Iowa January 09, 2018
Back In The Day, This Quiet Iowa Town Was A Mafia Mecca
When Iowa passed an amendment to its constitution banning the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol, the town of Sioux City rejected the order. Far away from the state capital and a town where liquor had always flowed freely, the leaders and business owners of the industrial town could not have cared less about the orders from Des Moines. The town, which had already gained the nickname “Little Chicago,” was quickly tangled up in a bit of a mafia mess.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life. While we continue to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, please take proper precautions or add them to your bucket list to see at a later date. If you know of a local business that could use some extra support during these times, please nominate them here:
At first, the nickname was due to the meatpacking industry in town, but it quickly took on more meaning.
The town was always known for its tendencies to drink whiskey by the barrel, and when an amendment to Iowa's Constitution was passed in 1882 prohibiting the sale of alcohol, Sioux City's saloons rejected it. A red light district formed, known as "The Sudan," in the neighborhoods surrounding Lower Fourth street.
Sioux City continued to serve alcohol freely, despite a state ban.
There was little effort to hide the illegal saloons, and despite protests from people within the community, including preachers and clergy, Sioux City quickly gained a reputation as a drinking and gambling den. Soon, it was known as "Little Chicago" not just for its industry, but due to the fact that corruption seeped into everyday life.
The police were constantly trying to stay ahead of the bootleggers that had ties to the midwest mafia, and they did make several large busts.
However, nothing could stop the momentum the city had gained, and nationwide, newspapers questioned whether the Devil, or God, ruled in this once sleepy Iowa town. The Chicago House hotel on Lower Fourth was a place where city gangsters came to get away from the city - and rumor has it that Al Capone visited Sioux City from time to time.
In 1885, the Reverend George Haddock became the minister of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. He preached vehemently against the consumption of alcohol.
He had a habit of investigating saloons that were said to be serving liqour, and this cost him his life. In 1886, Haddock set out to check on a speakeasy. On his way home, he was approached by two men. One grabbed him, and the other shot. He died at 4th and Water Streets.
Both of the suspects faced trial - one was acquitted, and the other had his four year long sentence suspended by the Governor after just three months.
Meanwhile, just across the river in Dakota City, another mafia war was unfolding.
Iowa Beef Processors had begun to revolutionize the meatpacking industry that ruled the region. They created an efficient assembly line process, eliminated the need for union-led stockyards, and hired a non-unionized workforce.
And then they tried to sell their meat to the largest market in the country: New York City. Not only were protests and strikes (that sometimes turned violent) then a daily part of life outside, the plant, but New York politicians began to offer concessions. They would help end the strikes and allow IBP meat into the city -for a "commission" of five cents for every ten pounds of meat sold in their market. Obviously, these commissions were bribes paid directly to the union-connected Mafia. However, IBP needed the New York market - and thus had to pay millions of dollars indirectly to the New York mafia to keep their business going.
From prohibition to meatpacking, the mafia had a hold on Sioux City.
Truly, the story of this town is one of the most fascinating in the state.
You can read more about the mafia history of Sioux City
here and here. With a history like this, it’s no wonder that two Sioux City restaurants made our list of 11 Restaurants That Serve The Best Bloody Mary In Iowa!