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Sioux Brew: During Prohibition Sioux City became known as "Little Chicago"

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Sioux City Prohibition

Sioux City police officers and federal agents pose with confiscated alcohol in the 1920s.

SIOUX CITY - For decades, when Iowa was dry, Sioux City was wet.

In the 1880s and again during national Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s, many in the community flaunted the restrictions placed on the liquor trade.

In part, that rough and tumble reputation led to Sioux City being called "Little Chicago," home of Al Capone and the mobs.

In 1882, voters approved an amendment to Iowa's Constitution prohibiting the sale of alcohol. Sioux City's saloon and brewery owners rejected the law, according to Grace Linden, curator of the Public Museum's research center.

Prostitution and gambling dens flourished on "Lower Fourth" and along Pearl streets, where the red-light district was dubbed "The Sudan."

Sioux City wasn't the only wide-open town, obviously, but despite attempts by churches, business leaders and others, corruption persisted.

Dr. William R. Smith, an early day physician, recalled Sioux City's first settlers' aversion to water. In an article published in the Sioux City Journal on May 2, 1913, Smith recalled, "The only known remedy for snakebite was whiskey and it took an enormous quantity of that article to counteract the symptoms. ...A surveying party went out from Sioux City on one occasion to be gone a couple of days, and during that time they drank six gallons of straight whiskey for the purpose of fortifying their systems in case they should be so unfortunate as to be snake bitten." Not one was bitten.

Smith said the names of two streams east of the city were named the Big Whiskey and Little Whiskey.


During the height of the anti-liquor crusades, a fiery temperance preacher, the Rev. George Haddock, moved to Sioux City in 1885 to become minister of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. He preached against the use of liquor and testified against illegal saloons in court.

He investigated saloons he had heard were in violation of Iowa's ban on liquor, according to Journal archives.

On the night of Aug. 3, 1886, Haddock and the Rev. C. C. Turner of Whitfield Method Church rented a horse and buggy from a livery stable at Third and Water streets. They drove to Greenville to check on an illegal saloon. On their return, Haddock took Turner to his home on the west side and then went downtown to return the buggy and horse to the stable.

Haddock saw a mob in front of the Columbia House hotel next to the livery stable, so decided to walk past them on his way home. He carried a cane and a small, metal wheel attached to a rope. He didn't get a chance to defend himself. At Fourth and Water streets, two men attacked him, with one grabbing Haddock's head, and the other firing a gun.

The bullet struck him in the neck and he stumbled to the muddy street. He got up and fell again, while the assailants fled to the Franz Brewing Co. He died where he fell at Fourth and Water streets.

The assassination catapulted Sioux City into the national spotlight. Newspaper correspondents from as far away as New York and Chicago covered the murder and subsequent trials.

A headline in a Dakota Territory newspaper read, "Does God rule, or the devil, in Sioux City?"

The first trial of John Arensdorf, the foreman of the Franz Brewing Co., ended in a hung jury. In his second trial, he was acquitted. He celebrated by having his photograph taken with the jury.

In a third trial, Fred Munchrath, Jr., a member of the mob that night, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to serve four years in prison. Gov. Horace Boies suspended his sentence after Munchrath had served three months.

After Haddock's murder, saloons, gambling houses and the red-light districts were closed for five years, Linden reported. During that time, those businessmen moved their trade across the Missouri River to Stanton, Neb., which became South Sioux City.

In 1936, a bronze marker was placed at Fourth and Water streets to commemorate Haddock's assassination.


In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, importation, sale and consumption of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. Booze continued to flow freely in Sioux City.

During that time, one of the leaders of the Anti-Saloon League was the Rev. Claud McMillan, a Methodist minister, according to Dr. William Cumberland, a Buena Vista College history professor. His comments were published in a Jan. 7, 1989, article in The Journal.

McMillan was so zealous in his fight against the evils of alcohol that he accompanied policemen on hundreds of bar raids, toted a gun and won the right to arrest lawless citizens. The league, with national, state and local chapters, wielded considerable political clout, Cumberland said. McMillan was superintendent of the league's Woodbury County chapter from 1914 to 1922. Later, he served on the state level.

"Its members were instrumental in bringing about Prohibition," Cumberland noted. A number of clergymen agreed with McMillan's views, believing that the sale and consumption of liquor went hand in hand with prostitution and led to other crimes.

In Chicago, mobster Al Capone rose to power, controlling bootlegging and other criminal endeavors. Unknown to most people in Siouxland, his older brother, James Capone, moved to Homer, Neb., in 1919 where he became a prohibition enforcement officer. He gained a reputation breaking up stills in Nebraska.

He had changed his name to Richard Hart. Because he wore a pair of pearl-handed pistols and his marksmanship abilities, he was nicknamed "Two Gun" Hart. The U.S. Indian Service also hired him to keep alcohol off the reservations. After Prohibition ended, Hart became Homer's town marshal.


After Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933, states were allowed to set their own laws. Iowa imposed "liquor by the drink" well into the 1950s.

During that time, after hours clubs operated with apparent impunity. Many saloons sported trap doors and second-floor fire escapes so when raided, the patrons made a mad dash for the fire escapes, back doors and windows. While they were fleeing the cops, the bartenders dropped the booze down trap doors.

"Sioux City has one of the richest, most diverse ranges of stories to tell about the past," Professor Cumberland said. "Sioux City is certainly not ignored by historians. The truth is that some people are quite fascinated by it."




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