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North Dakota Collections


North Dakota Collections was an early periodical published by the State Historical Society. From the notes of an article by Grace Greenwood, comes the following peek at life in Grand Forks 135 years ago:

“During the winter of 1872 there were many without work in Grand Forks. The saloon was the one place always open and welcomed all to share its hospitality. [. . .] One of those who frequented the saloon was a man named Todd, erstwhile circus clown and more recently the cook for a boarding house. Todd went to the wife of Captain Alexander Griggs and advanced the opinion that it was to be deplored so many young men were saloon loafers and that there should be something to take them away, such as a series of socials. [. . .] Mrs. Griggs favored the sentiment and offered her home for the tryout. Todd, the promoter, did not appear until toward eleven and was in such a state of intoxication as to offend those present and the social uplift project died then and there.

“With so many idle, there was much mischief and some crime,” Greenwood continues. “It was in 1872 that Catfish Joe, a half crazy Frenchman, killed old man Stevens. Stevens had been drinking and came upon Joe when the Frenchman was grinding his ax. He was in a quarrelsome mood and called Joe opprobrious names, till at length the infuriated Frenchman struck him on the head with the ax, crushing his skull. Stevens died about three o'clock the next morning.

“The murder caused general excitement, and the loafers at the saloon dis-cussed a lynching, but first they went over to learn Stevens’ condition, then across where Joe was being held for a look at the murderer, then back to the saloon for drinks and more discussion. So the evening and night passed until they were in a state of intoxication that prevented concerted action,” Greenwood wrote.

“Catfish Joe was taken for trial to Yankton and sentenced to two years in prison. Upon the expiration of his sentence he returned to Grand Forks. Armed with a Winchester six-shooter and a bowie knife he swaggered about with intent to terrorize.

“Bert Haney, now living on the Pacific coast, attacked him and seizing the rifle wrested it from him and struck Joe on the head with the barrel,” Greenwood continues. “The rifle barrel was broken from the stock, but Joe was uninjured by the blow.

“Later Catfish Joe went to Montana and with a partner engaged in trapping. His partner did the cooking, and one night Joe awakened the man and told him it was time to get breakfast. The man refused to get up at such an hour and Joe shot and killed him.”

And so ended Grace Greenwood’s look at the winter of 1872 in Grand Forks.

By Merry Helm

Source: Greenwood, Grace. A Sketch of David Montgomery Holmes. Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Vol 5. p 31: note 14.