen moved and operated equipment. The prizes awarded provided more than just bragging rights. The 1884 competition in Fargo offered a “princely” prize of $100 to the team winning the hook and ladder race -- quite a bit of money at that time. Reports from Bismarck noted that the “metropolis of the Red River Valley” had “sustained her world-wide reputation for hospitality and genuine big-headedness,” and that “every effort was made to please. Ladies showered button-hole bouquets upon the visitors and it was simply an impossibility” for the firefighters to actually spend money “for luxuries and ‘incidentals.’”

In 1892, the tournament was hosted in Grand Forks, and the team to win the hook and ladder race received $200. Other prizes were given for the best appearing company in the parade; a free-for-all hose race; a ladder climbing contest; and even a band contest and bicycle race.

In 1900, on this date, the Devils Lake newspaper reported on the tournament held in Larimore that year, lamenting that not enough attention had been given to a baseball game the Devils Lake team had won.

Such tournaments had become a great way to build community, show appreciation, and enjoy a healthy competition between different communities. However, in 1889, the largest fire Grafton ever experienced occurred while the town’s fire department was in Fargo, attending a tournament.

Still, these competitions brought out the “fire” in the firemen, and all were thrilled to see the action.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

May 29th, 1910, p9
Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 3, 1884, p1
Jamestown Weekly Alert, March 16, 1893, p5
The Wahpeton Times, August 1, 1884, p4
Jamestown weekly alert, May 19, 1892, p7
Jamestown Weekly Alert, May 25, 1893, p2
Bismarck Weekly Tribune, September 26, 1884, p3
Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 10, 1884, p2
Bismarck Daily Tribune, June 1, 1910, p6, 7
The Oakes Times, June 2, 1910, p6
Bismarck Daily Tribune, June 4, 1910, p2
Bismarck Daily Tribune, June 7, 1910, p2
Bismarck Daily Tribune, June 5, 1910, p1
Bismarck Daily Tribune, June 15, 1910, p5
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, June 9, 1910, p1
The Bottineau Pioneer, July 4, 1889, p3
Bismarck Daily Tribune, June 14, 1900, p1
Devils Lake Inter-Ocean, June 22, 1900, p1

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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