“Peddling Booze on the Side” ~ Itasca County During Prohibition ~ part 7 of 8
[originally published 10.11.2020]
Six months ago, I wrote about the dedication of Dr. Delbert F. Dumas, the primary physician for Deer River, during the 1918-1920 Spanish Influenza epidemic. Ten years later, he was arrested as part of a bootlegging ring and eventually sentenced to Leavenworth Penitentiary.
I first came across the name Dumas and the words booze and prison years ago when reading the transcripts of an interview done with Isabelle (Wagner) Lekander from Deer River. Born in 1914, Isabelle would have been about the same age as Dr. Dumas’ children, and her most likely was a patient at one time or another. She said, “Dr. Dumas was peddling booze on the side and got sent to some prison. He is in with these big deals. Then he moved from here to Bemidji.”
Delbert Frederick Dumas graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the University of Illinois. He had been a practicing physician for five years before opening an office in Cass Lake in 1907. Nine years later, he and his wife Hazel settled in Deer River with their two children, Fred and Julia. Their last child, Delbert Jr. “Buster,” was born in 1917.
Dr. Dumas seemed to have a lucrative practice and was a community leader. In 1925, he was the manager for the Deer River baseball team and expanded his time to include the northern communities. “In order to give better service to patients, Dr. Dumas has changed the day of making visits to Bigfork, and in the future, he will be at the Woodland Hotel every Tuesday instead of Saturday. This change is made for the reason that in case medicine needs to be mailed to the patients, it will reach them much earlier than if he made his visits here on Saturday.” [ Bigfork Times 6-19-1925]
In 1927, he was lauded for investing in an ultra-violet ray lamp for the treatment of tuberculosis, eczema, anemia, and various skin diseases. “When installed, the doctor will be the possessor of equipment most uncommon in villages the size of Deer River. This is a most expensive piece of equipment, and the doctor is to be commended for bringing one to this section.” [Itasca News 1-27-1927]
I’m not sure why Dumas was involved in illegal liquor activities. I have a few sketchy newspaper articles, but because the trial took place in Federal Court in Duluth very little information was available in the local newspapers. The initial arrests were made in the fall of 1928, but Dr. Dumas and others involved were not convicted until December 1931. The only mention that might be about this case was in the last paragraph of an article about Prohibition. “Several other arrests were made by members of the sheriff’s force during the week, but trials or hearings are yet to be conducted after thorough investigations have been made.” [Grand Rapids Herald-Review 11-21-1928]
Liquor Ring is Broken Up Now ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 12-16-1931
“Several Itasca County citizens are concerned in a liquor ring which it is alleged operated in two counties last spring. Seven men were sentenced to the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas and one is to be confined in the Itasca County Jail. The man who federal operators claim is the leader is to be tried this week in Federal Court in Duluth.
“Dr. Delbert F. Dumas who practiced for many years at Deer River but who moved to Bemidji some months ago, pleaded not guilty when brought up in Federal Court and is to be tried this week. In the same case, Leo Guertin of White Oak Point was sentenced to three years in federal prison but placed on probation. Paul Guertin, Jr. was sentenced to six months in the Itasca County Jail. Andy Walker and Ben Peterson, who live west of Deer River, pleaded guilty but will not be sentenced until after Dr. Dumas has been tried. Charges against Henry Guertin, Arthur Haglund, and Oliver DePalma were dismissed.
“Seven men who live in and near Hibbing must go to Leavenworth or some other federal prison for their connection in this alleged liquor ring. They are Mike DePalma, one year and a day; Joe Venni, two years; Louie Schiclich, one year and a half; George Potvin, one year and a day; Frank Sikich, two years; Louis Salata and Jack Green, each a year and a day.
“This case has been under investigation by federal operators for about half a year. It is claimed that the still which was finally seized at a location north of Hibbing, had been operated at one time west of Deer River and again in the vicinity of White Oak Point. There has been a great deal of speculation locally as to the identity of all parties involved, and this statement coming from the federal court will clear up that matter.”
Leo, Henry, and Paul Guertin were brothers. At the time of the arrests, they lived with their parents, Paul Sr. and Mary, on a farm at White Oak Point about six miles south of Deer River. Andy Walker’s farm was four miles northwest of Deer River on what is now County Road 46, and Ben Peterson lived nearby. Dr. Dumas lived in the village of Deer River. The other men involved in the moonshine operation were located in St. Louis County.
Of course, my interest was piqued by the last statement in the article, “there has been a great deal of speculation locally as to the identity of all parties involved and this statement coming from the federal court will clear up that matter.” Therefore, I was disappointed when none of the trial details were available in later local newspapers.
Dumas Convicted on Liquor Count ~ Grand Rapids Herald-Review 12-23-1931
“In a verdict handed down by a jury in Federal Court in Duluth Friday morning, Dr. Delbert F. Dumas, Bemidji physician, was found guilty on manufacturing liquor. A sealed verdict had been returned in the case the night before after the jury had deliberated three and one-half hours. Sentencing was continued by Judge William Cant to 10 a.m. Monday, Dec 28. A.M. Carey of Minneapolis, attorney for Dr. Dumas, asked for a stay, claiming that Dr. Dumas is in a serious condition physically. Pending an examination, Dr. Dumas is out on a $10,000 bond.
“Dr. Dumas faces a maximum sentence under the Jones act of five years in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth and $10,000 fine. Although indicted on three counts involved in connection with the operation of a still on a farm four miles from Deer River in the fall of 1928, possession of mash and manufacturing of liquor, the first two charges were dismissed at the opening of the trial, and the defendant tried in the manufacturing count.
“Arthur Haglund of Hibbing, a partner in the truck firm who testified for the government that he hauled sugar and supplies to the farm and was indicted with Dr. Dumas, was released yesterday. Mike Knozovich of Hibbing, another defendant, was also released. Ben Peterson and Andy Walker, owner of the farm, also indicted with Dr. Dumas, who had pleaded guilty earlier in the week, were placed on probation. Peterson was given a year and a day at Leavenworth and paroled for two years. Walker’s sentence was continued to December 1933, with a two-year parole clause included. Five other men indicted with Dr. Dumas have not been apprehended.”
On Monday, Dec 28, Judge William Cant sentenced Dr. Dumas to serve 3½ years in the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, and that he also pay a fine of $2500. Dumas’ attorney, A. M. Cary, indicated he would ask the circuit court of appeals for a new trial. I could find no further mention of this and had to search before I eventually located brief notes about the case in the Iron Range Magnet News of the Week column.
Jan 29, 1932 ~ “Dumas has been granted an additional stay until Feb 17, according to an Associated Press dispatch from Duluth, which stated there was no federal judge in Duluth at the present time. At the time of sentencing, counsel for Dr. Dumas intimated an appeal would be made.”
Feb 26, 1932 ~ “Dr. D.F. Dumas’ sentence has again been extended until Mar 1, as Judge Cant is ill.”
I could find no more information on Dumas until 1934 when he is listed in the Bemidji City Directory as a physician! He died in 1939 and was interred beside his parents in the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. I believe there is much more to Delbert Frederick Dumas. When the Gale Library at the Minnesota Historical Society is open once again, I will pursue my research there. If Cary appealed his case, the court documents should be on file.