November 30, 1915: Pussyfoot Johnson arrives to clean up Hibbing

On this day in Duluth in 1915, prohibitionist William E. “Pussyfoot” Johnson arrived in the Zenith City to take part in police raids of saloons in Hibbing and Chisholm. Johnson was a former law enforcement officer and journalist who became a highly controversial figure in the temperance movement that led to Prohibition, admitting to drinking liquor, bribing officials, and outright lying in his efforts to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the U. S. The stealthy approach he had used to pursue suspects in the Oklahoma Territory had earned him his feline nickname. In 1911 he had successfully made Brainerd “dry” for a month using arguments that liquor trafficking and saloons violated an 1855 treaty with the Chippewa (Ojibwe), which banned the sale of alcohol in what was then considered “Indian Country” but had since become known as the Iron Range. Brainerd—considered part of the Cuyuna Range, voted itself dry April 19, 1915, and the vote was followed by raids on establishments that continued to sell alcohol. Just three months before he arrived in the Zenith City, his newspaper—the New Republic, a temperance publication produced in Westerville, Ohio—ran a scathing article on Hibbing, Minnesota, calling it the “worst-governed community in America.” The day before Johnson arrived Judge Page Morris declared the 1855 treaty constitutional and ordered saloons in Hibbing and Chisholm shuttered. Subsequent raids that December lead to many arrests for alcohol trafficking, and Indian agents photographed the violating establishments and ran a photo essay of the raids in the New Republic.

William E. “Pussyfoot” Johnson. (Image: Public Domain)