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From 1904 to 1920, there was only one town where an adult could drink alcohol in a tavern in North Dakota. That was Mondak, where the town's bar straddled the North Dakota-Montana border

In November 1889, both Montana and North Dakota entered the Union as new states. The difference was that the citizens of North Dakota voted to outlaw the sale and production of liquors but Montana did not.

North Dakota's early prohibition law did not ban the consumption of spirits, however, which soon became clear to some enterprising people who lived near the border.

In 1903, Jacob 'Jakey' Seel, who owned land on the north bank of the Missouri River adjacent to the border helped establish a town that straddled the border, where thirsty North Dakotans could come and imbibe. It was he who built the bar on the border where patrons could buy their booze in Montana and consume their drinks in North Dakota .

The town founders looked at Mondak becoming a regional trade center where homesteaders could sell their goods and, in turn, purchase whatever items they wanted and needed. The fact that North Dakotans would come to drink and stock up on booze was thought to be an added incentive. The Great Northern Railroad ran through the town and since it was near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, riverboats could also ferry in people and supplies. Vacant buildings at Fort Buford were hauled in to house businesses.

However, the largest attraction was that drinking was legal. During 1904, seven saloons were constructed and three wholesale breweries supplied the town. 

The town grew to about 300 residents and eventually had a post office, a bank, a newspaper, a doctor's office, two hotels, several rooming houses, a barbershop, three stores, two drug stores, two livery stables, an automobile garage, two lumber yards, a farm dealership, a land office, a school, a church, telephone service and an electrical plant.

Each night, scores of men flooded into the town. To cater to their desires, it is estimated that Mondak had as many as 17 saloons and 15 houses of prostitution. Crime rose to staggering proportions and shootings and knife fights became a regular occurrence.

Some of these incidents were printed in the local papers, but what happened on April 4, 1913, was reported in newspapers nationwide.

Montana's Sheridan County Sheriff, Tom Courtney, three days after he was sworn in, was asked to arrest J. C. Collins, a person working for the Great Northern on the Snowden Bridge over the Missouri River. Collins had been accused of punching a co-worker's wife.

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What Courtney and his deputy did not know was Collins was also wanted in Iowa for murdering two people. As they approached, he pulled out a pistol and shot both lawmen. Courtney died instantly and Burmeister lingered awhile before succumbing to his wound.

A group of men from Mondak, led by Seel, tracked down Collins and captured him. Since Collins was African-American, they feared a lynch mob might be assembled and asked some of Collins' co-workers to guard him for the night.

They were right.

Using bars and sledge hammers, a mob from Plentywood, Mont., forced open the jail doors, took Collins to a telephone pole, hung him and, after several drinks at the bar, threw his body into the Missouri River.

With this, the national press began to refer to Mondak as "the toughest town in the west" until Prohibition dried up the town in the '20s. People and businesses left and, in 1928, a prairie fire burned most of what remained.

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(Written by Curt Eriksmoen. Reach Eriksmoen at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.)

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