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Bismarck Booze Bust

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During the its early years, Bismarck was right on the heels of Deadwood in lawlessness, violence and the selling of liquor. But, by the early 1900s, some residents felt it was time to actually enforce prohibition. Saloons that carried on in secret were called “blind pigs,” and their beverages were either illegally produced locally or smuggled in from Canada.

On this date in 1907, a Bismarck Tribune headline read: “Thousand Dollars Worth of Booze Found in a Cave.” The police chief had found the stash under a hill near Fifth Street, where a 10 x 16 room was filled to the roof with liquor.

Five wagons were needed to haul the contraband to the Capitol. The next day, the paper gave a detailed inventory and reported, “… amid watering mouths and downcast eyes the stuff was taken into vaults and locked up to await the judicial verdict that shall consign it to mother earth, or send it up in vapors to lead the birds to new song and agitate the leaves of the trees with an unwonted glee.”

Otto Reimer admitted the stock was his and that he stored it there after his saloon was closed. He refused to officially claim it, though; he told officials to do what they wanted with it. So, they opened each container to test the contents. A judge subsequently declared that all should be destroyed.

On May 18th, 1907, the Tribune reporter waxed poetic – in fact, it sounded like a eulogy. Here's an excerpt:

Not a drum was heard or a funeral note
as the booze to the rampart was hurried;
not a toper fired a farewell shot, o’er the grave
where the bottles were buried.

They burned it swiftly at 2 o’clock,
when the shadows were eastward falling,
and many a mourner near died from shock
at the tragedy so appalling.
Hundreds of bottles of Blatz and Schlitz
that made Milwaukee famous
were flattened and shattered to little bits
when bitterness overcame us.
… And Oh but the sight was sweet and sad
this pouring of free libation
and Oh but the crashing was much and mad,
and would tickle Carrie Nation.

Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm

Source: Bismarck Daily Tribune, April 25, 26, 28 and May 3, 15, 16, 18, 1907

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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