Monday, November 17, 2003
On this date in 1879, the first issue of the Daily Argus was sold on the streets of Fargo. Exactly 12 years later – to the day – the first issue of the Fargo Forum was published. The interesting thing is that they were both founded by the same man, who was, by turns, a railroad express agent, editor of the Bunker Hill Union Gazette, an insurance agent and a prison warden of the state pen in Joliet. He also fought in the Civil War, took part in General Sherman’s march to the sea and became a major by the time he was 24.
At 38, Major Alanson Edwards, joined the rush to the Black Hills to find gold. On his return to his home in Illinois, he passed through Fargo, which he immediately liked. When he got back to Chicago, he approached a friend, Dr. J. B. Hall, about starting a newspaper in Fargo, and they went into business together.
They published their first newspaper, the Republican, in 1878, but unfortunately, the two men didn’t get along; soon the paper was in trouble, and Edwards bought out Hall. A year later, he started the Daily Argus, North Dakota’s very first daily newspaper. For the first six years, it was published in both English and German.
Edwards was closely aligned with the political machine of Alexander McKenzie, which gained him a few enemies. McKenzie was a behind-the-scenes man who manipulated events to continually favor railroad interests – it was no coincidence that railroad magnate, James J. Hill, held the controlling interest in the Daily Argus. Soon, farmers who felt they were being exploited by the railroads were given voice by George Winship, editor of the Grand Forks Herald, who called Major Edwards a “blabbering blatherskite and unprincipled hoodlum.”
In his book, the History of North Dakota, Elwyn Robinson described Edwards as “a big, overweight, restless, belligerent editor with the walrus mustache of the time.” On the other hand, he also described him as companionable. There is no doubt that Edwards was colorful; he rode a spirited race horse and lived in a 10-bedroom house with a large library where he devoured the poetry of Robert Burns and read Dickins out loud to his seven children.
1886 turned out to be particularly challenging for Edwards; he was elected Mayor of Fargo, and the Daily Argus building burned down. They rebuilt, but Edwards couldn’t recover financially. Five years later, his association with the railroads came around to bite him when James Hill forced him out.
Edwards immediately joined forces with Colonel H. C. Plumley to merge with the Daily Republican to establish the Fargo Forum in 1891.
Five years later, he took yet another new direction, as a member of the state legislature while still managing the Fargo Forum – all this besides his large family and other interests.
But that wasn’t the end; Edwards’ life took one major final turn when he left Fargo to become United States Consul General in Montreal in 1900. But his interest in newspapers didn’t ebb. Major Alanson Edwards retained his interest in the Forum until his death in 1908.
A happy 112th birthday to The Forum…
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm