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Illegal Alcohol


The illegal purveyance of alcohol played a significant part in the first forty-five years of North Dakota’s history. The court dockets were filled with rum runners and moonshiners. Multitudes of ingenious stills, such one cleverly hidden in a room dug under a pig sty, provided extra income for cash-strapped farmers during the dry years. Canadian whiskey slipped into the state hidden under the floorboards or in the trunks of powerful cars that were designed to out run the law. Lawmen such as Dana Wright carried Thompson machine guns, and running firefights took place on the back roads of North Dakota.

Among those opposing the sale of alcohol was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which saturated the newspapers with items that read like this, “The saloon is a drunkery... where the tread of woman is her everlasting shame, where childhood to enter is everlasting wreck and ruin, where men gather only to shut themselves in from the outside world, ...where the designing villain sells his poison for greed, to bloated, blear-eyed wrecks of humanity... where no man goes in for an hour and comes out as good as he went in.” The WCTU and the ministerial organizations were effective, not only in making prohibition a plank in the state constitution but in making sure that the laws were enforced.

So, it was not unusual that the newspapers were filled with articles on the illegal alcohol trafficking such as the one that chronicled a series of arrests beginning on this date in 1918. An article appeared in the Williston Graphic stating simply, “Half of Mondak Moved to Williston.” Mondak was a small town on the Montana/North Dakota border that existed for the sole purpose of supplying legal Montana liquor to thirsty North Dakotans. Congress had just passed the Wartime Prohibition Act, which banned the sale of hard liquor, and it was fairly certain that National Prohibition was just around the corner, so all law enforcement eyes were carefully watching the highway and back roads in and out of Mondak.

Rum runners from across the state were trying to get what they could before the supplies dried up. Numerous arrests were made, including two Minot men carrying over two thousand dollars worth of whiskey. A little over a year later, the rest of the United States joined North Dakota when Prohibition was enacted. Rum running and moonshining continued in the state, but now with the federal lawmen and the Enforcement League with people like “Shoot-to Kill” Watkins on the trail, the stakes were a lot higher.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Williston Graphic December 12, 1918; December 4, 1902