Category Archives: HISTORY

Vote Gesell in ’44

ray for office

Front and back of a Ray Gesell political campaign card from 1944.
Collection of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County

“It all started as a joke,” Ray said.  One day, while talking politics over beers, two of Ray Gesell’s friends told him he should run for office.  Ray, jokingly, said he would.  Within a few days, his friends were actively campaigning on his behalf.  “I tried to back out and I couldn’t.”

Ray Gesell served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1945-1951.  Again, he found himself following in the footprints of his grandfather Randolph Probstfield, a poor but respected farmer who served as a Minnesota State Senator.


The Long Winter of 1881 and 2013

Probstfield Diary 041874

Excerpt from R.M. Probstfield Diary, 1874~
17 Friday Therm[ometer] 6 A.M. 32°, noon 44°, 8 P.M. 36° A.M. N.W. all day light. mostly cloudy. Thunder in morning. Dark cloudy P.M. Evening rain. Ice run several hours in afternoon and evening. Is gorged now at the Bend here (8 P.M.) River rose 4 feet last 24 hours. Made caves on south side of house
18 Saturday Therm[ometer] 6 A.M. 14°, noon 25°, 8 P.M. 25° About 2 inches of snow fell over night. Wind A.M. NW. Brisk drifting some. Changed to NE. P.M. light. Ice gorged up all the river in sight last night. Broke about noon and cleared out.

First published in 1940, The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is set in South Dakota during the severe winter of 1880-1881.  Unlike many of Wilder’s other works, The Long Winter contains far less fiction, and is, for the most part, an accurate account of the winter of 1880-1881.  Remembered in history as “The Snow Winter,” frontier towns were left isolated and without food or supply shipments when deep snows made the Chicago and North Western Railway impassable for trains until the spring thaw.  The frequent blizzards and deep cold set several records for temperatures and snowfall which stood until now.

This month, those records were shattered.  Not since 1881 have temperatures in April failed to rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Fargo-Moorhead.  April 2013 is also well on its way to standing as the coldest April on record, since record keeping began in 1881.  To date, the average temperature has been just 35 degrees, a full 21 degrees below normal.  For the farmers, gardeners, and citizens of the Fargo-Moorhead region, spring just can’t come soon enough!

Community Gardens, Then & Now


The Probstfield Organic Community Garden is one of the largest public community gardens in the Fargo-Moorhead area, with over 100 plots available to community members.

“Unquestionably, community gardening will continue. It will be the peace-time descendant of the war garden.” —Charles Lathrop Pack, U.S. National War Garden Commission, 1919

During World War I, eager gardeners sought out vacant lots and other “slacker land” in cities across America and started community gardens.  Community gardens provided a place for gardeners without land of their own to grow food.  Groups of people could pool their resources for big projects like getting a tractor to plow a large area or setting up irrigation systems.

In recent years, community gardening has experienced a resurgence in America.  The Probstfield Organic Community Garden has over 100 plots maintained by gardeners from the Fargo-Moorhead area.  The Probstfield Farm provided people in Fargo-Moorhead with fresh produce since the cities were founded, through World War I, World War II and after.  The farm is still feeding people in our community today – many people just grow it themselves now.

The Terrible 20’s and the Great Depression

Ray Gesell in front of the OTM.

Clarence Oscarson holding two bags of onions and standing in front of the Old Trail Market.

Ray Gesell returned to the Probstfield Farm after the war was over.  While much of America experienced an economic boom during the Roaring ‘20s, farmers started their Great Depression a decade earlier than everyone else.  For twenty years, prices for grain, vegetables, and meat were too low for farmers to make a decent living.  “It didn’t make any difference how hard you worked or what you did,” Ray said years later. “You couldn’t come out even.”

Ray and his aunts and uncle on the farm were able to make it because of the garden.  While they had no money, they had veggies, a flock of chickens, a milk cow and usually a pig or two.  They were truck farmers, growing vegetables to bring into town or to sell at the Old Trail Market, the roadside vegetable stand on the farm.