This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Red Wing Training School Band

21 September 2012

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital "T" That rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
We've surely got trouble!
Right here in River City, Right here!
Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble...
                                                               Meredith Willson

The words of Professor Harold Hill, from  Meredith Willson's  1957 musical The Music Man, may seem like a sales pitch now. But 100 years ago, communities all across America had such trouble with youthful criminals that it was indeed spelled with a capital T.  How should a society manage delinquent and errant young people? In Minnesota, the solution was to create a reformatory in Red Wing, MN,  and the curriculum there included music from the Minnesota State Training School Band. 

This band of 35 young boys (or 34, as there is a shadowy face seated in the middle on the left) is neatly dressed in cadet like uniforms and arranged for a concert with woodwinds on the left - mostly clarinets and an imposing baritone saxophone, and brass on the right. The band's conductor, wearing a bowler hat, stands at the back left.

Constructed on 450 acres, the Red Wing State Training School  was a state reform school for delinquent youth established in 1866 and then moved to Red Wing, MN in 1891.

This postcard was mailed on Sept. 14, 1910 to Mrs. Aggie Shareman of Olcott Beach, NY

Dear aggie. i hope
you are all well
i leave to Day.
to goe to my Jeddy(?)
Love to you Frank
Jennie. send the answer
to Mrs. Shareman
Huron, S. Dakota
P. Office. Gen. Del.

I wonder what Frank's question was?

What is unique about this boys band is that several young musicians have black faces. a very unusual mixture of races for 1910. Look for the drummer in front of the flag, the cornet in the second row on right, and trombone behind, and the small shadow in the middle of the clarinets.

Ordinarily I wouldn't expect to discover any more details about this postcard, except that 1910 was a census year, and institutions are very good about keeping records. There are 9 census pages devoted just to the Red Wing Training School and its population of 282 boys and 96 girls. Most of the youths were from Minnesota or Wisconsin, but a good number were born in  Germany, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Russia, Porto Rico (sic), , or just Europe. Their ages ran from 8 to 21, but most were about 15-16. And of those 378 inmates, there were 12 boys and 5 girls who were black. Red Wing the town, had only 2 other black people in that census year outside the school.

What is especially remarkable is that the occupations for each inmate were listed in the census, and Musician, Band was noted for 17 boys, three of whom were black.
  • Lloyd B. Banks, 15,   birthplace  NB
  • Lemuel H. Reed, 16,  "   MN
  • Alec Withers, 17,  "   KY
The other 14 musicians were white and I list them here so that their names can be found on the internet too.
  • Chester L. DeLairy 14, birthplace MN
  • William Epple, 16,  "   MN
  • Nathan H. Harvan, 15,  "   MN
  • Fred V. Holfer, 15,  "   MN 
  • Thomas Humphrey, 16,  "   MN
  • George E. Hylur, 14,  " WS
  • Joe Kaufman, 16,  "  MN
  • John A. Lindsey, 13,  "  MN
  • Frances J. MacDonald, 11,  "  WS
  • Harvey C. Martineau, 14,  "   MN
  • Martin Rave, 14,  "  MN
  • George Stevens, 14,  "   MN
  • William Stevens, 13,  "   MN
  • Walter Waflew, 18,  "   SD

The main building of the Red Wing Training School, as seen in this postcard from 1908, was a fine structure and might be mistaken for a college or hospital. But this was still a prison and life for the inmates was difficult and at times brutally cruel. Some were orphans or from unsettled homes and had limited education. Boys were given manual training in farming and trade skills. But girls, who were segregated from boys, were expected to learn sewing, cooking, and laundering for their future life as a domestic servant. The girls reformatory was moved in 1911 to Sauk Centre, MN.

View Larger Map

Google's StreetView shows the Red Wing institution with little change.

The tower offered a good vantage point for a photographer to take a picture, and no doubt postcards were a  popular purchase for the young children and teenagers who called this place home - or worse.  This view from 1911 shows the  dormitories and auxiliary work buildings, and the Mississippi River on the right.

Despite the title, this postcard with a 1912 postmark has us in the same tower and looking the opposite direction and to the southeast, I think. Still used as a correctional facility, the Minnesota State Training School now functions as a diagnostic treatment center for boys committed by the state.

An excellent history with more images and stories of the Red Wing Reformatory can be found at THE WALLS OF RED WING by Brad Zellar.  His title comes from a Bob Dylan song written in 1963.
Oh, the age of the inmates
I remember quite freely:
No younger than twelve
No older ’n seventeen
Thrown in like bandits
And cast off like criminals
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing
.. .. ..
Oh, some of us’ll end up
In St. Cloud Prison
And some of us’ll wind up
To be lawyers and things
And some of us’ll stand up
To meet you on your crossroads
From inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing
                                                  Bob Dylan

The Red Wing reformatory probably had its share of recidivism. And some of those young musicians may have ended up in Stillwater, MN playing in the Minnesota State Prison Band. This colorized postcard view of the prison yard shows 16 convicts in pale blue band uniforms standing in a parade formation and holding mostly brass instruments. In the front are two African-American musicians on tuba and trombone.

