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Dry State


When Benjamin Harrison signed legislation turning Dakota Territory into the states of North and South Dakota on November 2, 1889, both entered the union as dry states. With both states populated by characters of the Wild West, and with saloons, bars, brawls, and debauchery commonplace, the prohibition against alcohol was certainly a bone of contention. In 1895, South Dakota repealed the dry laws, but North Dakota continued on with them, and in 1915 even approved laws to make the prohibition more severe.

Despite the ban of alcoholic beverages, residents still attempted to sell, buy, and make alcohol, although their products and equipment could be seized by government officials. As a result, in 1917, Morton County claimed the "unique distinction" of having a great deal of alcohol in store ... perhaps more than anywhere else in the state.

The Mandan Daily Pioneer quoted on unnamed Morton County official as saying: "Well, I'm going to store some more stuff in the saloon. Want to see it? Biggest and best wine cellar in the northwest, and the most completely stocked."

Barrels and cases of wine, beer, whiskey, and even champagne, lined the county’s so-called "saloon" – all taken from blindpiggers and bootleggers and others of that type. The stash included forty-six hundred gallons of wine, which had been seized at Hebron two years prior. This county "wine cellar" held another 2500 gallons taken just a few months prior.

By this date in 1917, there was an estimated $9,700 worth of alcohol stored in Morton County...though much of it was being contested by those from whom it was taken.

According to the Mandan Daily Pioneer, the storage room was securely locked -- padlocked, with the key kept in a safe deposit box at one of the banks in Mandan – though which bank was unspecified.

North Dakota would not gain a reprieve for some years, of course, as the entire United States would fall under prohibition and remain there from 1919 through 1933. More alcohol would be seized in those years. In fact, the "largest still in N.D. history" was taken in Mandan in 1928. It was 14 feet long, and steam operated.

Prohibition created some serious conflicts, but it didn't stop humorous songs, such as one recorded by Billy Murray in New Jersey in 1919, in which he asked, "How are you goin' to wet your whistle when the whole darn world goes dry?"

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker



Mandan Daily Pioneer, August 23, 1917