During Prohibition, some North Dakotans illegally produced and transported liquor for the consumption of the masses. From 1920 to 1933, bootleggers smuggled whisky from Canada across the border and into North Dakota to be transported to Minnesota in their “whisky-sixes” –powerful six-cylinder cars. Breaking the Prohibition laws was said to be a “thrilling North Dakota sport,” and the state’s chief enforcement officer, F.L. Watkins, said “an average of 200 automobile loads a month, 20 cases [of whisky] to a load” passed through North Dakota in 1921.
The “whisky-runners,” or “rum-runners,” and those who made moonshine whisky, were looking to make a few extra bucks. North Dakota’s alcohol during Prohibition came from a number of sources – from big organized-crime syndicates to local farmers making moonshine whisky, known as “home brew.”
On this date, ninety years ago, a small-time moonshiner named Edward C. Schiewek found himself on the wrong side of the law. Schiewek, of German ancestry, had a farm two miles east of Ryder, forty miles southwest of Minot.
In the morning hours, Deputy Sheriff W.E. Slaybaugh and federal Prohibition agents raided Schiewek’s farm. The farmer’s basement they found a whiskey still along with five gallons of moonshine and a large quantity of mash. The same day, authorities raided another house in Ryder, but found no booze.
Schiewek, who had a wife and six children, faced criminal charges in Minot the next day. A typical penalty for moonshining in the early 1920s called for a sentence of 90 days in jail and a two-hundred dollar fine, plus fifty dollars for costs. Some judges suspended the jail-time and the fine and had the moonshiner pay only $50 for the costs of the trial – just a slap on the wrist. Other judges insisted on applying all the penalties.
Ultimately, making alcohol illegal did not make alcohol go away. The state Constitution had banned alcohol in 1889, but that didn’t work, and the double prohibition in the 1920s didn’t work, either, but made prices of contraband alcohol go higher and made profits ever-greater. The risks of getting caught did not prevent bootleggers like Schiewek from making moonshine.
As one commentator said: “Prohibition made common men criminals, and made criminals common.” It was a time when the Canadian border was porous with rum-running; moonshiners turned golden grain into whisky; and speakeasies proliferated in an underground economy.
Dakota Datebook written by Jacob Clauson and Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
“Farmer Charged,” Minot Daily News, August 25, 1923.
“North Dakota Held ‘Little Belgium’ in Illicit Rum Traffic,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 28, 1920, p. 7.
“North Dakota Rum Running Called Heavy,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 13, 1921, p. A2.
“Breaking Amendment Eighteen Is Thrilling North Dakota Sport,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, September 11, 1920, p. 34.
“Three Get Jail,” Bismarck Tribune, December 22, 1923, p. 2.
“Two Found Guilty In Court Here,” Bismarck Daily Tribune, June 2, 1922, p. 3.
“3 Guilty In Liquor Cases,” Bismarck Tribune, May 5, 1923, p. 1.
“Pleads Guilty To Charge of Sale Of Liquor,” Bismarck Tribune, March 7, 1921, p. 8.
“Sentenced on Booze Charge,” Bismarck Tribune, May 15, 1922, p. 1.
“Woman Is Bootlegger,” Minot Daily News, June 22, 1923, p. 8.
“Next up on the State’s Social Agenda: Marijuana,” Star-Tribune [Minneapolis], July 21, 2013, p. OP3.
“Edward C. Schiewek,” 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Cameron Township, Ward County, ND.