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Mayor Misdemeanor


Bismarck's mayor, E. G. Patterson, was arrested on this date in 1900 on charges of keeping a gambling house. The "gambling house" in question was none other than one of Mayor Patterson's hotels, in which he had been running games quite publicly for some time. At the start of each legislative session, in fact, Mayor Patterson opened the Sheridan Hotel's gambling annex for business, candidly inviting the representatives and visitors to the city to participate in games of chance.

Although gambling in the city was prohibited by law, these activities were no secret, and many papers throughout the state had commented on the situation. Despite this, Mayor Patterson proved a popular figure in Bismarck, and had been re-elected without contest for several terms. It was the last election, however, that began the trouble for the mayor. That fall, the mayor cancelled some Burleigh County elections, including that for district judge, after a fight with one of the organizers. Because of this, Judge Winchester of the sixth district court lost his home county, which he had held since statehood.

Although of the same party, hostilities erupted between the two men. So, it came as little surprise in December when the judge drew up a warrant for the arrest of the mayor and the seizure of the gambling equipment. The judge did not even trouble the state's attorney or the attorney general in the matter, taking the issuance of the order upon himself.

Being a close personal friend to Alexander McKenzie, one of the state's most influential politicians, and a popular figure himself, Judge Winchester had public opinion on his side. Many criticized Patterson's gambling hall, "...insisting that members of the legislature should not be subjected to such temptations." Patterson had just built a second hotel, the Northwestern, and the opening was only days away, with the arrival of the state legislators for the new session. This may have been the reason that the judge waited until December to issue the warrant. The papers reported that there was a "...great deal of bitterness on all sides and indications that the Slope political stream [would] not ripple along smoothly for a time."

The roulette table, apparently the prize attraction of the hall, was seized and destroyed. At a cost of nearly $1,000, it appeared that the bitterness between the two men was strong indeed.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. December 29 (Evening ed.), 1900: p.1.