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Vices mar progress
The news 100 years ago showed how Miles City had progressed from the early days. The houses of ill repute, which had been a part of Miles City since its earliest days, were finally to be permanently closed. Editorials in the Miles City Independent, Miles City Star and Yellowstone Journal had decried the prostitution and gambling rampant in the community. When Miles City was new, prostitution was winked at and gambling was just in a day’s business.
But by 1914, Women’s Suffrage, which was tied with the general Prohibition movement, was influencing politics from the national down to the local level. And the suffragettes were very much opposed to all vices, not just drinking alcohol.
Then-County Attorney C.R. Tisor had been chastised in front-page editorials for “his lenient attitude towards certain infractions of the law designed to protect morality.” In response, Attorney Tisor sent letters to the “landlady or proprietress of any house of prostitution or assignation” giving three days for the “inmates of these houses” to leave Custer County. In addition, the sheriff made personal visits to each of these houses.
Over the next few days, the papers reported on the ladies leaving, mentioning the towns, such as Red Lodge, Butte, Helena or Minneapolis, which were the future destinations of the ladies.
In the meantime, proprietors of hotels, private clubs, dance halls and pool halls also received letters pointing out their failures. The hotel owners were informed that “Considerable complaint has been made to me relative to gambling in bar rooms,” and Attorney Tisor assured hotel owners, “Efficient and earnest surveillance work will be done by the officials to see that the law is enforced.”
The letter to private clubs also mentioned complaints about gambling.
“Gambling cannot be stopped in other portions of the city unless it is stopped at the ______ club.” The attorney inserted the name of the private club that received the letter, but it was the same for everyone. Tisor further instructed each club to “Kindly place this notice in the hands of the steward and instruct him to see that it is strictly carried out.”
Pool hall owners were assured that hotels, saloons and private clubs were also being told to stop allowing gambling on their premises, stating that “The public is especially criticizing the pool rooms and billiard halls because they permit playing of pool and billiards for money.”
The letter to the owners of dance halls was the longest and most detailed of all. A young girl had been attacked after a public dance and the owners of the halls were seen as responsible. While the attorney admitted the statutes would cause inconvenience, he wrote, “We are going to insist that girls under 18 years of age not be admitted to public dances unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or some male member of her family of age.”
In addition, some dances themselves came under scrutiny. “That kind of dancing, which would necessarily have that kind of tendency to contribute to the delinquency of young girls, such as which is commonly known as Bear Catting, Ragging, Turkey Trotting, etc. must be eliminated from the public dances, so kindly govern yourselves accordingly.”
The success of all this effort towards “cleaning up” Miles City was debatable, as the houses of ill repute were finally closed nearly 50 years later, in 1963. As for the rest, except for public dance halls, most forms of vice are still popular and profitable in Miles City.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Amorette Allison is a local historian and a columnist/reporter for the Miles City Star. She is also a former preservation officer for the city. Allison has authored several volumes on local history titled “The Way We Were,” which are available for purchase.