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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in the Inland Northwest: The Canadian border was ‘wide open to bootleggers,’ an expose alleged, and one Washington county’s sheriff wasn’t helping

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)

Prohibition officials routinely claimed to have the upper hand on bootleggers, but a front page article in the Spokane Daily Chronicle told a far different story.

“Liquor runners are smuggling a (rail) carload of whisky from Canada into Spokane monthly and a second carload is being smuggled into Walla Walla, Lewiston, Wallace, Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint and other Inland Empire towns every 30 days,” a Chronicle special report said. “The Canadian border is wide open, and the bootleggers are experiencing but little difficulty in bringing their cargoes out of British Columbia into Washington and Idaho.”

Washington sheriffs said they were aware of 48 bootleggers operating in the region. Two were women.

The story said the bulk of the whisky came down through Republic and Keller in the San Poil River Valley. It was supposedly “wide open to bootleggers.”

Why? “We have been unable to get the cooperation of the (Ferry County) sheriff’s office,” a Ferry County prosecuting attorney said.

The second most-used conduit was through Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint. Only one liquor runner had been arrested in Boundary County in two years.

The Chronicle ran a front page map showing the main routes. The Canadian starting points were apparently Grand Forks, Greenwood, Creston, Waneta and Yaak, all of which had “export liquor houses.”

A few “master operators” had fleets of autos. An auto could leave Spokane at 6 a.m., be in Grand Forks that evening, and back in Spokane by 6 the following morning. An auto could carry 12 to 20 cases of whisky, at a “clean profit” of $48 to $50 a case. The highest demand came when Spokane was hosting a large convention.

The bootleggers risked jail, but their chances of being caught were relatively small. And even if they were caught juries were unwilling to convict on felony charges.

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