I’m not sure where the police headquarters and city jail were in 1896 Jamestown. It would appear from the newspaper records of the day the facilities were located in downtown Jamestown close to the Gladstone Hotel.
The Gladstone was located right about where the current business carrying that name is located.
The May 21, 1896, edition of The Jamestown Alert reported the residents of the area filed a petition with the Jamestown City Council to declare the city’s police headquarters a public nuisance.
To be clear, the residents were concerned more with the jail and the inmates it housed than the police headquarters and the officers who worked there.
They simply wanted the city to move the “police headquarters to a less conspicuous and public place where the eyes and ears of passersby and women and school children will not be offended by the sight of, and foul language from, crazy drunks, and arrests in general,” wrote the Alert.
Well, crazy drunks can be disruptive and loud.
Those drunks weren’t just bothering women and children walking in downtown Jamestown. The jail's proximity to the Gladstone Hotel was “exceedingly annoying” reported the Alert.
The Gladstone was considered one of the best hotels along the Northern Pacific Railroad between Minneapolis and Seattle. Except when the crazy drunks were carrying on.
“Guests were awakened and kept awake by the shouts, oaths and foulness that has proceeded from prisoners in the lockup,” the Alert reported.
While the public and management of the Gladstone Hotel wanted the jail moved, I’m not sure the finances of the city of Jamestown was up to the task.
In the same article, the Alert reported the city had about $1,000 in outstanding warrants on the general fund and another $650 owed to the engineers for work on the sewer system the previous year.
Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $60,000 in debt and really not bad compared to the financial operations of modern city government.
The trouble was, the Jamestown general fund had a balance of just $269 at the beginning of May.
In fact, city finances were so bad the city council considered instituting a poll tax. The tax has nothing to do with voting but is simply a flat tax per person.
In North Dakota, the law allowed a poll tax of up to $1.50 per year on every male inhabitant between the age of 21 and 50 years of age.
The law did allow some exceptions for paupers, idiots and insane persons.
There was no mention of crazy drunks in jail in the exceptions allowed to the poll tax.
Author Keith Norman can be reached at www.KeithNormanBooks.com