Federal Prohibition Agent
By Kaily Carson
Charles Bintliff was born in 1889 in New York. The only thing he remembered about his childhood was being taken to an orphan train by an older man when he was about five years old. By 1900 he was living with W. M. Bintliff in Hutchinson, South Dakota. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about his growing up years, besides the fact that many of those years were spent in Mitchell, South Dakota.
Between 1915 and 1919, his life was split between military service and college. He served on the Mexican border in 1916, and was sent to France during WWI. When he was not abroad or serving locally with the military, he attended Dakota Wesleyan University. His name and photograph appear in newspapers and yearbooks, where we learn he played football and studied history.
Charles had been involved with law enforcement since 1915, when he served as a sheriff in Mitchell, South Dakota. But his career took a big step forward in 1920, when he was appointed as a Federal Prohibition Agent. Prohibition agents were employed by the federal government to enforce prohibition laws, and arrest anyone manufacturing or selling alcohol. It seems that Charles Bintliff took his new position very seriously – his name appears in newspapers across the state of South Dakota in articles detailing arrests and raids.
During one particularly exciting raid, Bintliff and his fellow agents arrested a farmer who had an entire distilling outfit hidden in a barn. They not only found thousands of gallons of mash and fifty gallons of liquor, but also fifteen pounds of dynamite, all ready to blow the barn and all the evidence up with it. Luckily, the agents made such quick work of the raid, that the farmer and his employees didn’t have time to strike the fuse.
Bintliff also got to work undercover occasionally. In one instance, he approached a man rumored to be a bootlegger, and arranged to buy liquor from him. When they met up later that day, Bintliff confirmed the alcohol was real, and convinced the bootlegger to show him 34 gallons he had hidden in his trunk, packed in tin containers. Then Bintliff drew his gun. The men at first thought he was a hijacker, but after showing them his badge, they submitted to arrest. The bootlegger was fined $250 and sentenced to six months in jail.
Bintliff’s final raid was carried out in May 1927. He and a few other agents were seeking Walter Chrisman, who was wanted for shooting and wounding a federal agent some time before. He was also a suspected bootlegger. Early one morning, Bintliff and his fellow agents tracked Chrisman to a farm. Bintliff and one agent turned toward the barn, while two other agents turned toward the house, hoping to flush Chrisman out. Bintliff and his companion set foot in the barn, and were immediately bombarded with gunfire. The other two agents heard the shots, and pursued Chrisman as he fled the scene. After they lost his trail, they returned to the barn, and found their fellow agents had been killed. The following day, as more than 400 men set out to search from him, the gunman was found dead at another farm in the area. He died either from an accidental gunshot or suicide.
Charles Bintliff left behind a widow, Edna Radabough, but no children. He was buried in Mitchell, South Dakota. Newspaper articles reporting on his death said the following about him: “Bintliff was known for his straightforward conduct, alertness, and fearlessness. With the details of violation clearly in his mind he made an able witness when called upon in court battles to testify against violators.” “He was absolutely fearless and one of the squarest men I ever knew.” “They never made any better men.” We invite everyone to visit the National Orphan Train Complex to learn about other orphan train riders. Not all stories are as full of danger as Bintliff’s life, but every story demonstrates the perseverance of people who started their lives with a bit of adversity.