© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Devils Lake Jail


Devils Lake was founded in 1882 as Creelsburgh and was also known as Creel City before the post office adopted the name Devils Lake—without the common erroneous apostrophe—in 1884. It is the county seat of Ramsey County, and achieved a peak population of 7441 in 1980. Today, the population remains around 7100. It is a smaller city, yet it’s been home to many big names in the state’s political and social arena, such as William Guy, who served as governor of North Dakota during the 1960s and ‘70s.

Yet on this date in 1924, reports coming out of Devils Lake pointed to problems at the city jail—though not for typical reasons…the problem was that the jail was quite empty! The building had just undergone some renovating, freshly painted and “otherwise improved.”

The Bismarck Tribune picked up the story, and wrote that “The police commissioner considers it something of a slight against the city government’s good taste that no one takes the trouble of getting arrested and securing at least for a night, a comfortable roost in the new jail.”

In the report, Police Chief Timboe requested at least 19 new mattresses from the city commission, to replace those that were in poor condition and which did “not harmonize with the otherwise aesthetic surroundings.”

According to the report, the conversation went like this:

“What’s the matter with these mattresses?” President Allie Haig asked. “Are they not good enough for prisoners?”

“Oh, they’re all right,” the chief answered, “only they have been in the jail only about ten years, and now bear the marks of wear and tear.”

“Only ten years?” asked Commissioner Standing Fisher. “What’s the use of getting new ones if we can’t find anybody to sleep on them?”

“Well, maybe if we get some new ones,” Police Commissioner Kelly suggested, “someone will consent to get arrested and use them.”

“Guess you’re right,” said President Haig. …”It’s a shame to spend all this money on the jail and keep it empty. The fellows about town don’t know what a comfortable place we have arranged for them behind the bars.”

And so, as North Dakota progressed, so did the Devils Lake city jail—in hopes it would soon hold more prisoners to make its many improvements worthwhile.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


The Bismarck Tribune, February 1, 1924, p1

North Dakota Place Names – p48