Randolph, the Homebrewer

moorhead brewery

This engraving ran in a booster publication for the city of Moorhead. From the HCSCC Collection

Probstfield family diary entries mention that Randolph stopped by John Erickson’s brewery from time to time on trips into Moorhead. He bought Erickson’s beer and he also bought hops, which indicates German-born Randolph did some homebrewing. One of Randolph’s oldest and closest friends from the pioneer days, Nick Hoffman, owned a brewery in East Grand Forks. Randolph’s son Andy worked at Hoffman’s brewery. According to family letters, Randolph eagerly awaited Andy’s gifts of Bock beer in the spring.


A “Wet” Randolph Probstfield

electionWet and Dry politics played a big role in every election.  In 1876, Randolph Probstfield campaigned in saloons for election as the Clay County Sheriff.  On November 7, 1876, pioneer farmer Randolph Probstfield, a Wet, wrote in his diary that he was “Handsomely defeated as Sheriff for Clay County” by the Dry incumbent, J.B. Blanchard.

Bogusville – A Tent Town

early moorheadThe exhibit starts in 1871 when Moorhead was founded by the Northern Pacific Railway bridge over the Red River. By that time, though, the Probstfields had lived on the Red River Frontier for most of a decade. The exhibit talks about the Wild West tent town of Moorhead but it does not mention that the year before, that tent town was at Probstfield Farm. Everyone thought the railroad would cross at the Probstfield’s place, so all the gamblers and gunmen and townspeople gathered around the house and set up a tent town. Randolph sent the family up to East Grand Forks to get away from the rough characters in the town. When the real site of the railroad bridge was announced, the tent town left Probstfield Farm and went three miles south, creating Moorhead and Fargo. They called the old tent town at Probstfield Farm “Bogusville” from then on.

Wet and Dry: Alcohol in Clay County 1871-1937

exhibit intro horizProbstfield Farm President Markus Krueger helped create a new exhibit at Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Center called “Wet and Dry: Alcohol in Clay County 1871-1937.” The Probstfield family played a central role in the community all through these years. A series of blog posts to follow will highlight the ways in which Randolph Probstfield and his children were connected with this era. 

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.