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Great Western Band of St. Paul

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Photograph of he Great Western Band, St. Paul, 1868.

The Great Western Band, St. Paul, 1868. Pictured are, left to right, M. Esch, Joe Olrenshaw, H. Haub, C. Trowbridge, R. Schroer, William Bircher, H. Macklett, George Seibert, H. Herr, and Theodore Henninger.

The Great Western Band of St. Paul, formed in 1860, was one of the earliest and most popular brass bands in Minnesota through the late nineteenth century. This group of amateur musicians helped to bring a measure of sophistication to early St. Paul as it played for a variety of civic and private events. The band was busy during the 1870s and 1880s, but toward the end of the century, it faded from view. A new version formed in 1977, and over the next ten years, St. Paul residents enjoyed some of the same band music that the city’s early residents had enjoyed a century earlier.

During the late nineteenth century, amateur brass bands were very popular in America. In 1856, the Munger brothers, Russell and Roger, started the Old Gents’ Band, the first military band in Minnesota. The Old Gents’ Band merged with the Pioneer Guards Band, and from this, the Great Western Band of St. Paul (GWB) was formed in 1860. Russell C. Munger (1837–1901), co-owner of the Munger Brothers Music Store in downtown St. Paul, was well qualified to lead the band due to his musical abilities. Munger led it for seven years, after which George Seibert (1836–1897), a band member, became the leader.

The music of brass bands enhanced many of St. Paul’s public events. In the fall of 1860, the GWB played at political campaign rallies. When Civil War soldiers returned home in 1864 and 1865, the GWB played on the St. Paul docks as the soldiers disembarked and marched to the official reception at the Minnesota State Capitol. The band played at the reception for General Ulysses S. Grant’s visit in 1865. It marched in the parade celebrating the completion of the Northern Pacific railroad in 1883. After Grant’s death in 1885, it led the funeral procession of dignitaries that marched in Grant’s honor from Seven Corners to the capitol.

During the summer, the band played weekly or biweekly at some of St. Paul’s popular parks, including Union, Central, Rice, Summit, and Como. It met the steamships that brought dignitaries and prospective residents to St. Paul, and it provided onboard entertainment for excursion boats. Beginning with the 1863 State Agricultural Society Fair, held at Fort Snelling, it played at many state and local fairs, including the agricultural fair at the White Earth Indian Reservation in 1879.

In the private sector, the GWB played for dances, skating parties, church suppers, and funeral processions. It provided music at athletic events organized by groups such as the Twin Cities Turners, a gymnastics club. Groundswell organizations invited the GWB to provide entertainment for its gatherings. In 1869, these included the Convention of Colored Citizens of the State of Minnesota and the North Star Grange, which hired the band for its Fourth of July picnic.

Compared to similar brass bands of the time, GWB was considered by the Minneapolis Tribune to be the best “…west of Chicago.” To meet the demand, Seibert asked Frank Danz Sr. to start a similar band, the Great Western Band of Minneapolis, in 1880. Sharing music and uniforms, the two bands performed together or separately as needed.

As other types of musical groups became more prevalent by the late 1890s, the band’s popularity decreased. Many years later, Paul Maybery, a University of Minnesota graduate student who discovered them while researching the music of nineteenth-century Midwestern brass bands, revived the group. He organized a brass quintet to play period music at the Minnesota Historical Society’s 1977 annual meeting. The popularity of this performance inspired the group to expand and take the name “New Great Western Band of St. Paul.” For almost ten years, it played at Twin Cities locations and revived the music of the original band. One of its last performances was at a celebration of Historic Lowertown in 1988. To end at a historic venue was fitting for a band whose namesake was an important part of St. Paul’s early history.

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“Anniversary Concert of the Great Western Band.” St. Paul Daily Globe, October 26, 1885.

“Boat Excursion.” St. Paul Press, November 30, 1865.

“City Globules.” St. Paul Sunday Globe, July 18, 1880.

Garofalo, Robert Joseph, and Mark Elrod. A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments & Military Bands. Charleston, WV: Pictorial Histories, 1985.

“George Seibert and the Great Western Band.” St. Paul Daily Globe, January 26, 1880.

“Grand Republican Demonstration on the 19th.” Stillwater Messenger, October 23, 1860.

Hall, Darwin S. History of the Minnesota State Agricultural Society: From Its Organization in 1854 to the Annual Meeting of 1910. St. Paul: McGill-Warner, 1910.

Hanson, J. H., comp. Grand Opening of the Northern Pacific Railway: Celebration at St. Paul, Minnesota, the Eastern Terminus, September 3rd, 1883. St. Paul: Brown and Treacy, 1883.

