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...
Read more: MUSIC MAN - YA GOT TROUBLE LYRICS
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.
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
- 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.
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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
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.