NPS, Voyageurs National Park Prohibition

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Prohibition Sketch

The illegal production of alcohol was common in the border lakes due to the remoteness of the region. (Mundus Bishop)

Dusty Rhodes

The Spirit of St. Louis County operated by bush pilot Dusty Rhodes of Kingston and Rhodes Airways, ca1930 at Crane Lake. (VNP Catalog 1450)

Crane Lake Area

Map of Crane Lake by Charles L. Gilman, 1930. Illegal activities abounded in the border lakes during Prohibition, including bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, and organized crime. People and places associated with illegal activities were found throughout the area: the Filben/St. Paul Club, the McMullin Cabin, Brown Cabin, Kettle Falls Hotel, and the Borderland Lodge. (Mundus Bishop, VNP Archives)

Jug Cache Site

Moonshine jugs from Kettle Falls. The Kettle Falls Hotel offered alcohol during Prohibition and was only occasionally raided by the authorities. (VNP Catalog 104-106)

In 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Prohibition Amendment, was passed by the United States Congress. The amendment banned the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. The Volstead Act, the name of the enabling legislation, had its roots in the national temperance movement of the 1880s, led by organizations such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU, the Anti-Saloon League, and the Prohibition Party.

During the 1920s the Voyageurs National Park area was an ideal location for a 'blind pig' (or speakeasy) for the illegal sale of liquor. The remoteness of the area made it difficult for authorities to locate a distillery, and the proximity of the Canadian border allowed for relatively easy smuggling of booze. Although they were occasionally raided, resorts in the area, including the Kettle Falls Hotel, offered alcohol and were able to conceal the illicit activity from the authorities. According to neighboring communities, the area was inhabited by a band of lawless moonshiners, bootleggers, dope peddlers, and prostitutes, who were supported by the lumber companies. It was difficult for companies to find enough men to work in the lumber camps. Some companies provided prostitutes and alcohol at places like Kettle Falls to keep lumberjacks in camp. Once lumberjacks were separated from their money, they had to continue to work. Lawlessness was reported to the police, but the police were either corrupt or warned "to mind their own business, or else-."

Prohibition was not agreed upon universally. Most of Minnesota's population favored moderation rather than total abstinence. The year the Volstead Act passed, Minnesota had thirty-seven breweries producing over a million barrels of fermented liquors, distributed to more than 3,000 retail liquor dealers. In 1915 a "county option" bill was passed by the Minnesota legislature. This allowed individual counties to vote themselves dry. The County of Koochiching, which includes portions of present-day Voyageurs National Park, voted to go dry that year. A year later, the authorities in International Falls began a battle with blind piggers (illegal producers of alcohol) and bootleggers (illegal transporters of alcohol) who found the remoteness of the region an ideal place to do business. For the next eighteen years, authorities would feebly attempt to enforce the Volstead Act.

Prohibition had several unintended consequences. It was difficult to enforce, primarily because there was public demand for alcohol, and illegal production and consumption of alcohol made otherwise ordinary citizens into criminals. Bootlegging, gambling, prostitution,organized crime, extortion, robbery, murder, and corruption all rose with Prohibition. Corruption of officials and lawlessness abounded, particularly in St. Paul. The city became a haven for gangsters such as John Dillinger, Babyface Nelson, Roger "the Terrible" Touhy, Machine Gun Kelly, Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, and the Barker gang. Some of these gentlemen vacationed in the border lakes at Tom Filben's hideout on Trout Lake (present-day Mukooda Lake). They found it relatively easy to evade the law in the remote northern part of Minnesota. Other men associated with the underworld had vacation cabins on Sand Point and Crane Lakes including Tom Brown, the St. Paul police chief and police detective William McMullen.

Smuggling booze across the international border was common. A bush pilot from Virginia, Minnesota named Dusty Rhodes flew his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis County across the border in the 1920s to 1930s. During Prohibition, he hauled illegal beer, whiskey, and beaver furs across the border in the Sand Point/Crane Lake area. After years of eluding U.S. and Canadian rangers, he was finally caught by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at a resort on Lac la Croix in 1931.

Learn More!

Sound DocumentPilot Dusty Rhodes | Transcript

Don Bowser, who lived on Crane Lake, recalls Dusty Rhodes and his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis County.

Sound DocumentSecrets of Blind Pig Island | Transcript

A blind pig, as described by Oliver Knox.

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