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The United States Customs


Kathy Ohmann


The United States customs service is the oldest law enforcementagency in the United States government. The customs man's job is to collectduty in three different ways. One kind is duty free, another is called specificwhere they charge according to the amount in weight or volume. The thirdis ad valorem which is according to value.

In costs the United States about 8 cents for every dollarof duty collected, leaving a profit of 92 cents. These last five years,the Kennedy rounds for free trade between countries has reduced the amountof value and duty. In Noyes, about 90% of the imported goods are duty free.

The customs service is one of the two agencies in the UnitedStates that make money. The money collected by customs in the 1790's andearly 1800's supported the entire expense of the nation. Today, customscollect about 3% to 4%. The Noyes Pembina ports collected only about 2 1/2to 3 million dollars last year. The only other agency that makes money forthe government is the Internal Revenue Service. It collects about 75 to80 billion dollars.

The customs service has about 8,000 men employed in theUnited States. The Noyes-Pembina ports have 17 men. The men have three differentjobs. Inspect all incoming vehicles, count and keep track of every car andloaded trucks, and inspect the freight trains and the airports at GrandForks and Winnipeg.

Pembina is the headquarters for all this area across NorthDakota and east to Baudette, Minnesota. James J. Hill's early railroad,steamboat transportation, and the ox cart fur trading business encouragedpeople to settle here.

Pembina's first collector of customs was Charles Cavilier,the first white settler to locate on the Red River. He was sent by the governmentto assume the job of collector of customs. He acted as a handyman for everydepartment.

Pembina's first custom house and post office was locatedin a log cabin. The left portion of the building served as the family residencefor Charles Cavilier and family. The customs house served as headquartersfrom 1851 until transferred to the depot in 1891.

The advantage of the railroads were welcomed joyfully alongwith the passage down the river of the first steamboat added to the boomand prosperity of this portion of the valley. Pembina was destined to becomea port of great importance.

For a while, the Sioux breed had quite a paralyzing effectupon business, but the flight of the chief of the hostile tribes, LittleCrow, into British territory put an end to the Indian War. But the settlerswere kept in a state of excitement for some time due to the wild rumorsof fresh outbreaks and massacres. By 1892, however, Pembina became the headquartersfor the North and South Dakota territories.

In 1870, Pembina County comprised nearly half of what wasthen Minnesota territory, and by 1888, a collection district was establishedjust across the Red River in St. Vincent, Minnesota. Mr. O'Grady was St.Vincent's first collector. There were only three men working for the customsand they had the job of patrolling the border to look for smugglers as wellas inspecting the people and their baggage.

Since 1948, the Border Patrol has assumed the responsibilityof patrolling the border hunting for smugglers. Very little smuggling isattempted at the present time although there have been more exciting days.

In 1954 - 55, the Canadians had an embargo on the exportof Selkirk wheat. This was during the time when North Dakota's crops werehit hard by black stem rust. The farmers turned to Selkirk, a rust tolerantCanadian hard, red, spring wheat. The demand was great, the prices soaredand a flurry of illegal night border crossing took place. Auto chases ofgrain trucks occurred along roads where no customs officers were stationed,and turned up a lot of smugglers.

In 1905, the customs service moved to the depot at Noyes.The present building was used and completed in 1932. Its first custodianwas Frances Lindgren. The place had no name so some of the locals visiteda Mr. McKay and requested that the town be named after him. He refused butdirected them to a man names J. A. Noyes. Mr. Noyes was delighted at theidea and that's how Noyes got its name.

Before the 49th parallel was surveyed as the northern boundaryof the United States, the people believed the border to be nearly 1 1/2miles south of today's present border. The people of St. Vincent and Pembinathought the border to be just on the outskirts of town. One old priest whohad a mission just north of Pembina believed he built his church in Canadianterritory. When the 49th parallel survey was completed, it was found thatthe church was in the United States. Since the priest was a Canadian andwished to remain so, he moved his entire parish north two miles.

In 1890, there was a great flood in the Red River Valley.All of St. Vincent was under water. Mr. James J. Hill, the railroad empirebuilder, offered to pay the costs of the removal of every house in St. Vincent.He said they should move it to where Cal's Junction is now. But the peoplerefused, they loved living along the river bank which fathered a heavy growthof oak, elm, box elders, and poplar trees. The place of James J. Hill hadchosen wasn't nearly as attractive.

In the 1800's and early 1900's, every person and vehicleentering the United States had to be registered. This system was ended in1941 because where once a 100 people crossed, now there are 1,000 and thissystem became too awkward.

