Black flags flapped over the heads of the team of horses that wound their way through the city of Jamestown on the morning of July 1, 1890.

The solemn occasion wasn’t the death of a beloved citizen but the start of prohibition in the new state of North Dakota. The horses sporting the black flags belonged to Bauer’s Brewery and was picking up the empty kegs from the night before.

The North Dakota Constitution approved the year before included a.section mandating prohibition in the state effective July 1, 1890.

That meant the last night for the saloon industry was June 30, 1890, although last call may have extended past midnight into July prompting The Jamestown Alert to include the headline “Sounds of revelry heard last night long after the saloons closed.”

Bauer Brewery had a relatively short history in Jamestown. Philip Bauer bought the brewery in 1886 and then had most of the operation burn down in 1887. The only portion that survived was the keg storage area that was cooled by the ice stored in the basement of the area.

Bauer rebuilt bigger and better than ever with steam heating throughout the brew house. A contractor from Milwaukee that specialized in steam heating systems was in Jamestown that summer and worked on projects at the State Hospital, Gladstone Hotel and the offices of The Jamestown Alert.

By April 1888, the brewery was operating again and brought a pint by the Alert offices which proclaimed it “a finer article than ever.”

But two years later Bauer was out of business as prohibition went into effect.

Not all the saloons of Jamestown immediately closed. At least one moved his operation to Minnesota but others stayed open in Jamestown selling soft drinks, cigars and games of pool.

Besides, the North Dakota prohibition clause of the constitution had a loophole that they could utilize.

The constitution prohibited the buying, selling or giving away of alcohol but a United States Supreme Court ruling determined a state could only legislate or control the actions of its residents. This was interpreted as meaning state law didn’t apply to alcohol manufactured and packaged in another state.

“Some of the boys celebrated,” wrote the Alert, “but the majority concluded that as long as original packages can be secured, there is no cause for demonstration.”

In the months following, cities passed license ordinances allowing “original package” stores. A person could go to one of those stores and buy a beer or bottle of liquor as long as it was still in the packaging from an out-of-state manufacturer. The buyer could even drink on the premises if they opened the bottle themselves.

Those loopholes were closed over the next years and the era speakeasies and moonshiners came to North Dakota.

But in the first years after prohibition came to North Dakota it seemed to only apply to the manufacture of alcohol in North Dakota and the black flags over the beer wagon horses signaled the end of a steam-powered business in Jamestown.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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