This column ran in the July 6 edition of the Prairie Post
The Stutsman County Fair gets under way this week. The fair is a tradition that goes back more than a century.
Even during the depression the people of the region came together to celebrate summer, the produce of the farm and the arts and crafts produced by the local residents.
And there were some contests of skill. L. Millspaugh of Montpelier took the top honors in “barnyard golf,” or horseshoes.
In 1935 the fair opened on the Fourth of July with a bang. No reports on any fireworks but the attendance for the day was tallied at 12,000 people. The Jamestown Sun said it was the best turnout since the fair had restarted 15 years earlier.
It would appear not everyone left the fair happy, or with all the cash they had on arrival.
Reports of “confidence” games were common it would seem. The best count was 18 games operated by ,”dainty, good looking young girls to gray haired old men,” and “young boys to bent old women.” These games had a whole variety of ways to separate a gullible resident from his money.
The “dainty, good looking young girls” probably drew more attention from the young men than the “bent old women.”
Most involved making some sort of investment in the contest and then winning a prize, or not. Possible prizes included radios or even nickel-plated revolvers. I’m guessing they don’t give away firearms at the fair anymore.
Although it must have seemed like a bigger deal at the time the money lost in these con games was modest. The highest report was $35 with amounts in the teens or $20 more common. In one case the sheriff even got $10 back for one player that lost a $20 bill.
Still, the good attendance coupled with the fact people had enough money to try to win a game of chance at the fair had officials optimistic.
“It looks as though Old Man Depression, who has held the spotlight for the past 6 or 7 years, is at last going into his finale,” The Jamestown Sun reported. “At least that’s the impression 18,000 central North Dakotans have left with Stutsman County Fair officials after the three days of the fair.”
The optimism was probably a bit premature. Even though 1935 had good rain and an improving economy the next year kicked everyone in the teeth. The year of 1936 is known for intense drought and extreme cold and hot temperatures. The economy also had further troubles restarting the depression that seemed to be improving just the year before.
But for 1935 people saw things a little brighter. The rains had come and jobs were available.
And people had enough cash in their pockets to lose a little on a con-game at the fair.