Reservation Indians and Indians that are at least 50% Indiando not have to register. This is stated in a treaty which the United Stateshad with Great Britain in the 1700's.

There are two interesting smuggling stories which haveto do with a customs agent in Noyes named Bud Feldman. He died about threeyears ago. One story states that Bud wanted an outlaw for smuggling thingsinto the United States. The outlaw had been captured by Royal Canadian MountedPolice in Emerson. He was not wanted in Canada but was captured becauseof his "wanted posters." Mr. Feldman wanted to catch this outlawso he talked the R.C.M.P. into letting him go. Together, they made plansfor the outlaw's escape. The outlaw was doubtful but he didn't want to stayin the jail any longer than he had to.

The R.C.M.P. showed the man the way to the Red River andgave him a map. They even provided him with a boat. The outlaw found hisway to the Red River and from there he was on his own. He got in his boatand rowed until he was on the American side. The first thing he saw wasthe barrel of Bud Feldman's gun pointed in his face.

Another story is that Bud found out that some men weresmuggling sheep into the United States from Canada. They would bring themin a truck at night on a dirt road far from the regular customs house. Therethey would herd the sheep across the border to sell them. One night, justbefore the smugglers arrived, Bud moved the border signs one mile north.When the trucks came and unloaded the sheep, while in the United States,Bud moved in and arrested them for having crossed the border without reporting.

Last summer, 25 pounds of hashish, which would be equalto about 100,000 pounds of marijuana was found by the Warroad customs andBorder Patrol. It started when a young lady and her baby boarded the buswith two trunks. The bus stopped at the customs to be inspected before enteringthe United States. When the inspector asked her to open her trunks for inspectionshe said she had no key but that the trunks belonged to another man whowould be crossing the border within a hour or so and he had the keys. So,the inspector ordered the bus driver to unload the trunks at the borderuntil the rightful owner came to identify them. The inspector became suspiciousand asked the border patrol to keep a close watch over the girl as she wasplanning to leave the bus in Warroad, about ten miles south of the customshouse.

About an hour later, a man driving a U-Drive car arrivedat the border for inspection. Upon questioning by the inspector, this manwas describes as the owner of the trunk by the lady. He denied any knowledgeor ownership of the trunks. The inspector knew that one of the two wasn'ttelling the truth so he again asked the border patrol to keep a close watchover this man and his car.

The man drove directly to the place in Warroad where thewoman was staying. He was scared to go back and get the trunk so he calledand asked him to get the trunks. The taxi driver refused because he knewhe would be unable to obtain them. The man noticed the Border Patrol watchinghim intently through his field glasses. He panicked and the lady and himdrove away fast. The Border Patrol gave chase and caught them. The firstwords the man said were, "It's back in the trunk." The BorderPatrol wondered what was in the trunk so they drove back to the Warroadcustoms. The Border Patrol informed the custom inspector of what had happenedand the trunks were opened. They were empty. The man said that the hashishwas stored between the walls. The sides were opened and they found the packages.These 25 pounds would have sold for over 115,000 dollars on the U.S. trademarkets. The peculiar thing about it was that the man confessed to everythinghe knew. He said there would be five trunks like these coming from France.Two other similar trunks were caught at Boston's trunk. The last hasn'tbeen found yet.

The man and the girl were released and followed by policemeninto California. They hope these two will lead them to the big wheels butso far they haven't.

This week in Miami they caught 200 pounds of heroin thatwould be worth about 30,000,000. Following the seizure, the customs madea raid on the place the heroin had been addressed and found another 200pounds. This was by far the largest catch.

With these stories and history of the customs, I have triedto show what a great help the customs service and the men working for ithave been for our country. I hope the people will cooperate better withthem in the future.



History of the Red River Valley (Vol. I, II) Herald PrintingCo. & C. F. Cooper & Co. c 1909

Lapp, Lillian, Interview, St. Vincent, Minnesota, January2, 1972

Christopher, Alfred, Interview, Pembina, North Dakota,January 3, 1972

Steffen, Bernard, Interview, Pembina, North Dakota, January3, 1972

Gooselaw, Eli, Interview, St. Vincent, Minnesota, December1, 1971

Miller, Sylvan, Interview, Humboldt, Minnesota, December1, 1971

Ohmann, Reuben, Interview, Noyes, Minnesota, January 2,1972

mber1, 1971

Miller, Sylvan, Interview, Humboldt, Minnesota, December1, 1971

Ohmann, Reuben, Interview, Noyes, Minnesota, January 2,1972