Barnstorming the Midwest: Fargo-Moorhead

Recapping my three trips (from November 2017 to August 2018) to Fargo and Moorhead, I’m committing one of the sins that I swore I wouldn’t commit during the fits and starts of this Barnstorming series — lumping interstate city clusters together.

I held off for Duluth-Superior, in part because of the wide disparity in political experience between the Twin Ports (and in part because I wrote nothing for Duluth…yet). But we turn to sugar beet country, and time and tide wait for no man. I’ve surely been washed out to sea by now, even accounting for the time it takes for the Red River of the North to wind its way to Winnipeg and made the long, laborious journey to Hudson Bay and out to the ocean.

The Research

My research from Moorhead consists (for now!) of one three-day visit to Minnesota State University-Moorhead. It was a pretty typical, traditional archive in the MSU-M library–complete with an archivist working hard against the usual state system school tide of underfunding and only being open half of each day.

All my research over the couple visits to Fargo this summer (once in July, once in August, each for 3 days) was at North Dakota State University’s archives. NDSU has a setup different from any university archive I’ve used–instead of being in the campus library or in a building adjacent somewhere on campus, they are completely removed from campus, located in a large storage building a mile west of campus. You’d miss it if you didn’t know what you were looking for; it’s another in a string of industrial park-looking buildings clustered on either side of I-29.


The collections, however, somewhat justify my writing this entry as Fargo-Moorhead, in part because of a few of the activist networks working for groups like women and the LGBT community. [This finding is entirely in retrospect. Sometimes laziness pays off, kids.]

Another note: I’ve divided what I did in Fargo into two sections, the Activists section and the Politicians section, in part because that’s how I took the notes and organized my Word documents.


Clay County DFL
Keith Langseth Papers


John D. Paulson Papers
James Berg Legislative Papers
John Schneider Papers
Charles Fleming Papers
Jon D. Lingren Mayoral Records

Prairie Lesbian/Gay Community Records
Sylvia Morgan Papers
Jennie Millerhagen Papers

The Findings

In part because of the disjointed nature (three different trips, 10 different collections) of my trips to Fargo and Moorhead, I’m just going to give a few bullet points of things that are, for my intents and purposes, helping me work through how I’m going to discuss North Dakota (and northwestern Minnesota) political history.

How to rehab the D-NPL? That seemed to be the question on the mind of prominent state politicians in the early 1980s, particularly after incumbent Gov. Arthur A. Link’s defeat to Attorney General Allen Olson in the 1980 election. As I discussed briefly in my Grand Forks visit (and found but haven’t written on in Bismarck), North Dakota’s political history was the answer. One popular veteran politician, S.F. “Buckshot” Hoffner, who was the last elected chair of the Nonpartisan League before it merged with the Democratic Party in 1956, argued that that how the Democrats engineered the merger could serve as their example for the 1980s: “There is no substitute for personal contact. That’s how the Democrats made a success of their merger (and takeover) of the Nonpartisan League.”[1]
The D-NPL’s comeback in the 1980s was, in part, attributed to State Party Chair George Gaukler, who served as State Chairman for 14 years. Having served on the D-NPL Executive Committee since 1961, Gaukler earned praise for implementing a “sophisticated vote identification and get-out-the-vote program” (developed by David Strauss and Jim Lange) statewide, along with making the recruitment of women to elected office a priority.[2] These approaches, to North Dakota D-NPLers, look to have been two sides of the same coin: use modern technology to get out the vote among D-NPLers around the state, and do it with a nod to the populist, grassroots style characteristic of the NPL of old.

