The Midway District Blind Pig Raid (April 15, 1904)

The Midway District Blind Pig Raid (April 15, 1904)
April 16, 1904 Minneapolis Journal Article Title (Digital image)

In January 1885, Merriam Park was incorporated into the city limits of St. Paul. In negotiations, the parties involved agreed that no saloon would be licensed within a four-mile radius of the newly annexed area, beginning with Merriam Park at the center. This agreement included a portion of the 200-acre region to the north known as the Midway district.

Blind Pigs soon began to illegally sell intoxicating liquors along University Avenue from locations within the prohibited zone. By 1895, public drunkenness had become a familiar sight. While St. Paul officials had promised to clear the area of the illicit saloons, the problem continued. By 1902 it was reported the police knew of a handful of blind pigs in the Midway district, but did little to enforce the law against the illegal places.

Local citizens, frustrated with the lack of support from both city officials and the police, vowed to come together to close them all down permanently.

The Hamline Women's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) was among the first to take up the cause. According to the group, by 1903, the number of illegal saloons along University Avenue had climbed to at least a dozen. According to the organization, the ills of intoxicating liquors ruined families living in the district. These illegal blind pigs, allowed to run amok for years, needed to be stopped.

Saint Paul Assemblyman H.C. Schurmeier believed the problem in the Midway district was similar to an issue that took place throughout the city. While records showed nearly one-thousand locations paid federal taxes, only three hundred had registered for a local liquor license. Schurmeier later submitted a resolution to the city board of aldermen appropriating $500 to investigate 'blind pigs' in the Midway district, but the measure was defeated by a 10-1 margin.

City inspectors and other officials searched the area for 'blind pigs' but found none existed. The investigative process involved a uniformed police officer entering a potential 'blind pig' to ask for a glass of beer. When refused, the investigating officer concluded that the location wasn't running an illegal saloon. Half-hearted police work incensed the local citizenry and led them to mistrust local police to the point of believing district officials were conspiring with blind pigs to sell illegal liquors in their neighborhood.

The ineffectiveness of the local police drove the people of the district into action. Over three days in April, a committee of Midway citizens investigated the locations in question and applied for the necessary warrants with county officials—bypassing the district police station—to request that twelve illegal saloons along University Avenue be raided.

The raids began at 8 PM on April 15th. Citizens from the district and neighboring communities picketed in front of each address while deputy sheriffs went through the suspected houses and stores. For the best chance of success, it was decided that each of the offending locations was to be raided simultaneously.

After officials completed the raids, wagons were loaded with kegs and barrels of alcohol. The event resulted in the arrest of seven 'blind pig' owners (six men and one woman) and the confiscation of nearly $3000 of liquor. Those that carried out the bust felt it should have been more. The prevailing belief was someone alerted the offending locations of the impending raid, allowing some owners to elude capture.

On May 5th, the arrested proprietors pleaded guilty to the charge of operating a 'blind pig' in police court, and a judge assessed each of them a $50 fine. One week later, deputy sheriffs poured the seized alcohol, comprising fifty cases of beer, seventy-five jugs of whiskey and wine, and some bottled goods, into a storage room warehouse sewer near Third and Minnesota streets in St. Paul. The offending alcohol made its way into the Mississippi River.

Only days after the recently seized illegal liquor floated down the river, community meetings were held at St. Anthony Park Methodist Church and St. Anthony Park Congregational Church. Those in attendance discussed ways to continue taking the fight to the Midway district blind pigs.

The April 1904 raid was only the beginning of a long battle between local citizens and blind pig operators in the Midway district. Local citizens pushing to remove illegal saloons enjoyed the victory but understood their work was far from finished.