Dakota Datebook

Lidgerwood Saloons

Friday, November 16, 2012


In October of 1889, the Constitution of North Dakota was approved by a vote of 27,471 to 8,107 however the prohibition plank was approved by a margin of only 673 votes. Almost fifty percent of the voters did not want prohibition, but it passed, creating an enforcement problem throughout the state until National Prohibition was approved with the Volstead Act in 1919.


On this date in 1905, the City of Lidgerwood was under the spotlight for refusing to stop the blind piggers – saloon operators – who were openly selling liquor in the city. The city fathers had a system set up where the bar owners would come in each month and pay a fine for violating the city and state laws, but no attempt was made to shut them down.


When a crusading mayor named J. A. Morrow was elected, he made it known that all illegal operations of dispensing alcohol within the city would be prosecuted. This had the immediate effect of closing down the saloons, but many people in Lidgerwood did not object to the availability of intoxicating beverages. They felt the presence of the saloons actually enhanced the business climate, and they approached the members of the city council with their concerns.


Aldermen, W. S. Goolsby, J. A. Kotchian and Frank Johoda confronted Mayor Morrow to find out how long his order against the saloons would be in force. Morrow replied that it would remain in effect until, in his words, “the present mayor was out of office.” The alderman, besieged by the pro saloon elements of the city, stated that if the order was not rescinded they would resign, at which point Mayor Morrow tendered his resignation instead.


As word of the mayor’s resignation spread, two of the saloons immediately opened for business. With Alderman Goolsby president of the city council, he let it be known that the system of fines would return – but any other illegal operations in the form of public gambling or bawdy houses would not be allowed.


It was a short-lived decision, however, as the public disclosure of the city council actions brought county and state attention to the deliberate violation of the State Constitution. The aldermen were questioned by county and state authorities. Within a few weeks, under court order, Deputy Sheriff W. P. Robbins made a series of trips to Lidgerwood to destroy the saloons, including the bar fixtures and liquor stocks. Former Mayor Morrow left for San Diego for health reasons, and the liquor traffic in Lidgerwood, like in most towns in North Dakota, went underground.


Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis




Lidgerwood Broadax October 26, 1905; November 19, 1905; December 14, 1905


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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