The issues of the ’80s, though, proved challenging. For this, we turn to Fargo. For a “small” town by the standards even of the other Midwestern cities in my dissertation (Fargo clocked in around 61,000 people in 1980, compared to 81,000 for Sioux Falls and to say nothing of Minneapolis or Milwaukee), Fargo was central to the culture wars and social debates of the 1980s. In particular, abortion and gay rights were central and enjoyed particularly-strong recognition for Fargo’s relative size.
On the issue of abortion, Fargo, home since 1975 to the North Dakota Council for Safe, Legal Abortion and since 1981 to the Fargo Women’s Health Organization, which performed abortions, became a flashpoint for debates over women’s rights.[3] As feminist advocates like Sylvia Morgan had noted, typical “Midwestern” qualities stunted community discussion of women’s rights: “The effort to speak out in such a ‘polite’ atmosphere shows itself as affrontery rather than as a community search for common ground. Another aspect of the rural setting, however, is that when people are hostile to the women’s movement, the expected ‘courtesy’ prevents the virulent arrogance I have sometimes noticed in more urban settings.”[4] This was a pleasant surprise — Midwestern feminist advocates used the conventional “don’t talk about it” pleasantries of social convention to flip abortion debate on its head.
While politicians like then-Rep. Byron Dorgan (a popular D-NPLer) had attempted to reach out to activists like Sylvia Morgan in terms of “economic issues vital to women,” Morgan and other pro-choice advocates in North Dakota continued to insist that not only should Congress “require that low-income women sit on policy boards” and “establish pay-equity,” but that it needed to “include abortion monies for low-income women in poverty legislation.”[5] It was a tightrope act for Dorgan, surely, but one on which progressive North Dakota women would not compromise.
They had an ally in Mayor Jon Lindgren, who FWHO founder and abortion rights advocate Jane Bovard [see Faye Ginsburg’s book and some future post on Fargo, because Bovard’s papers are at NDSU] attempted to throw the weight of the Fargo-Moorhead area Agassiz Women’s Political Caucus behind.

Lindgren earned at least as much notoriety contemporaneously for his support of what we’d now call LGBT(QIA+) rights. These things were, in part, brought to his attention by a group called the Prairie Lesbian/Gay Community. Originally called the Fargo-Moorhead Area Dignity/Lutherans Concerned, in early 1982 the group changed its name to the PLGC and immediately decided that “several people should go to talk to [Lindgren] to make him aware that there is a ‘Gay’ support group in Fargo. It would be good to see what Mayor Lingren’s awareness’s are of Gay’s and what concerns and views he has on Gay discrimination [spelling and marking theirs].”[6]

Showing exactly how these link up and intersect with statewide politics is the goal of both future conversations with Mayor Lindgren (who was kind enough to contact me) and continued research into local politics, particularly Lindgren’s mayoral papers, more work in the Agassiz Women’s Political Caucus (whose papers are at MSU-Moorhead), and other activist networks. No doubt, though, the AWPC plays a role–at a 1991 program, Tax Commissioner Heidi Heitkamp and Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel, along with U.S. Senators Kent Conrad and Barbara Mikulski, Heitkamp gave an overview of women in North Dakota politics, and Vogel gave a talk called “The First Step to Victory: The Decision to Run.”[7] Not only are groups like the AWPC and activists from the abortion fight playing a role in North Dakota politics, they’re in conversations from the living room to the halls of Congress.

The 1992 gubernatorial election looms large in North Dakota. The same year that Ross Perot scrambled the two-party scene at the top of the ticket (taking 23%, behind Bill Clinton’s 32% and George H.W. Bush’s 42%), North Dakota D-NPLers had undergone an even more divisive internal struggle, as Attorney General Nick Spaeth bucked the party’s endorsement of State Senate Majority Leader William Heigaard to win the primary in a nasty campaign. Three weeks after the June 9 primary, Heigaard was still signing letters “Bill Heigaard, Democratic-NPL Endorsed Candidate for Governor.”[8] That’s the Midwestern passive aggression we show up for.
D-NPLers like former chair Bob Valeu have attributed the fall of the D-NPL in North Dakota to this bitter fight. Whether that’s true or not…well, it means we’ll have to think about how liberalism’s fall at the state or local level in 1992 jives with the party sweeping the U.S. Senate elections (and subsequent special election) of Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad in November and December, respectively.

