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Forgotten Towns,History

December 12, 2013

A tale of two saloon owners (and one dime)

In the early days, when grasshoppers were ravishing the country and business was dull, there were two saloons in Fergus Falls, both on Lincoln Avenue and about two blocks apart. One was kept by a Norwegian called John, the other by a Frenchman, Captain Dampier.

Trade was dead. Gloom settled down with the grasshoppers. Farmers were futilely fighting the pests and watching their crops disappear as the locusts, in myriads, marched over their fields.

Merchants sat waiting for customers that did not come, and the only place of activity in town was at Nichols and Dearborn’s drug store, where the everlasting game of checkers went on day and night.

The general inactivity seemed to get hold of even the dogs. The very hens, gorged with grasshoppers, refused to lay. Nothing is known to equal a locust raid for spreading gloom.

One morning, during this depressing period, John opened his saloon, stepped out front and looked on this scene of inactivity. Up and down the street, not a thing was moving. He returned inside and sat down to wait for the customer that did not come. The stillness and utter quietude got on his nerves. For lack of something better to do, he got up and went to the money drawer, thinking to count the cash receipts of yesterday. There he found only a lone 10-cent piece. The dime looked as lonesome as John felt. He put it back and waited.

After a time, he approached the till, took out the solitary dime and started down the street for Cap’s saloon. He found that to be as quiet and deserted as his own place of business. He bought a drink, paid for it with his only piece, and went back to his own saloon.

In Cap’s till there had been no cash at all before he made a deposit of John’s dime. This transaction encouraged Cap. Business was ‘picking up.’ In a short time, it occurred to Cap that he ought to reciprocate and patronize his competitor, so he took the dime and started for John’s place. There, he bought a drink, paying for it with this nimble piece.

In a little while, John, imbued with the same spirit of reciprocity, took the dime and started on a trek for Cap’s place, where he indulged in a libation equal in value to the whole volume of circulating medium in town. Soon Cap “reciprocated” some more, and so these business transactions continued throughout the day.

When night came, both felt happy, hilarious and prosperous. As they meandered up the street, each supported by the loving arms of the other, Cap said: “John, that’s what I call financiering. We both got full and it cost us only 10 cents. Can you beat it?”

This story and many more can be found in “History of Otter Tail County,” edited by John W. Mason, published in 1916. Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

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