Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rebellion in Iron River

Iron River is a small town in northern Michigan on the edge of the vast Ottawa forest. The region, rich in iron, was home to populations of Poles, Austrians, Italians, Hungarians and other immigrant Europeans. In late February of 1920 it was briefly the focus of America in a farcical display of just how toothless the newly passed law was. The rebellion garnered headlines in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.

The country had been given a year to prepare for the event. The rich stockpiled cases of liquor and wine, including President Harding who had $1800 dollars worth of liquor purchased before January 16th and stockpiled in his living quarters. Harding regularly served alcohol to his dinner guests all through his term.

Headlines proclaimed WHISKEY REBELLION and ARMED FORCE TO DESCEND ON MINING COUNTY. The ‘armed’ invasion consisted of fewer than two dozen federal Prohibition agents led by Leo J. Grove. The raid came about after the local constabulary had seized several barrels of wine from the basement of a grocery store owned by the Scalcuccis brothers and subsequently been forced by the District Attorney Martin S. McDonough to return them to the brothers, claiming the liquor had been seized without a warrant. Informed of this, Grove and his invading army descended on Iron River where he again seized the wine. McDonough ruled the seizure was illegal since at least one of the brothers lived above the grocery and it was legal for people to keep liquor in their residence. McDonough then arrested Grove for transporting liquor.

Released soon after, Grove returned to Chicago and reported the events to Major A.V. Dalrymple, chief Prohibition officer for the mid-western states. Dalrymple declared Iron County was in open revolt and he would put them down and “go up and clean hell of that district or quit trying to enforce this law.”
With 16 men, along with an army of reporters, photographers and newsreel cameramen, he descended on Iron River. By this time the town residents, men, women and children had removed every cask and bottle and hidden them in the surrounding forest and mine shafts.

Dalrymple was able to seize a few barrels of wine which he destroyed with a sledge hammer for the newsmen. Sixteen hours later, on the 25th, he hastily left for Washington on urgent business. The villagers retrieved their hidden booty and Iron River went back to business as usual. Thus did the first salvo in the new war on alcohol end.

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