The Cities

That’s 10 citations; way too many for a series I swore would never get too heavy into citing what I found. If you read that, thank you, and I’m sorry.

The Lodging

Few different places, all Airbnbs. I was too lazy to camp during the summer, and there wasn’t any camping right in/on downtown Fargo-Moorhead the way there was in Grand Forks or Pierre. One place worth checking out, though, was my last Airbnb in Fargo. It was the quarters above an old firehouse — an old loft-style room complete with industrial sink and stove, two-story ceilings, lots of brick…very cool place, though I wasn’t sure what to do when the bathroom was, like, 25 feet long and clearly made as a locker room shower (but I’m pretty sure all women lived there). My apologies to my Airbnb host if I broke bathroom etiquette.

Places I Visited

Over three trips, there were too many places for me to sit here and list (and this is already clocking in near 2,000 words). So I’m going to hit the highlights:

That last Airbnb that I mentioned was located over a coffeeshop, and the coffeeshop was worth a visit, too! It’s called the Red Raven Espresso Parlor, and it’s on Business 94 just west of downtown. They had a ton of event programming listed, lots of space for you to spread out and work or just sit with friends, and that kind of edgy urban wide that I guess the kids are into, or something.

I had a few places to mention here, like the Wurst Bier Hall in downtown Fargo, a Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks baseball game (they’re no Saint Paul Saints, but they’ll do in a pinch), and general Bison-related things like a trip to the FargoDome, but I didn’t get to do the latter two, so I don’t want to go into too much detail on them. I will mention that I used the city’s bikeshare service, biked the couple miles north of downtown, and played trivia at Labby’s Grill and Bar just east of the FargoDome. It was themed, which really isn’t my thing (my night’s was “candy”), but the host was funny, the service at the bar was good, and I think (?) I won that night.

Oh! The slice of Americana you have to do is actually over in Moorhead–an original Dairy Queen! Now, there’s not a ton functionally different about this Dairy Queen, save for the fact that it operates on its own contract, now going on 70 years old, that allows it to tinker with standard DQ fare. I went with a barbecue sandwich–which I regretted because I don’t even like sloppy joes but I panicked–and a “Chipper,” which is just an ice cream sandwich but from Dairy Queen! It’s only open when it’s warm enough outside, so check it out approximately April through November.

The Beer

I’m skipping the rest so I can briefly touch on the amazing craft beer scene in Fargo-Moorhead! As a PSA: I only made it to four breweries over my three trips (I think spanning…six days, 4 nights?), so I’m a little disappointed with myself for not hitting more of them. But I’ll list each, along with maybe a quick picture or two and a mention of the beers I found really particularly good…

Fargo Brewing Co.: This is sort of the original when it comes to Fargo’s craft brewing scene, and their reputation as one of the more widely enjoyed on the Northern Plains is well-deserved.

A view from the back of the Fargo Brewing Co. taproom, facing the bar, large garage doors, and parking lot.

The taproom/brewery is spacious, always has a great food truck outside, and offers a wide range of programming. I was there on Wednesday nights, when Trivia Mafia hosts a 7pm trivia event. This time, if I may toot my own horn (which is what this whole blog is, I think…), I took third playing all by my lonesome. This was, in no small part, buoyed by knowledge I didn’t know I had of the hands and feet of sculptures (seeing the stupid Little Mermaid statue finally came in handy…) or that Wellesley was the last alphabetically of the Seven Sisters colleges.

Anyways, I’m only kind of here to brag about that. In terms of Fargo’s beers, they’ve been doing their thing for eight years now, and doing it well. Of their flagships, I’m partial to Iron Horse Pale Ale (a nice tropical pale) and Stone’s Throw Scottish Ale, but people who enjoy their hops will, of course, be taken by the Fargo classic, the Wood Chipper IPA (sometimes you just lean into the jokes).

