Blind Pigs


I came across an interesting old term this week. A "blind pig" is an old phrase usually used for a lower-class, unlicensed establishment which served alcohol thwarting prohibition laws. They would charge patrons of the saloon a fee to "see an animal" such as a pig and then serve the customer a "complimentary" alcoholic drink.

North Dakota was approved for statehood in 1889. A clause was proposed and approved at the 1889 North Dakota constitutional convention to prohibit the sale and manufacture of liquor. Saloons, liquor sales, and alcohol manufacturing were outlawed from July 1890 to March 1932 when the law was repealed.

Below are a few short and comical news articles from the Milton Globe (1888-1937), a northeast North Dakota newspaper.

  • 06 Feb 1896. The nice, smooth, plump, at blind pig at the east end was mercilessly slaughtered by Marshall Jos. Catherwood yesterday morning. A few bottles of "Shake's peer" was found and confiscated and the 'pen' cleared. There are others deserving of the same fate. Treat 'em all alike.

  • 26 May 1898. Milton pigs are bottled up and it is said that Judge Santer will drive the cork in the bottle. The question is whether or not the bottle will stand the pressure.

  • 07 Sep 1899. The streets, back yards and alleys were swarming with drunken men last Sunday afternoon and night. The pig had a Klondike day at the opening of fall season.

  • 09 Nov 1899. PIGS RAIDED. Deputy Sheriff J. R. Mears with the assistance of F. A. McDonald and George Campbell made a raid on the Osnabrock blind pigs last Tuesday evening. George Davis, Wm. Wheeler, and Della P. Jamieson were taken into custody and brought before Justice Norgard in this city. The hearing was set for 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon. David and Wheeler were placed in the city jail to await their hearing and during the night the lock was pried off by someone on the outside and the prisoners escaped. The case of State vs D.P. Jamieson was called at 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon, witnesses being present. The defendant asked for an adjournment in order to secure counsel. The case was adjourned to 1 o'clock this afternoon.

During this time, a young man, Pétur Gunnlaugsson Johnson, was studying at the University of North Dakota Law School. He became a champion to the people who wanted the "blind pigs" abolished and a bane to those who enjoyed frequenting these establishments.

Pétur was born 29 Jun 1876 in Iceland. His father is Gunnlaugur 'Gillick' Jónsson, the first President of the newly formed Fjallakirkja congregation near Milton in 1886. Gunnlaugur (1850-1927), his wife Sigríður (1838-1922), and their three sons emigrated in 1883 from Þorvaldsstöðum, Þingmúlasókn, Skriðudalshreppur, S-Múlasýsla and settled near the Fjalla Church and the village of Milton in northeast North Dakota.


Pétur (Peter G Johnson) was admitted to the bar in 1901 and earned the reputation of a fearless prosecutor. He and his brother, Jón Gunnlaugsson (John G Johnson) started a law firm in Langdon, ND. Pétur became the Cavalier County State's Attorney in 1906 and the Assistant North Dakota Attorney General in 1909 with a yearly salary of $2,500.

An excellent article was published in the 25 Dec 1902 Heimskringla highlighting the biographies of ten Icelandic attorneys admitted to the bar including Peter. Eight are from Cavalier and Pembina Counties in North Dakota, two are from Minneota, Minnesota, and 1 who was living in Winnipeg.


Icelandic Lawyers admitted to bar in 1902

Peter was confined to a wheelchair for many years because of arthritis and he died 28 Feb 1925 at Olga. He is buried with his family at the Fjalla Cemetery. His obituary was published in the Lögberg newspaper.

Of course, our North Dakota skáld (poet), K. N. Júlíus had a poem for the "Blind Pigs" disturbance and the local farming hardships. K.N. was alive to see prohibition repealed. He died four years later 25 Oct 1936.

Hallærið eftir K. N. Júlíus

Kartöflu uppskeran kallast hér rýr og hveitið er hreint ekki gott; bithaginn lélegur engið er eins, og akrarnir fullir a"smut".

En bygðin og ríkið er brennivínslaust og "blindpiggar" óttast nú"fine". Það húmar að kveldi og komið er haust og K. N. er lagstur á bæn.

English translation:

The crop of potatoes is kaput 'round here, of corn or wheat there is no glut; pastures are forlorn and forage is sore and fields are all loaded with smut,

the land and the state has no liquor at all and large fines the blind-pigs must bear. The evening is chill with the coming of fall and K. N. is kneeling in prayer.


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