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In 1921, the conference of the district of International Association of Rotary clubs, which are service organizations, was held in Fargo. Rotarians had travelled from around the region for the two-day conference, which culminated on this date.

At the time, it was customary at these sorts of conventions for the different delegations to pull stunts, wear costumes, and generally attract attention. This time did not disappoint. The delegation from Williston, for instance, represented themselves by wearing cowboy outfits, “complete down to chaps, boots, spurs and .44 caliber ‘six’ guns.” Grand Forks also went the route of the cowboy, while Minot delegates bore their town’s slogan, “Why Not Minot?” Devils Lake sent “red devils.” Duluth Rotarians were trying to get the conference in their town for the following year, and so they came with a band to maintain their presence.

The Bismarck delegation chose a rather different path…thirty-three Rotarians, plus a few of their wives, appeared at the gathering “clad in convict suits with the words ‘Cheer Up’ on their breasts.” They had practiced a lock-step march, in single file, each with a hand on the shoulder of the “convict” in front, and had several songs prepared, including one with a contrived rhyme scheme that stated, “We are prisoners from the Bismarck Pen, and we are sure going back again…. For we like it in that Bismarck Town where they sure do make things go around…for our Rotary makes us like it more, and we cannot see how we got along before.”

It should be noted that they did not travel to Fargo in their attire; the Bismarck Tribune reported that they were “fully aware that a straggling member in his hurry to make the train might pass before the eye of a watchful prison guard and be detained.”

However, once dressed in their costumes, they attracted a lot of attention—The Fargo Forum reporting that photographers took pictures everywhere they went.

They returned in their prison dress, to the delight of Bismarck residents who spied them departing from the train…having advertised the capital city in a manner that was certainly quite memorable.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


The Bismarck Tribune, March 28, 29, and 30, 1921