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Women of Hatton, Part 2


It was business as usual in the saloons of Hatton on this day in 1890. Business was good. Fires crackled in the stoves. Thick-fingered men played cards, smoked, spat, laughed, argued, and kept the bartenders busy refilling their glasses. The single pane windows were frosted over. New arrivals stomped the snow from their boots and made their way to the stove to warm their hands and scrape little icicles from their mustaches. Droplets hit the stove, sizzled, and turned to steam. The rooms smelled of wet wool, wood smoke, tobacco, beer, horse manure, and sweat.

Several miles away on the Raaen homestead, Ragnhild, mother of four, was preparing to go to town. Her daughter Aagot later wrote of this memorable day, “On the morning of January 10, 1890, Mor tied her best kerchief on her head, wrapped her red plaid shawl snugly around her shoulders, pulled on her wool mittens, took a hatchet, and started off.”

Her husband Thomas “must have suspected something…he called, ‘you had better leave the hatchet here.’ She had to go without it. When she reached Hatton, she joined a mob of women who had gathered on the outskirts of town. Some were armed with hatchets, some with hammers, and some with long sticks.”

At about 3:00 pm, after a pep talk from Olaug Aasen, Ragnhild’s neighbor and mother of five, the group of about a dozen women headed into town with Ragnhild and Olaug in the lead. “Everybody from far and near was in town that day,” wrote Aagot, “there were teams and people everywhere. The saloonkeepers were doing a grand business raking in money, never dreaming what was in store for them. They were so busy they hardly looked up when Olaug and Mor opened the door.”

“The women rushed in and madly chopped, smashed, and raked down liquor bottles so that the whole floor was soaking wet in a minute,” Raaen continued. “Mor was strong as a bear, and since she had no hatchet she took chairs and benches, lifted them, and hurled them at the shelves full of bottles, at windows and at big mirrors.”

“The crowds in the streets cheered. Pastor Gronlid encouraged them, ‘Keep on! Keep on! Good work!’ One saloonkeeper stepped up close to Mor and yelled, ‘You’ll pay for this, you wildcat!’ But Mor kept right on with her work, and without looking up she replied, ‘I am not destroying more than I have already paid for.’”

“When there was no more to destroy they went down cellar, where kegs and barrels were kept; they chopped at spigots until streams of liquor flowed and their shoes and long skirts were wet.”

From there, the women moved on to the next saloon, and then the next. “When they got to the last one, owned by Lewis Fisk, he stood outside, sneezed, and spoke in Norwegian, ‘Please go in.’ They rushed in, to be met by a smell of burning pepper so strong that they too sneezed, coughed, and gasped for breath. Fisk had been warned; so he was ready for them. His saloon was not raided.”

“The women went home that night rejoicing in their achievement. The news of the raid spread like wildfire.” But…the saloons re-opened that evening.

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this Dakota Datebook entry, as Ragnhild Raaen and the women of Hatton travel to Caledonia to stand trial – for manslaughter.


Raaen, Aagot Grass of the Earth: Immigrant Life in the Dakota Country. Northfield, MN: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1950.

Handy-Marchello, Barbara. (1992). Land, Liquor, and the Women of Hatton, North Dakota. In Lysengen, J., & Rathke, A., (Eds.), The Centennial Anthology of North Dakota History (pp. 223-231). Bismarck: State Historical Society of North Dakota.