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A Sleeping Town Awakes


Delores Diamond

A visitor looks at Humboldt and wonders what the inhabitantsdo for excitement. But, the people can recall the time when excitement wasplentiful, especially during the days of Prohibition.

The background for Prohibition began in 1785, when Dr.Benjamin Rush published the pamphlet, "An Inquiry into the Effect ofSpirituous Liquors on the Human Body and Mind." His contempt for spiritsled to the formation of the worlds first temperance society.

The Moses of American temperance was Dr. Dioclesian Lewis,who led drunkards to the promised dry land. During a temperance lectureat Hillsboro, Ohio, on December 23, 1873, the doctor called for volunteersto form a visitation band. This band would sing hymns and pray at saloonsuntil they closed their doors. This idea became a nation wide rum rebellionthat lasted less than eight months, but caused 30,000 saloons to shut down.

Dr. Lewis brought forth the formation of the Womens ChristianTemperance Union and the Anti Saloon League. These two organizations broughtabout national prohibition.

When America entered World War I, the temperance troopsswung into action on the home front. The 18th amendment was passed by Congressand ratified by the states with "the speed of a hung-over souse downinga quick-one."(1)

The 18th amendment, or the Volstead Act, stated that liquorto be used as a beverage must not be manufactured. The entire nation wentdry January 16, 1919.

On January 17, 1919, Humboldt remained the same as it wason the 16th of January. Humboldt is located seven miles from the Canadianborder. James J. Hill, the railroad magnate, owned the townsite and plattedit. He also stated in the grant that no hard liquor could be sold in Humboldt.So, Humboldt remained a sleepy farming community until bootleggers recognizedthe ideal location of the town.

Bootlegging had become the largest industry in the nation,employing 8,000 persons and grossing an annual revenue of about 4 billiondollars. (2) Humboldt saw smugglers importing intoxicating liqours intothe United States and also saw those who made home-brew and homemade winessell their goods to the bootleggers.

My father, Harvey Diamond, was a young boy of eight whenbootleggers made their "runs" through Humboldt. Many times hewas herding sheep along the road when the bootleggers raced by. He recalledthe big Lincolns, Cadillacs and Willys that they drove. The bootleggerswere always ahead and the law officials far in the horizon putting alongin their Chevies and Fords. Bootleggers often his from the law or restedin his dad's (Herbert Diamond) barn. Harvey and his brother Hurdis wouldsneak up into the loft and talk to these men. It must have been a boy'sdream to talk to a real live gangster. Although Harvey wasn't old enoughto go to a "Blind Pig" he knew of them. These were a match tothe speakeasys of the cities. The name originated from the small hole thatthe owner peeked through to identify customers. Once inside the customersdrank like pigs. At dances the refreshment stands sold 25 and 5 cent pop.Everyone knew what was in the 25 cent pop.

Stills were quite common in the Humboldt area. It was notunlawful to make non-intoxicating juice in one's private dwelling or possessintoxicating liquor providing it was purchased before prohibition. If thegrape juice happened to ferment or bottles seemed to refill themselves wasall just a coincidence. Because of these loop-holes bootleggers found agood source for their liquor. Most people in Humboldt made home-brew forfamily use only and did very little business with the bootleggers.

Keeping law and order was a hard job everywhere in theUnited States. Kittson County was luck to have Elmer Pearson as their sheriff.He was born in Granville township. His father, Ole Pearson, had been bornin Sweden and is my grandfather's (Oliver Pearson) uncle. Prior to his electionin 1920 Elmer Pearson had been a road contractor for four years. Elmer wasa natural for sheriff so far as physique or physical frame and general abilitywere concerned. He was a finger print expert and knew no fear. Once elected,Elmer Pearson was given credit for arresting many notorious criminals. Hewas rated among police aggregations within the state and nation as wellas Canadian officers as one of the best sheriffs in Minnesota.(3)

One incident that my father remembered involved sheriffPearson and his bravery. A bootlegger raced by in his car. Sheriff Pearsonwas close behind. As the bootlegger turned off on a country road to escape,the sheriff closed the gap. Both cars speeded up. The bootlegger's cameto a bridge far ahead of sheriff Pearson. As they sailed over the bridgethey realized there was no bridge. (It had been washed out by a previousrain.) Sheriff Pearson apprehended the bootleggers and placed them in thecounty jail. Bail was soon paid and the bootleggers left town. But, theywould be wary of sheriff Pearson the next time they were in the area.

Very few captures involved gun fire. There was really noneed, for once captured the bootleggers had only to pay bail and then theywould be free to go. By capturing many law violaters, sheriff Pearson broughta large sum of money into Kittson county.

The following are excerpts from issues of the Kittson CountyEnterprise. These are taken from the column "In Days Gone By".The date given is the issue in which the article first appeared.

August 14, 1925
It is known that the low flying airplanes observed in this area are mostlikely liquor running. So far officers have not been able to find theirlanding places as they keep changing them and they are too speedy to getto by car.

September 4, 1925
Sheriff Elmer Pearson and federal officers have again been busy this week.They have picked up and lodged in jail seven bootleggers and liquor runners.Uncle Sam has five more automobiles to dispose of.

September 25, 1925
Sheriff Pearson and U.S. Customs officials captured James Harrison and JamesDickerson of Omaha, Nebraska on Wednesday morning. The two men, drivinga Lincoln Sedan, which was loaded with 42 cases of Canadian Liquor, madeaway with goods valued at $5,000. They were stopped at a point six milessoutheast of Robbin. During the past ten days, 12 cars have been capturedand 300 cases of liquor have been found.

November 6, 1925
Two cars, one a Willys Knight sedan and a big Buick were picked up by theBorder Patrol this week. Both were loaded with Canadian liquor.

August 21, 1925
The Border Patrol picked up three more cars this week all loaded with liquor.The cars are a Franklin, Cadillac and Chevrolet. They contained 80 casesof liquor and 40 cases of beer.

December 15, 1925
The December term of court has opened and there are 8 cases on the calendar.Two cases involved illegal sale of intoxicating liquor.

December 25, 1925
Sheriff Pearson set up a real net of police officers just north of here(Hallock) when he was notified of an armed robbery in Winnipeg. The banditswho were believed to heading south in this area held up the Manitoba LiquorCommission store and made good with $15,000.

Humboldt was a sleepy community, but it certainly sat upand took notice when the Cadillacs raced through town, or the neighbor'sstill blew up. All this is gone now, but it will always be remembered bythose people who lived it. Perhaps, the families of these people will beas fortunate as I was to hear of the exciting lives their parents and grandparentslived. They will be able to hear tales that we can only watch on a moviescreen. Humboldt has returned to its sleepy life waiting for some excitementto race by in a Lincoln or perhaps, a rocket ship. Who knows?

(1) Harrity, Richard "The Wild Story of Prohibition"LOOK January 21, 1969

(2) Ibid.




Diamond, Harvey. Personal Interview February 12, 1969.

Harrity, Richard. "The Wild Story of Prohibition"LOOK January 21, 1969.

Lord Walter. THE GOOD YEARS. Bantam Pathfinder Editions1960.

Mowery, George E. THE TWENTIES FORDS, FLAPPERS, & FANATICS.Prentice-Hall, Inc., c 1963

S. Bantam Pathfinder Editions1960.

Mowery, George E. THE TWENTIES FORDS, FLAPPERS, & FANATICS.Prentice-Hall, Inc., c 1963