Amid Prohibition, a booze trove discovered in a North Dakota 'cave'
Inside, police found a large room 'filled to the roof with about every kind of intoxicating liquor consumed in this neck of the woods...'
BISMARCK — During the early years, Bismarck was right on the heels of Deadwood in lawlessness, violence and the selling of liquor. But, by the early 1900s, some Bismarck residents felt it was time to actually enforce prohibition. Saloons that carried on in secret were called “blind pigs,” and their beverages were either illegally produced locally or brought in from Canada by “runners.”
On April 25, 1907, a Bismarck Tribune headline read: “Thousand Dollars Worth of Booze Found in a Cave,” because Chief Carr found an ‘Unusual Quantity’ of ‘Joyful Water’ under a hill near Fifth Street. He and Temperance Commissioner Murray found a door reinforced with iron bars, so Carr got a shovel and burrowed under it. Inside, they found a 10- by 16-foot room “filled to the roof with about every kind of intoxicating liquor consumed in this neck of the woods...”
Commissioner Murray posted guards, and at dawn they packed the booze into five wagons and took it to the Capitol. The paper reported the cave was “the house of a thousand bottles, to say nothing of the barrels and boxes and cases and jugs and receptacles and containers and vessels and jars and other things in which the juice of the grape and the distillation of the corn is...contained.”
The next day, the paper gave a detailed inventory and reported, “...amid watering mouths and downcast eyes the stuff was taken into vaults and locked up to await the judicial verdict that shall consign it to mother earth, or send it up in vapors to lead the birds to new song and agitate the leaves of the trees with an unwonted glee.”
Otto Reimer admitted the stock was his and that he stored it there after his saloon was closed. He refused to officially claim it, though; he told officials to do what they wanted with it. So, they opened each container and tested the contents of each to determine “whether or not they were in the nature of an intoxicating liquor.” They were. The judge declared all should be destroyed.
On May 18, 1907, the Tribune reporter waxed poetic — in fact, it sounds like a eulogy:
Not a drum was heard or a funeral note
as the booze to the rampart was hurried;
not a toper fired a farewell shot, o’er the grave
where the bottles were buried.
They burned it swiftly at 2 o’clock,
when the shadows were eastward falling,
and many a mourner near died from shock
at the tragedy so appalling.
Hundreds of bottles of Blatz and Schlitz
that made Milwaukee famous
were flattened and shattered to little bits
when bitterness overcame us.
Barrels of whiskey with heads in caved
were rolled over hill and hollow
and earth, so thirsty was drenched and laved
till no one was left to swallow.
Barrels and bottles and casks and jugs
were opened and gently flowing
a mingled stream of stuff sought the bugs,
and up from the fresh earth blowing
came incense sweet as the breath of morn,
or fields in the Junetime splendid
when loosened spirits of rye and corn
in a perfume sweet were blended.
And Oh but the sight was sweet and sad –
this pouring of free libation
and Oh but the crashing was much and mad,
and would tickle Carrie Nation;
for such is the stuff that is full of woe
and trouble and fret and worry
and such is the cure that the stuff must know –
the cure whose first name is Murray...
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from Humanities North Dakota. It is edited for presentation on Forum Communication Co. sites by Jeremy Fugleberg, editor of The Vault. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.