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Tangled Up with the Law

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George Schoenlein of Richardton was no stranger to the law. According to newspapers he was well known for selling liquor. He was arrested on that charge in 1916, but was released following a trial that resulted in a hung jury.

However, his run-ins with the law were not over. On this date in 1917, officials released the details of a case that not only cleared up a burglary, but led to the arrest of two notorious bootleggers. Deputy Branick had gone to Richardton where he learned that some packages at the railroad station contained alcohol. He confiscated those, but left behind three casks because he was assured they contained “near beer,” which was not covered under the Stark County ban on intoxicating beverages. That very night the depot was broken into, and the three casks went missing. The Northern Pacific immediately sent a team of detectives, but they found no clues to help them clear up the mystery.

Then they got a tip. Following this lead, they paid a visit to George Schoenlein. As they searched the house, they discovered a trap door hidden underneath an organ. It led to a cellar where they found a stash of booze. It was mostly beer. One hundred twenty-nine quart bottles, and one hundred seventy-seven-pint bottles – and it was not of the “near beer” variety. Schoenlein was immediately arrested. His two accomplices gave sworn statements saying that he was responsible for stealing the beer from the depot.

Schoenlein wasn’t the only arrest connected to the theft. Deputy Sheriff Branick had hired a wagon to haul the illicit goods to the office of the justice of the peace. When he arrived and did an inventory, he was missing a bottle of wine. He arrested Frank Cooper, the wagon driver. Cooper pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $42.60.

The State’s Attorney assured the public that he was working closely with law enforcement to stamp out the illegal trade in liquor. They regularly confiscated booze shipments at the railroad station. Some recipients swore the liquor was for their own personal use and were allowed to take it after filling out affidavits. But many of the shipments were shipped under fictitious names and would be destroyed.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Dickinson Press. “Richardton Arrests Two Alleged Piggers.” Dickinson ND. 11/18/16. Page 1.

Dickinson Press. “Booze Cache Dug Up at Richardton.” Dickinson ND. 1/27/1917. Page 1.

Dickinson Press. “Schoenlein Gets Jail Sentence on Contempt Charge.” Dickinson ND. 2/3/1917. Page 1.

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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