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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published October 24 2010

Andrea Halgrimson: James Holes settled in Fargo as an early pioneer

"When death called James Holes on the 2nd day of June, 1916, there passed from this life one who up to that time was the earliest of the living settlers of Fargo. He had for many years figured as a well-known and progressive farmer and business man of Fargo township, Cass County, where he settled where the city of Fargo was established, and with every phase of pioneer development and later progress in the district he was closely identified.”

– From “History of North Dakota” by Clement A. Lounsberry

James Holes was born in Pennsylvania on Jan. 29, 1843. His parents were natives of Derbyshire, England, and settled in the United States in 1832. After farming in New York for many years, Holes came west to St. Cloud, Minn., when he was 21. In July 1875, he moved to Dakota Territory.

Holes purchased a quarter-section of land from Ole Hansen in 1871, and it became his place of residence. He also owned 180 acres adjoining what became the Fargo city limits and 740 acres near Hunter, N.D.

During the six years before his death, Holes had the Emerson Wild Oats Separator Co.’s state agency for North Dakota and Montana and in 1914 did a business of $45,000.

Shortly before his death, Holes spoke at the Washington Club, telling about the early days of Fargo. He said of those who settled in 1871, “These people constructed primitive cabins of logs with bark roofs, the bark being covered with sod, making a cool roof in summer and a warm roof in winter. None of these houses had either doors or windows; such luxuries were not yet indulged in. … The country was entirely wild. Countless millions of grasshoppers swarmed everywhere. The woods were full of great owls and prairie wolves were sneaking around the prairies. The hooting owls and barking wolves broke the monotony of the nights. The mosquitoes in summer and blizzards in winter did much to make life miserable. But notwithstanding we managed to get enough out of life so none of the first settlers committed suicide. …”

But rather, those who stayed prospered, and the city grew.

In 1879, Holes cleared part of a wheat field north of town and built a 14-room house for himself and his widowed mother.

In 1889, Holes married Rhoda Harrison, a Wisconsin native. They had three children – James H., Bernard R. and Marguerite V. Mrs. Holes died in 1908. Marguerite, born in 1893 in the family home, lived there until her death in 1976.

In 1950, during the Fargo Diamond Jubilee, a photo of James Holes and his four brothers appeared in The Forum. They were big men.

Fargo’s James was 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 210 pounds. Moorhead’s Andrew was 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds. George, Samuel and William, who lived in St. Cloud, ranged from 6 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighed from 220 to 260 pounds.


Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com