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Monster Barbeque


On this date in 1908, William Howard Taft launched his presidential campaign. Taft made a storied whistle-stop tour, eventually stopping in Fargo for "the biggest barbecue ever held in North Dakota." It was the stuff of legend.

The setting was beautiful Island Park-Fargo's jewel—a city park forty acres in expanse; a wooded oasis alongside the Red River of the North. The hosts fed THIRTY-FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE in one evening. The cooks roasted ten oxen. They cooked forty lambs and forty pigs. They barbecued forty turkeys and forty chickens and forty geese and forty prairie chickens. They prepared forty ducks and forty pigeons and even forty squabs. To make sure they had enough meat, the cooks roasted two bears. The hosts provided THIRTY THOUSAND BUNS and ONE THOUSAND loaves of bread and served the barbecued meat in the form of delicious sandwiches.

Along with the meat, the kings of the barbecue pit put bushels and bushels of potatoes to simmer in the juices before being served along with the sandwiches. "Besides the cooked food," wrote a Fargo Forum reporter, there were thousands of "fresh tomatoes and green onions."

The chief chefs for the extravaganza came from western North Dakota. Foremost was Pete Pellisier from Medora. The well-known rancher and plainsman, and "close personal friend" of Teddy Roosevelt, brought with him his expertise gained from a "great many barbecues." Pellisier supervised a crew of men who dug a barbecue pit that measured "eighty feet long and six feet deep and four feet wide." It took a full day to dig it.

The cooks filled the massive pit with maple wood, set it afire and kept the maple burning all night long, so that the maple became a "solid mass of glowing embers." The grill consisted of iron rails for a railway crisscrossed with iron pipes over which the tons of meat were placed with care to roast and simmer through the daylight hours.

Serving of the barbecued meat began while candidate William Howard Taft made his way to Island Park in a torchlight parade through downtown Fargo on Broadway to cheers of "Hurrah for Taft." The serving continued during and after his short speech from a decorated speakers stand in the park.

Taft, a big man who weighed over 300 pounds, joined the crowd of 35,000 for a taste of the biggest barbecue North Dakota had ever witnessed. Mr. Taft ate his "bread and meat" and washed it down with hot coffee from a tin cup. The Minneapolis Tribune reported that North Dakotans at the Fargo barbecue had gone wild for Taft. The Fargo Forum called the Taft celebration a "pronounced success," for "everyone was in good humor and enjoyed the feast."

William Howard Taft got elected president of the U.S. that November, winning the vote in North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead

Sources: "Now Comes the Great Struggle; Nomination of Taft Marks Opening of Strenuous Campaign," New York Times, June 21, 1908, p. 1.

"Tons of Meat for the Big Barbecue," Fargo Forum, September 25, 1908, p. 6.

"Monster Welcome For Taft," Fargo Forum, September 25, 1908, p. 10.

"Thousands Fed At The Barbecue," Fargo Forum, September 29, 1908, p. 8.

"No Industry Will Be Destroyed and Excessive Rates Shall Not Continue," Fargo Forum, September 29, 1908, p. 1.

"Taft Will Reach City About 6:10," Fargo Forum, September 28, 1908, p. 1.

"Jewel turning 125 [Island Park]," Fargo Forum, July 13, 2003, p. A 26.

"Many Cities Greet Taft and His Party," Minneapolis Tribune, September 29, 1908, p. 2.

"Fargo Barbecue Political Mecca," Minneapolis Tribune, September 29, 1908, p. 1.