Earlier this year I wrote a photo story on the Prison Orchestra of Ft. Madison, Iowa
which also had black musicians playing alongside white musicians. In 1910, this mixing of the races in a musical ensemble would have been unthinkable anywhere outside the prison walls. The segregation and discrimination of African-Americans was such a normal convention in this era, it is amazing that prisons were the one place where it seemed to be absent.  Of course in reality, enforced integration in a penitentiary probably did little to change the engrained prejudice of the convicts in the 1900s. But perhaps band music offered some friendships that would have been impossible anywhere else.

Source: Minnesota Department of Corrections

The same band is found on the history webpage at the Minnesota Department of Corrections website. This photo is a little different and shows the band playing their instruments with a cornet bandleader, who may not have been an inmate but a prison officer, standing to the left. Their caption dates the image to 1907, but the postcard has 
Copyright 1909 W. C. Heilbron.

My grandfather was born in central Minnesota in 1906. At age 16, he left his home in the small town of Glenwood to join the US Marines. I suspect that he may have known boys who got into trouble and did time in the Red Wing Training School. That Trouble was not caused by Pool, but by poverty, broken homes, abuse, neglect and lack of opportunity. In fact the same reasons that still create problems for young people. My grandfather was lucky and found his way out, but I'd like to think that playing a band instrument might have helped some of these boys too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you might find more photos and stories of wayward youths.

For a contrast, read the story about the I.O.O.F Orphanage Band from Mason City, Iowa, the birthplace of Meredith Willson,  composer and lyricist of the The Music Man.


Kristin said...

I was thinking of the other prison story with an integrated band and was glad to see you mentioned it because I couldn't remember if it was also in MN. A youth prison was built in a community I used to live in. It was supposed to be a great source of jobs for the rural northern Michigan town but after some years closed down.

Howard said...

It looks positively idyllic, but I'm sure it wasn't...

Peter said...

The prison indeed looks like the orphanages we used to have here. I am also somewhat surprised about these prison orchestras. I am not aware that prisons here had that type of pastime. It suggests that there was at least some fun in otherwise deplorable circumstances.
And about the name on the card, could it perhaps be Leddy?
In any case thanks for yet another interesting post!

Bob Scotney said...

This post reminds me I have missed an opportunity as there is a prison less than 3 miles from use for people nearing the end of their sentences. A picture of the old building has just appeared on a local website and it was as imposing as Red Wing. I continue to be amazed how you manage to come up with musical links no matter what the theme.

barbara and nancy said...

A great post as usual.
I was surprised to learn that boys and girls were both included in the "school". I can guess that this could have caused all sorts of problems.
Why no girls in the band?

Mike Brubaker said...

That's a good question, Nancy. In a prison school like this, gender segregation would be like the outside world, with teenage boys and girls kept separate for their own protection and because they had different teachers and curriculum.

Since the postcard is the boys band, I didn't get into the girls' history. From what I read, a young woman could be sent to the reformatory for incredibly petty "misdemeanors" such as smoking, immodest dress, or skipping church, but the worst offense was pregnancy. The incarceration of unwed mothers, i.e. girls in "trouble" is a shameful history that makes no sense today, but in 1910 it was part of societal traditions like public lynchings. These girls were never expected to become anything better than domestic servants, because they were considered soiled for life.

Wendy said...

I'm sure band practice was the highlight of their day. And even if there was a lot of abuse and cruelty and sadness to reform school, it's doubtful they would have gotten any music training had they lived at home. I don't know how bad a kid had to be to end up in reform school, but certainly having a music program was above and beyond what many public schools could even provide.

Postcardy said...

Great post and postcards.

Christine H. said...

How amazing that you were able to get so much information. A very interesting post, as always.

I wonder what crime a child had to commit to end up in Red Wing.
I also can't help but wonder if that first card with the mysterious message was ever sent, since there was no stamp or postmark.

Alan Burnett said...

Strangely enough when I chose that archive picture a few weeks ago I thought to myself, I wonder what Mike will do with this. And then I remembered that Louis Armstrong learned to play cornet in a reformatory home band. You delivered perfectly my friend ; you always do.

Little Nell said...

Music has been the saviour in the story of so many lives and I'm sure you are right that the membership of the band had a profound effect in these boys.

Queen Bee said...

I hope learning to play an instrument and being part of a band gave these boys the encouragement and the incentive that they could do more with their lives. It's so neat you were able to locate all of them in the 1910 census. Great post as always.

Tattered and Lost said...

I wonder if any of them went on to become full time musicians.

This was fascinating.

Jana Last said...

This was a very fascinating post and history lesson all rolled up together! Having ancestors from Minnesota made this even more intriguing for me. Thanks!


A fascinating post. While the architecture is rather conservative, the place with its surroundings look lovely, belying the reality of what was actually happening there. And judging by others' comments, I see I'm not the only one amazed by the connections you make with the various themes while remaining faithful to your own concept. Good show!!


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