They had a few seasonals on tap, though, that I really enjoyed as well! The Aqua Cops Apricot Wheat Ale was a nice, refreshing beer on a summer night where it was over 80 degrees yet, like an idiot, I was still wearing pants. I went back for seconds on their Lunar Haze New England-style IPA, because I am a slave to the fashionable beers of the era but also because it was juicy and crisp and very, very good. Whatever was on firkin that night–I want to say it too was jalapeno of some kind, but again, time makes fools of us all–was delicious, as well. FBC’s offerings are more standardized than most, given their extensive canning operations, but that doesn’t make it any less worth a visit!

Drekker Brewing Co. (Fargo): I like sours. I like Viking-related things.

I like Drekker.

One of the many sours offered at Drekker.

I actually first became aware of Drekker at the Winter Beer Dabbler at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds a couple years back. I happened to be waiting in line for another brewery when I started chatting with the guy behind me (beer samples and falling snow make friends of us all). He told me he was there with a little brewery from Fargo, and if I was ever up in town, to check them out, then gave me a winter hat that was black and very orange, with one of those little poms at the top. Laura was both surprised and concerned when I returned to the group wearing it…

Nonetheless, about a year and a half later I finally lived up to the promise and stopped by! Drekker is located right in the midst of downtown Fargo, which has apparently undergone quite a transformation. The brewery itself is quite expansive (though apparently they’re in the process of moving, so maybe ignore this part), and they frequently host bags leagues in the long space right when you walk in! That’s my kind of brewery. As for the beers, it begins and ends with the People Eater sour ale for me. Lots of blueberry and some basil in this one belie a mean sour punch that’ll put some hair on your chest or Gjallarhorn or whatever Vikings say. In between People Eaters, though, the Brain Freeze sour ale was also an amazing idea–a berry-packed sour, with lactose and vanilla added in to really make it feel and taste like a tart smoothie. As I look for the best sours in any town I go to, I now will always be sure to stop at Drekker for a pint or two.

In addition to those two, the Broken Rudder Irish Red and its Coffee Rudder brother are solid reds with an interesting addition of honey, while the Ectogasm NEIPA and Freak Parade double IPA could get you into trouble if you did more than just a taster like I did. Just go to Drekker; you won’t be sorry.

Kilstone Brewing Co. (Fargo): Off the beaten path (west of I-29 and northwest of downtown), Kilstone was tough to find but well worth the hunt.

The Kilstone Brewery exterior and tap row. Friendly bartender, too.

It’s a newer brewery, located back in an industrial park where construction companies, landscaping outfits, and…a dance studio, oddly…were located. Not the nicest location in the world, but no doubt they’ll be moving somewhere soon as well?

Kilstone had a much smaller feel, with an L-shaped bar and some seated scattered around the remaining space, along with a roped-off section stretching out into the parking lot to provide a “patio.” So there was that.

The beer, though! The beer was solid. I didn’t have time to stay for much, but I did small samples of two — the Ironstone Irish Red and the Polyphonic Pale Ale. The Polyphonic would be my preferred of the two — lots of citrus flavor with some nice hoppiness. Of all the breweries I did in Fargo-Moorhead, though, this is the only one I’ve gotten a growler from. Why? Not because the Polyphonic was a life-changer, but because I made the mistake of sending my wife a photograph of the wheat ale Kilstone makes.

You might not know much about me, reader, but if there is anything I would think it important that you learned, it is that I hate actual watermelon.

The candy? Sure! Watermelon-flavored gum? You bet! A watermelon sour? Absolutely! Which is why I was very interested in trying Kilstone’s Watermelon Wheat. When I asked for a pint of it, though, the bartender was at the other end of the bar and responded with a question that I was only half-listening to. Started with “do you want…,” but I didn’t catch the end of it. “Whatever,” I thought, “I’ll say yes. When in Rome, right?”

