Enforcing North Dakota’s prohibition laws was a challenge for law enforcement officers for about the first 43 years the state existed.
A century ago, June 1921, the Stutsman County sheriff even had to chase down the same illegal goods twice.
The story begins when officials made a sizable booze bust down around Millarton. According to the newspaper reports, 42 cases of “good stuff” was confiscated in the raid and a South Dakota man was arrested.
Records of the era show the booze was stored in the Stutsman County Courthouse, most likely in the basement of what is now the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site.
James Smith, the alleged South Dakota booze runner, was held in the old Stutsman County Jail until he posted $1,000 in bond.
The old Stutsman County Jail was demolished in the 1980s to make room for the current Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center.
Then state officials showed up with an order from the attorney general the 42 cases of the good stuff be transported to Bismarck for storage.
That move made the reporters of The Jamestown Alert suspicious.
"Considerable inquiry has been made of late as to what becomes of the whiskey captured by county officials and others and which has been taken to Bismarck,” wrote the Alert in a June 16, 1921 edition of the paper. “The question is raised, is the whiskey being disposed of according to law, or is some other disposition made of it?”
Maybe they thought state officials were planning a big party for July 4. Anyway, it wasn’t just the news media that was suspicious of the state’s plans for the 42 cases of the good stuff.
Stutsman County State’s Attorney Louis Tellner got an order from Judge R.G. McFarland that the good stuff be returned to the Stutsman County Courthouse immediately and held as potential evidence in a future trial.
Armed with that court order, Sheriff Dana Wright set off, I’m assuming at a high rate of speed, and caught up to the state officials at Cleveland where he again took custody of the booze.
The wheels of justice turned rapidly back then. Cases sometimes went to court within days of an arrest.
In this case though, justice wasn’t really all that organized.