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March 29: Cannon in Fargo

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Monuments and tributes to the past are sprinkled throughout North Dakota towns and parks. Many towns have veteran and war memorials. Mandan, Minot and Medora have a statue of President Theodore Roosevelt. Grand Forks has a sculpture commemorating the 1997 Red River Flood. Some towns pay tribute with a local symbol, like Salem Sue in New Salem and Tommy the snowmobiling turtle in Bottineau.

For decades, the Northern Pacific Park in Fargo was home to a cannon. The cannon was from a Spanish warship captured by Rear Admiral George Dewey in 1898 in Manila during the Spanish-American War. After several refusals from the War Department, Fargo Mayor John Johnson finally secured the cannon with the help of North Dakota Congressman Burleigh Spalding.

The Northern Pacific shipped it free of charge by rail from San Francisco. Newspapers in Bismarck and Jamestown noted the cannon when it passed through. The Bismarck Tribune quipped: “Why doesn’t Mayor Johnson turn it on the opposition to his reelection as mayor?” The cannon arrived in Fargo days before Mayor Johnson won reelection with nearly 60% of the vote, with record turnout.

On this date in 1900, the cannon arrived on a flat car. A Northern Pacific railroad superintendent had selected N.P. Park as the site for the cannon. It was an obvious choice, since the park was near the N.P. depot, and the cannon measured 15 feet long and weighed 13,000 pounds.

Several men worked to move the cannon. They used heavy timbers, jacks and rollers. Their efforts took several hours just to get the cannon off the railcar.

The cannon was painted brick red and showed signs of hard service. It was placed on timbers in the park until a permanent base was built. Mayor Johnson watched the cannon being moved, and many residents congratulated him on securing it for the city.

Johnson died in office in 1907, seven years after the cannon’s arrival. It sat in N.P. Park for decades until it was cut up for scrap in the early years of World War Two.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


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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