He walked over to me with this:

Kilstone Watermelon Wheat

Now, I’ll try most things. But that disgusting, fleshy nonsense served as a “garnish” on my beer? I might rather have a pickle in my Bloody Mary. (Just kidding, that sounds even worse. Pickles are terrible.) Regardless, Laura was very excited to see the watermelon beer and asked that I bring a growler home for her. So I did. I got husband brownie points for the day, the beer itself was good, life went on.

No, I did not eat the watermelon. Actual watermelon is bad.

Junkyard Brewing Co. (Moorhead): Wow.

A Junkyard beer! If only I remembered to log which one it was…

All due respect to the three breweries above… But if you’ve only got time for one brewery in the Fargo-Moorhead area, this is the one.

The brewery itself has a great outdoor patio space with lots of shaded seating, and garage doors open to really make it a fun place to sit and have a couple beers in the summer months. My Untappd account (let me know if you want to be friends on there!) that I had the Strawberry Shake-O-Matic (an IPA with lactose) and the King Size Imperial Peanut Stout, both of which I enjoyed, but I know I had others… Something like a “Mexican Hot Cocoa” comes to mind that was a stout some sort of heat in there (cinnamon? pepper? it’s been a while), along with a whole bunch of their Experimental Sours. I would come back just for the sours, and I am unhappy that I didn’t log any of them.

On the whole, though, you can’t go wrong with the brewing scene in Fargo-Moorhead. There’s a lot of variety, great outdoor space, and engaging events from trivia to live music to bags leagues. Check it out.

We’re at about 3600 words. I’m so sorry.


Future Plans

I’m publishing this from Carbondale, Illinois, so who knows what my plans are at this point. A few things I’ve done recently that I think are noteworthy:

  • Presented a paper on South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow’s two embargos of Canadian livestock and agricultural products in 1985 and 1998 at the Agricultural History Society’s meeting in St. Petersburg, FL
  • Presented a paper on the 1985 Iowa Hawkeyes football team, the “America Needs Farmers” slogan’s origin in 1985, and its subsequent co-opting (or use, depending on your perspective) by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation in an era in which free-market solutions to the Farm Crisis of the 1980s were increasingly unpopular with Iowa farmers
  • Won a few summer/fall grants: The Everett Dirksen Congressional Research Grant (to visit Des Moines, Stevens Point, and Madison), a State Historical Society of Iowa Research Grant (to visit the University of Northern Iowa and the Iowa Women’s Archives), and a Paul Simon Research Stipend to visit Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. More on all that…soon, I hope?
  • Published [!!!] my first work: “Replanting the Grassroots: The South Dakota Democratic Party from McGovern to Daschle, 1980-1986,” in Plains Political Tradition vol. 3, eds. Jon Lauck, John Miller, and Paula Nelson (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2018). Run, don’t walk! Check it out!

[1] John D. Paulson, “Interview with Rep. S.F. (Buckshot) Hoffner,” March 1983. John D. Paulson Papers Box 1, Folder 20, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND. (Hereafter referred to as NDIRS.)

[2] “Democratic-NPL State Party Chairman to Retire after 14 Years,” The Leader (North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party), December 30, 1994, pp. 1-2.

[3] A great deal of this section will rely on the accounts of the fight over the Fargo Women’s Health Organization and its abortion clinic. See Faye D. Ginsburg, Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

[4] Agassiz Women’s Political Caucus Newsletter, vol. 5, iss. 3 (March 1986), 1. Jennie Millerhagen Papers, Box 1, Folder 36, NDIRS.

[5] Minutes of Board Meeting, May 3, 1982. Prairie Lesbian/Gay Community Records, Box 1, Folder 5, NDIRS.

[6] Lenny Tweeden, “From the Director,” Impart vol. 5, no. 10 (October 1983), p. 1. PLGC Papers, Box 1, Folder 15, NDIRS.

[7] Program, “North Dakota Women Making a Difference,” September 4, 1991. Millerhagen Papers, Box 1, Folder 36, NDIRS.

[8] Bill Heigaard to John Schneider, June 30, 1992. John Schneider Papers, Box 1, Folder 92, NDIRS.