Larry Leake finds a Crookston Police Department blotter in the basement of Willow & Ivy spanning 1907 to 1940,
and each daily log shows that policing and enforcing the law in the community today is nothing like it was back then
While everyone is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Crookston’s Ox Cart Days Festival this week, a peek much deeper into Crookston’s past – in the form of a Crookston Police blotter/log book dating back more than a century – shows that policing and enforcing the law in the community way back when was far different than it is today.
Larry Leake, who owns Willow & Ivy gift shop with his wife, Ellen, found the old log book in the basement of their store located at the corner of South Broadway and Fletcher Street, in a building that was once home to Crookston City Hall.
The several-inches thick blotter dates back to 1907 and continues up until 1940. In its earliest days, according to the beautiful cursive writing filling its pages, Crookston Police busted all kinds of people for vagrancy and being drunk in public.
Leafing through its pages, Leake finds a man cited in 2011 for being drunk and vagrant. He was given two hours to get out of town. The same gentleman was caught two days later, accused of the same crimes. In the spreadsheet field where it was to be detailed how the case was resolved or otherwise wrapped up, after the man’s second arrest it indicates he was told to “get out of town” immediately.
Leake figures the all the drunkenness and vagrancy was due to men coming into Crookston on the train looking to work. They’d hop in the first empty rail car they could find and roll into town, whether it was to find work harvesting during the warmer months or in the lumber mills during the winter. Several pages in the log show many man being arrested at once camping out near the railroad tracks, again for being drunk and vagrant. In many cases, the fine was $5, but with administrative fees it was jacked up to $9.50. When it was clear some of the accused had no money, the only alternative was to suspend their cases and try to get them to leave town. Although some men received a sentence of up to 20 days in jail.
Leake said his grandfather used to hire men looking for work who came in on the train. Some were bachelors, while others were sending money back home to their families. “They’d sleep in the haystack and they’d feed them good,” Leake said. “And they worked hard. Then when it was time to go, they didn’t have a ticket, of course, but they’d hop back on the train and leave town.”
In 1909, a person was charged, essentially with bastardy. In the case disposition field are the words, “Marrying the girl.”
“She must have been pregnant,” Leake says.
Around that time, several women, many of them the same women being cited repeatedly, were charged with crimes relating to activities taking place at local brothels. “They called them houses of ill repute,” Leake notes. The women obviously had some cash on hand, however, because they were fined $50.
As time passed and Crookston’s streets were filled with more motorized vehicles, driving-related infractions increased greatly, with many cited for illegal or improper parking, and many receiving speeding tickets. “How fast could they possibly go?” Leake wonders. “The speed limit had to be 10 miles per hour.” There were also some careless driving offenses, and failing to stop at stop signs. Leake figures there were so many parking violations because officers would walk the downtown beat and write up improperly parked vehicles, or vehicles with expired parking meters.
Someone was cited for “incorrigibility” on one page of the blotter. “I guess they couldn’t teach him a lesson,” Leake figures.
In the log book’s latest days, when Prohibition took effect, the public drunkenness citations disappear from the log’s pages. There’s a citation around this time for violating the City of Crookston’s plumbing ordinance.
There were some familiar last names in the log book, likely some grandparents and great-grandparents that current Crookston residents would recognize. “Maybe it’s best to keep them out (of the story), to protect the innocent?” Leake wonders.