Liquor once flowed freely on both sides of the Red River at Fargo and Moorhead, but when North Dakota statehood came, saloons had to be closed by July 1, 1890. Moorhead saloons quickly filled the gap, offering free transportation to Fargoans still needing a lawful drink. That liaison lasted until Clay Countians voted dry in 1915, closing Moorhead’s saloons ahead of national prohibition in 1920. But intoxicants of questionable need were available before and after prohibition in both states. North Dakota’s 1895 Druggist Permit Amendment allowed physicians and drug store owners to administer alcohol for medicinal and sacramental purposes. In 1923, a 640-gallon shipment of alcohol disguised as hair tonic was seized at the NP freight depot in Moorhead.
Prohibition Laws (ND and MN)
North Dakota’s territorial days were full of liquor and saloons. In 1887 counties were given the choice to vote to go dry. The entire state went dry when it was admitted to the Union on November 2, 1889. It was the first state to be admitted with a prohibition clause in its constitution. All saloons in the state had to be closed by July 1, 1890. At this time Minnesota was still a wet state. Fargo and Moorhead had opposing liquor laws for 26 years. Counties in Minnesota were given the option to go dry in 1915. Clay County ended its wild and wet days on July 1, 1915 by voting to go dry. National prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920. Prohibition years lasted until December 1933 when both Minnesota and North Dakota voted to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment.
Jag wagons were a free transportation system sponsored by Moorhead saloons to bring thirsty customers from Fargo over the river to wet Clay County. They were commonly a large wagon pulled by a single horse that operated day and night. The main pick up station was on NP Ave just east of Broadway in Fargo. Jag wagon drivers got in trouble for delivering booze orders across the river and even transporting North Dakota Native Americans to Moorhead in order to drink. Fargo had hoped passage of a new streetcar law franchise would put jag wagons out of business, but the free rides still continued until 1913.
The lower class version of a speakeasy, blind pigs popped up all over Fargo-Moorhead during Prohibition. The name came from owners of these establishments charging a fee to see an attraction, such as an animal (pig) and then providing alcoholic beverages. Newspapers from the time period were littered with arrests and raids of local blind pigs. If found guilty, blind pig owners could be fined up to $1,000 and sent to jail for up to a year.
In 1895 North Dakota passed the Druggist Permit Amendment. This allowed physicians and drug store owners to administer alcohol for medicinal and sacramental purposes. A permit could be obtained by submitting a signed petition by 25 reputable community members and a bond of $1,000. Prescriptions for alcohol were supposed to be only a half a pint per sale and only for emergency cases. Christianson’s Drug Store in Fargo was one such place a person could get alcohol legally. Common orders were whiskey for heart disease and liniment brandy for fever. Friday nights were busy down at Christianson’s as people stocked up for the weekend. Mr. Christianson was eventually accuses of running a blind pig and forced to go to court.
Hair Tonic Case
In 1923, 640 gallons of alcohol disguised as hair tonic was confiscated at the Northern Pacific freight depot located at 15th Ave and 2nd Ave Moorhead. The shipment was postmarked to Franklin Drug and Distributing Co. of Moorhead, which did not exist, from a warehouse in the Twin Cities. After investigation, it was thought that 7,600 gallons of the 85% grain alcohol was being stored Minneapolis.
With the implantation of Prohibition, some citizens of North Dakota turned to smuggling alcohol into the state. As time progressed, the illegal sales of booze increased as the sellers became better organized and more skilled at evading the authorities. Police officers from Minot decided to take a stand and ‘befriended’ some of the bootleggers so they could help them hide the alcohol on ‘farms’ and later confiscate it. Bootleggers had developed an effective system, however, that could sometimes spoil the authorities’ plans. Lights were left burning in upstairs rooms of farmhouses along roads stretching from Minot to Canada to warn smugglers of police officers who were on duty in the area. These systems were so efficient that the price of whiskey began dropping because the illegal supply had increased so much. People also went ‘clubbing’ together to cut down on the high prices. Authorities were having such difficulty apprehending bootleggers that they often pulled over cars full of innocent ladies at gunpoint.
-Intro to Museums Class, 2012
I am writing up an archaeological report on saloons in Moorhead and I am interested to know what sources were used for this information if that is possible.
Sorry to be so slow to respond–I don’t check the comments on the site often because there are so few of them. The students used newspapers and other sources found in the NDSU Archive and the HCSCC. They also spoke to Mark Piehl, archivist at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. He can point you to the best sources on this subject.
North Dakota State University