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Williams and Ree to headline 100th EOT County Fair

Williams and Ree will perform at the EOT fair July 21 to kick off the centennial celebration.

Williams and Ree, aka "The Indian and the White Guy," will kick off the 100th East Otter Tail County Fair July 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Advanced tickets are suggested by fair organizers because Williams and Ree are one of the most popular acts to perform at the fair grounds in years. Preseason event tickets are not valid for this show.

EOT County Fair Board Vice President Rick Breitenfeldt said they have been trying to book Williams and Ree for years and were finally lucky enough this year because the 100th fair fit nicely in Williams and Ree's schedule.

The duo has performed throughout the United States since meeting in 1968 at Black Hills State University in South Dakota.

As members of a band who filled time between songs with comedy sketches, their humor soon became more popular than their music. Much of the duo's banter plays upon the stereotypes held of Native Americans.

Williams and Ree have performed with Garth Brooks, The Oak Ridge Boys, Tim McGraw, and have made many television appearances on The Nashville Network. Their comedy albums include "Indian Casino Royale" and "Taking Reservations".

Williams and Ree currently perform throughout the United States and Canada at casinos and fairs. They are the regular hosts of the Craven Country Jamboree in Craven, Saskatchewan.

100 years in the making

July 21-25 marks the official 100th anniversary of the East Otter Tail County Fair. Though there were fair like events held prior to 1910 in Perham, 1910 marks the first fair on record sponsored by an official organization, the East Otter Tail County Agricultural Society. The same group oversees the fair to this day.

The year 1910 saw King George of England take the throne after the death of his father Edward VII, William Howard Taft began his second year as the 27th U.S. president, electric streetcars of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany and Great Britain carried 6.7 million riders per year and Henry Ford sold 10,000 automobiles.

The headline of the Oct. 6, 1910 edition of the Perham Enterprise read "Market Day and Fair on Saturday was a hummer! Attendance largest in history of Perham. Everybody pleased."

In typical Minnesota fashion, the weather dictated the planning and turnout of the first organized East Otter Tail County Fair in 1910. The news article reads, "One of the most successful and largest attended fairs that has ever been held in Perham, was the one of Saturday last. Owing to the weather conditions of the past season, it was not thought that a fair this year would create very much enthusiasm, and consequently no action was taken until a couple of weeks before the day finally agreed upon. However, the fair was thoroughly advertised, cash premiums were offered and an extensive premium list arranged."

Like the fairs of today, participants arrived early with the hope of selling their products, winning awards, and picking up some great deals on merchandise.

"At an early hour Saturday morning, teams began arriving, loaded with all kinds of exhibits, and by noon the displays at the various headquarters showed fully as large a line of vegetables as the year before. The streets were also crowded with people form all parts of the adjacent country, brought here by the big bargains offered by the various stores and that they took advantage of these bargains was attested by the loads of merchandise taken home with them," the news article continues.

"In fact there was the largest number of people in Perham Saturday, that has ever been seen here, and that they were satisfied with their day's outing could be heard on every side."

Records indicate the majority of people involved with the first organized fair were happy with the turn out.

"Mr. John Scott, of the State Experimental station, was the judge and his awards were generally accepted as satisfactory. In addition to the large quantity of vegetables brought in, were the number of cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, and chickens. The Bear Lake Stock farm had seven head of full-blooded Holstein stock that received favorable attention from all. The same firm also brought in a sample of the tobacco raised by them this season. This was placed along side of some Connecticut tobacco and was pronounced by experts to be fully up to the outside product," according to records. "The officers of the fair have already decided to hold a bigger fair next year than ever before."

Awards at the first fair were given for yellow dent corn, white dent corn, flint corn, popcorn, early potatoes, late potatoes, triumph potatoes, yellow squash, assortments of vegetables, barley, leaf tobacco, oats, rutabagas, beans, peas, onions, cauliflower, celery, honey, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, clover seed, timothy seed, rye, beets, eggs, sugar beets, mangles, pumpkins, wheat, parsnips, turnips, turkeys, sweet cream, best drawn maps of Minnesota and Otter Tail County, best draft stallion, best brood mare, best draft team, best spring colt, best three sheep, best boar, best coop of chickens and best Guernsey bull.

Fair started to promote local farms

The East Otter Tail County Fair was started to promote local farms and provide family entertainment. In the later years, it started to promote the 4-H, FFA and open class through exhibits and premium awards.

Minutes from a September 24, 1909 meeting read, "It was moved and carried that in addition to the prizes heretofore offered that this association offer a complete list of prizes for livestock and form a county fair organization. The name of said organization was decided on as the Perham Agricultural and Market Day Fair Company."

Based on newspaper reports, the formal constitution and bylaws for the agricultural society weren't adopted for another year, in December of 1911.

One of the earlier records suggests there was some form of fair actually preceding the 1910 date pegged as the centennial. But the minutes seem to indicate that 1910 was the first fair under the newly organized Agricultural Society-which continues today, as "East Otter Tail Fair."

Another newspaper account indicates that there were "street fairs" prior to 1910, but evidently not under a formal Agricultural Society structure.

An 1898 Perham Enterprise newspaper reported: "It was suggested that a track be built on fair grounds. This movement would give general satisfaction to the large number of bicycle riders in Perham."

A 1914 newspaper listed the members of the Perham Agricultural Society, after its annual meeting was held. Board members listed include a number of names still familiar in the area: Hemmelgarn, Altstadt, Schwartzrock, Schmitz, Bauck, Palubicki, Drahmann and Wasche.

In 1917, the fair board authorized a new building to house all exhibits.

See next week's Focus for a full list of centennial fair events.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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