“Imitative Indians: A Notable Event at White Earth Agency.” St. Paul Daily Globe, September 20, 1879.

“Jan. 1, 1869: A Resolute Day for Minnesota Black Citizens.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 24, 2016.

Johnson, Patricia Condon. “Making Music.” Roots 9, no. 1 (Fall 1980) [entire issue].

Kulas, John Stanley. “Der Wanderer of St. Paul: The First Decade, 1867–1877: A Mirror of the German-Catholic Immigration Experience in Minnesota. PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 1988.

“Lowertown Tour is Gateway to History.” St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, September 21, 1988.

Maybery, Paul. Personal communication with the author, July 11, 2017.

Minnesota Junior Pioneers. “Union Park in the 1880s: Band Concerts, Balloon Ascensions Once Lured 10,000 People in a Single Day.” Ramsey County 39, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 25.

Newson, T. M. Pen Pictures of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Biographical Sketches of Old Settlers: From the Earliest Settlement of the City, Up to and Including the Year 1857. St. Paul: The author, 1886.

Nequette, Merritt Charles. “Music in the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota to 1900.” Master’s thesis, University of Minnesota, 1973.

Olson, Kenneth E. Music and Musket: Bands and Bandsmen of the Civil War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981.

“The Parade: Corrected Programme for the Procession in Honor of Grant.” St. Paul Dispatch, August 7, 1885.

Saint Paul: The Queen City of the Northwest. N.p.: Phoenix, 1890.

“Sayings and Doings.” St. Paul Daily Globe, May 12, 1889.

“The Second Dime Market Concert.” Minneapolis Tribune, May 12, 1877.

Skiba, Bob. “Here, Everybody Dances: Social Dancing in Early Minnesota.” Minnesota History 55, no. 5 (Spring 1997): 217–227.

“St. Paul Budget, Brevities.” Minneapolis Daily Tribune, August 16, 1873.

Tiede, Clayton H. “The Development of Minnesota Community Bands During the Nineteenth Century.” PhD thesis, University of Minnesota, 1970.

Trenerry, Walter N. “When the Boys Came Home.” Minnesota History 38, no. 6 (June 1963): 287–297.

Woods, Thomas A. Knights of the Plow: Oliver H. Kelley and the Origins of the Grange in Republican Ideology. Ames, IA: Iowa University Press, 1991.

Wright, James A. No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Edited by Steven J. Keillor. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2001.

Related Images

Photograph of he Great Western Band, St. Paul, 1868.
Photograph of he Great Western Band, St. Paul, 1868.
Photograph of Russell C. Munger
Photograph of Russell C. Munger
Drawing of George Seibert
Drawing of George Seibert
Photograph of the Athenaeum, Exchange and Pine Streets, St. Paul
Photograph of the Athenaeum, Exchange and Pine Streets, St. Paul
Agricultural fair poster
Agricultural fair poster
Photograph of Paul Maybery and the Great Western Band
Photograph of Paul Maybery and the Great Western Band
Photograph of the Great Western Band performing in Rice Park in St. Paul over the lunch hour, July 17, 1980.
Photograph of the Great Western Band performing in Rice Park in St. Paul over the lunch hour, July 17, 1980.

Turning Point

In the mid-1860s, George Seibert, who had been a member of the band, is designated as its new leader. Russell Munger had resigned in order to focus on the music-store business he ran with his brother, Roger.



The Great Western Band of St. Paul is formed from the Old Gents’ Band and Pioneer Guards Band.


The band plays at the State Fair at Fort Snelling, September 30–October 2.


The reception for General Ulysses S. Grant’s visit to St. Paul, August 26, includes music performed by GWB.


GWB plays at the Convention of Colored Citizens of the State of Minnesota on January 1, the sixth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.


Due to high demand, George Seibert asks Frank Danz Sr. to start a Great Western Band in Minneapolis. The two bands have the same name, the same uniforms, and the same music. This allows them to perform jointly or separately as needed.


St. Paul’s Union Park opens to the public on August 1. Throughout the summer, GWB plays on Sundays and sometimes during the week.


The Grand Opening of the Northern Pacific Railroad is held on September 3, and GWB joins the parade.


The GWB leads the funeral procession for General Grant’s memorial service in St. Paul on August 7.


The GWB celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary with a concert on October 26, at the Grand Opera House in St. Paul.


George Seibert Jr. becomes the band’s leader after his father’s death.


The New Great Western Band of St. Paul is formed with Paul Maybery as leader.


GWB plays at Historic Lowertown Day in St. Paul on September 21, one of its last concerts in St. Paul.