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Dakota Datebook

Saloons, Whiskey, and Wild Wild Women

When it was part of Dakota Territory, what we now know as North Dakota had a reputation as a wild place where saloons and saloon girls flourished. As the area neared statehood, many citizens hoped to create a more gentile environment. They wanted to clean up North Dakota’s reputation. It was way past time, they thought, for North Dakota to become more civilized. One way to do this was to do away with saloons and liquor, along with the “wild women” that went with them.

When it became a state in 1889, North Dakota was the first state to be admitted with prohibition in its constitution. All saloons had to be closed by July 1, 1889. But prohibition was not wildly popular. The measure passed by only 1,150 votes.

There were a number of efforts to repeal prohibition. On this date in 1909, the Hope Pioneer informed readers that a measure had been defeated in the state legislature that could have affected prohibition. If the bill had passed, a small number of voters could have forced another statewide vote on prohibition. The newspaper explained that prohibitionists had “lined up their forces to kill the bill for that reason.” Prohibitionists did not want to take the chance that North Dakota voters would repeal prohibition. It was a good try by those who opposed having a dry state, but the proposal went down in a resounding defeat.

Prohibition made it possible for illegal saloons, known as “blind pigs,” to thrive. Officers of the law frequently raided illegal establishments and destroyed the inventory. Another problem was that alcohol was legal in Minnesota. Anyone living near the border could easily cross the state line and have a drink.

With the passage of nationwide prohibition in 1920, business boomed for illegal alcohol smuggled in from Canada and transported through North Dakota. There were numerous reports of gunfights between law officers and smugglers.

Prohibition clearly did not have the desired effect. North Dakota voted on the issue again in 1932. The measure passed by 35,000 votes. When the 21st Amendment to repeal federal prohibition passed in 1933, North Dakota was officially no longer dry. It joined the rest of the country as a wet state.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Hope Pioneer. “Prohibitionists Win Fight.” Hope ND. 2/4/1909. Page 1.

Fargo History Project. “Bootlegging.” http://fargohistory.com/bootlegging/ Accessed 1/4/2020.

Bismarck Tribune. “North Dakota’s Heritage of Alcohol.” https://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/north-dakota-s-heritage-of-alcohol/article_6fd6cc22-3fca-11e2-ad03-001a4bcf887a.html  Accessed 1/4/2020.

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