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Cleaning Up Bismarck


Although North Dakota entered the United States as a dry state in 1889, that didn't stop the flow of alcohol.  In Bismarck, blind pigs, saloons, and other salacious businesses still were thriving as the years ticked by, even as the Bismarck Tribune worked to advertise exactly what was going on and comment on the need to clean up the capital city. This perspective was in line with a judgment expressed by President Theodore Roosevelt, summarized in the Tribune, that "publicity is the best cure for most of the evils which oppress the people of this age."

Then, at the tail end of 1906, about thirty businessmen met at the O. H. Will & Company where they discussed what was happening. They decided that the saloons and related businesses of ill repute must close up. The businessmen felt that nobody in violation of the rules should be fined if they listened to this new law of the land – but if they continued as they had before, they should be prosecuted. 


They outlined their plans for the mayor of Bismarck, who, bolstered by their support, sent the sheriff and the chief of police to "every one of the pigs and card rooms and hotels to stop the sale of liquor and the games at once." They also enforced the new rules at hotels, where liquor was still being served. Though the hotels weren't closed down, they were made aware that they might be if they sold alcohol. That prompted the Fargo Forum to write, "the thirst of the legislators will be something terrible to contemplate."


This cleaning up of the city had happened for short bursts in the past, but this time, the citizens of Bismarck intended to keep their city clean. According to reports, after an hour, "Bismarck was free of saloons and open gambling." And while some were unhappy, reports throughout the city and the rest of the state noted that Bismarck had cleaned its city and its name – hopefully, for good. The Fargo Forum reported: "Bismarck will receive a New Year's gift in the shape of a clean city." 


Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker



Bismarck Daily Tribune, December 31, 1906, p1

Bismarck Daily Tribune, January 2, 1907, pp6, 7

Bismarck Daily Tribune, January 6, 1907, p4

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, May 2, 1906, p12

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, January 1, 1907, p1

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