Minot During Prohibition Days
Monday, September 9, 2013
Local and federal law enforcement officers had their work cut out for them during the Prohibition Era (1920-1933). The nation was divided over Prohibition; some believed the law could reform all Americans, while others saw nothing wrong with making liquor, selling it or drinking it.
Rumrunners and bootleggers and moonshiners abounded. The money involved in illegal liquor operations flowed so freely that the profits corrupted some government officials, who protected criminals. Such was the case in Minot with its proliferation of illicit “speakeasies” – saloons located in what was called “High Third” street on the west side of the downtown area. Numerous liquor establishments operated there before, during, and after Prohibition. Minot was a railroad city known as a “rough town.”
On this date in 1931, corruption charges came forth against City Commissioner “Nap” (Napoleon) LaFleur, who was in charge of the Minot police department. Five local citizens petitioned Governor George F. Shafer to suspend LaFleur for failing to “properly enforce the liquor laws.” The petition informed the governor that Commissioner LaFleur had said publicly that “the citizens of Minot who desired, could manufacture and sell intoxicating liquors” and that bootleggers could make and sell “beer for the purpose of making a living.” The complaint alleged that Commissioner LaFleur was assisting local bootleggers and that LaFleur had instructed local police to refrain from interfering with the moonshiners, many of whom were unemployed in those first years of the Great Depression. It was well known in Minot that Commissioner Nap LaFleur had been selling beer-making equipment and other bootlegging appliances in his hardware store. Governor Shafer acted on the petition, ordering a hearing in Minot on October 8. The prosecutor there, P.M. Clark of Mohall, however, recommended that the case be dismissed. At a final hearing before the governor, in Bismarck, on November 4th, lawyers from both sides failed to show up, and the controversy fizzled out.
Prohibition itself dissolved soon thereafter. When Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, Congress repealed Prohibition. In the depths of the Great Depression, all levels of government legalized alcohol in order to tax it. North Dakota’s state government expected to realize 125 to 150 million dollars annually in liquor revenues.
Perhaps it came as no surprise that some Minot saloonkeepers continued selling illegal alcohol to evade licensing fees and taxes even after Prohibition’s repeal.
Dakota Datebook written by Jacob Clauson and Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Sources: “Ask Governor to Suspend Police Commissioner LaFleur,” Ward County Independent, September 10, 1931.
“Governor Asks Bond From Group in Minot,” Bismarck Daily Tribune, September 11 1931, p. 2.
“Hearing On Charges Against Minot City Official Is Ordered,” Bismarck Tribune, September 19, 1931, p. 1.
“Campbell Is Named To Prosecute Friend,” Bismarck Tribune, September 22, 1931, p. 3.
“New Prosecutor Is Asked By Minot Men,” Bismarck Tribune, September 26, 1931, p. 3.
“Removal Hearing Fails To Mature,” Bismarck Tribune, November 4, 1931, p. 5.
Steve Hoffbeck, “Bootlegging and Prohibition in the Minot Area in the 1920s,” Our Neighborhood [Minot, ND], April 1996, p. 8-9.
“Removal of Commissioner Nap LaFleur Is Requested in Complaint to Governor,” Minot Daily News, September 8, 1931.
N.D. Department of Health, N.D. Public Death Index, Napoleon LaFleur died 11/05/1939, male, age 75, born 10/15/1864, Ward County.