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Dry Zone Null and Void


On this date in 1910, Judge Amidon of Fargo ruled in the case of the state of Minnesota vs. Sullivan, a case in which Sullivan was charged with bringing alcohol into Traverse County, Minnesota,. The county, as well as most of the state, was a declared a "dry zone" by the Treaty of 1851, made between the U. S. Government and the Sioux tribes of Minnesota.

Sullivan, at the advice of counsel, pleaded guilty during his arraignment and received sixty days in jail. Shortly after his sentencing, however, his lawyers discovered an act passed by Congress in 1863 annulling the Treaty of 1851. Judge Amidon traveled to Fergus Falls to hear the case, where he heard a short history concerning the "dry zone" of Minnesota.

In 1851, the lawyer began, the U. S. Government recognized the Sioux claim to all lands lying south of the point on the Red River from which the Buffalo River flowed, about ten miles north of Moorhead. This meant that most of southern Minnesota belonged to the Sioux. The Sioux tribes of this area then entered into a treaty agreement with the government, in which these lands would be ceded to the government in exchange for a payment, annual annuity payments, and the setting aside of certain lands for Sioux reservations. As part of the treaty, the government banned the sale or introduction of alcohol into these lands. This ban on liquor was not considered unusual during this period, and was viewed as a protective measure for Native Americans.

Then, in 1862, there was a Sioux uprising in Minnesota and North Dakota. This incident became known as the Dakota War or Little Crow's War. Hunger, starvation, and general hardship had befallen the Dakota Sioux as a result of treaty violations on the behalf of the government. Acting out, they attacked several white settlers in southern Minnesota and massacred several families at New Ulm. The government retaliated by executing thirty-eight of the leaders of the uprising, as well as annulling the Treaty of 1851. This, declared Judge Amidon, made the imposed "dry zone" void, and allowed for the sale of alcohol in those regions of Minnesota, which included Moorhead. This would have lasting effects on both the cities of Fargo and Moorhead, as residents from North Dakota, which had come into the union as a dry state, began a long trend of crossing the river for a glass of whiskey.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Friday, December 23, 1910: p. 1, 7.