Great Pumpkin Festival

Oct 8, 2018

In the 1880s, the question was asked: “How Large Will Pumpkins Grow in Dakota?” The answer was: “pretty big.”  The man behind the large-pumpkin question was Joseph Barth, manager of the St. Paul One Price Clothing store in Bismarck.

Barth was promoting a pumpkin-growing contest that would also promote the clothing store. In the month of May, 1886, Barth sent a free packet of pumpkin seeds to each farmer in the Bismarck area, along with a brochure for the store.

Store manager Barth offered $100 in prizes. The gardener who grew the largest pumpkin would win a “$25 Suit of Clothes.” The second-largest pumpkin-grower would get a $20 “suit of clothes;” and the 3rd-largest would win a $15 suit. Additionally, a $10 suit would go to winners in four other categories – “longest pumpkin;” “smallest pumpkin;” “nearest-square pumpkin,” and “oddest-shaped pumpkin.”

Hundreds of farmers answered the call, though many feared that early-summer dry weather might shrivel the vines.  Thankfully, timely rains fell, and pumpkin patches yielded a marvelous crop for the contest.

On this date in 1886, the Bismarck Tribune reported that the store-sponsored pumpkin festival was a Grand Success.  Farmers and families had traveled to Bismarck for a grand get-together in the local armory. Over 700 people came for a magnificent banquet and for the awarding of prizes.

The largest pumpkin belonged to Fred Hollembaek of Bismarck, and he won the $25 suit of clothes. “Longest pumpkin” honors went to John Allen of Conkling (near Washburn). He got a suit worth $10.

John Hitchcock from Burnt Creek had the “smallest matured pumpkin,” winning him a $10 suit.

The “nearest square pumpkin,” grown by B.F. Gage of Bismarck was also good for a $10 suit, as was the “oddest shape” winner, the award going to John Gragniror of Buchanan, in Stutsman County.

The banquet was a feast of pumpkins, made from the pumpkins entered in the contest.  The main course was “pumpkin griddle cakes,” accompanied by “baked pumpkin,” “pumpkin pudding,” and “pumpkin pickles,” along with “pumpkin sauce,” “pumpkin jelly,” “pumpkin meringue,” “pumpkin chocolate cake,” and “pumpkin jelly cake.” The finale, of course, was a plenteous serving of pumpkin pie – for all 700 people in attendance.

Altogether, it was “Some Pumpkins,” as country-folks used to say, at Bismarck’s fabulous Pumpkin Festival in 1886.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department.


“Some Pumpkins: The Pumpkin Festival Given by the ‘St. Paul One Price’ a Grand Success,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 8, 1886, p. 8; “The Individual Enterprise,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 8, 1886, p. 4.

“The Proprietor,” Jamestown Weekly Alert, October 14, 1886, p. 8.

“The Pumpkin Festival,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 15, 1886, p. 5.

“How Large Will Pumpkins Grow in Dakota,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, May 14, 1886, p. 7.

“What Will the Harvest Be,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, July 30, 1886, p. 7.

“Growing Fast,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, August 20, 1886, p. 7.

“Joseph A. Barth,” Bismarck, Burleigh County, N.D. Territorial Census, 1885.