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Blue Laws, Part Two

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In 1917, laws governing what could happen on Sundays, the Blue laws, seemed to be on the brink of change in North Dakota, but many of those bills failed, including a bill allowing shooting and hunting on Sundays.

Few paid the law much mind until it was reported that the law would be enforced. The Grand Forks Herald said, “Some 60,000 city sportsmen, who have little chance to hunt except on Sunday, apparently did not awake to the fact that the last legislature had more or less specifically prohibited this sport until an oral opinion came from the office of Attorney General Langer to the effect that the ban on Sunday shooting would be enforced…”

People guilty of breaking the Sabbath laws were punishable by fine and possibly time in the county jail.

However, a Cass County court case challenging the law came before the state Supreme Court. A.F. Davis had been convicted of breaking the Sabbath in August after he and a “private hunting party of one or more persons” went hunting for crows.

The opinion, handed down by the court was thus: “Nothing is said of the kind or character or number of crows shot or as to whether they were bad crows or good crows … So, the charge against the defendant is based on an old Sunday statute as it has stood on the books during 52 years. By its plain words the statute refers to and prohibits only public shooting and other public sports. The shooting charged against Davis was a private sport. It was not done in such a way as to attract a crowd of people or to injure or offend any person. It was a mere private diversion.”

The judgement was reversed, and Davis was discharged. The case had been fast-tracked so the decision could arrive prior to the start of the hunting season. Attorney General Langer sent notice of the decision to the deputy game warden, noting that “ is immaterial as to whether a chicken or a crow is shot. The decision, in my opinion, makes it lawful for private hunting parties to hunt prairie chickens or other game on Sunday.”

So, bird hunting season started on this date in 1917. As reported by the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, North Dakota Sportsmen “have the permission of the supreme court to ‘shoot their heads off.’”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Grand Forks Herald, February 19, 1917, p12 (Frazier loses no time when S. B. 81 passed)

The Bismarck Tribune, January 15, 1917, p1 and 3 (Legislature may wipe out Blue Sundays)

Grand Forks Herald, September 12, 1917, p3 (Langer’s Minions must stop Sunday shooting, says Reko)

The Bismarck Tribune, February 13, 1917, p4 (Reader’s Column)

The Grand Forks Herald, September 15, 1917, p1

The Dickinson Press, August 25, 1917, p1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, September 15, 1917, p1

State V. Davis, Supreme Cout of North Dakota, September 15, 1917

The Bismarck Tribune, August 20, 1917, p6

Jamestown Weekly Alert, September 20, 1917, p10

1917 Laws of North Dakota

1917 House Journal

1917 Senate Journal

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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