Mondak Stories from the Wild Side

I’m always a bit tickled when someone I’m visiting with adds another anecdote to stories I’ve written.  Take Mondak for example.

There is no shortage of Mondak stories and anecdotes. That’s why I perked up this week when a fellow out west told me a tale he was told.  It’s the story of how Mondak provided what none others in western North Dakota could provide.

Two sides to Mondak

mondak vault

The concrete vault on the left was built to hold important county records from Roosevelt County — one of the more “proper” parts of Mondak’s history.

Of course, that could mean many things.  Mondak was beyond notorious. That’s the gist of most of the Mondak stories.  On the one hand, Mondak provided necessary community elements: county seat, church (with no full-time pastor), a bank, stores, homes, a couple of grain elevators and shipping facilities. Also,. Mondak provided some of the more nefarious elements – which are probably more well known than the more mundane elements. Mondak stories seem to revolve around the half-dozen state-line straddling bars — men would come in the dry North Dakota side, and stumble out on the boozy Montana side.

Gambling, drinking, shootings, and lawlessness make good Mondak stories.  And if the town itself were not wild enough, there was the “other side of the tracks.”  Between the rail line and the river, a couple grain elevators stood next to shipping facilities (see the first photo above). Loads were transferred to or from barges and rail cars.

And scattered around the “other side of the tracks” were at least a half-dozen brothels.

Missouri Street, the Main Street in Mondak, Montana/North Dakota During It's Bloom

Missouri Street, the Main Street in Mondak, Montana/North Dakota During It’s Bloom

But that’s not what this Mondak story is about.

Mondak Stories

When I heard the new Mondak story, it made sense because it pointed to the more odious side of Mondak.

It had to happen nearly 100 years ago because Mondak ended in September 1928 during a dry fall, when a train passing through town clipped off sparks into the brush. The train carried John Phillip Sousa westward from Williston where his band had performed the night before. The next day, Sousa was far west and Mondak’s wooden structures were charcoal.

So, before that dead end date in 1928, men from McKenzie or Williams County planned a night of beer drinking. Of course, it was risky because during the 1920s, the 18th Amendment prohibited booze — it went underground. You had to have contacts to get beer. For these men, their plan for beer-drinking wasn’t easy, but they did manage to get a keg of beer. Ready to party, their plans came to a screeching halt when they realized they were missing an important part of their beer-drinking plan – a beer tap.

Search ripples went out through the region and one beer tap could be found.  In Mondak.

And so, the beer blast went on, thanks to service provided by the little railroad town with a wild reputation.  The town that lynchings, wild parties and political hijinks happened. The town that provided a little old beer tap when there were none to be found.

The Remnants of Mondak, and the Snowden Bridge in Eastern Montana, 2018

The Remnants of Mondak, and the Snowden Bridge in Eastern Montana

Facts, truthfully told??

And that’s a Mondak story that is factual, even if it may not be truthfully told.

Frequently Asked Questions

Was there really a town called Mondak? 

Yes. Attributed to Bolsheviks and Prussians, Mondak made some people rich, and other people dead. A brief summary of the town is here.

Where was Mondak?

A few hundred yards north of the abandoned (now reconstructed) Fort Union Trading Post, a mile east of the Snowden Lift bridge, and about 3 miles from Fort Buford.

Where can I find other Mondak stories?

John Matzko includes exciting elements of Mondak stories in his book Reconstructing Fort Union.

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