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North Platte’s infamous nickname “Little Chicago”

Following World War I, North Platte was known for being rough and ready because of the railroad and its workers.
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - Following World War I, North Platte was known for being rough and ready because of the railroad and its workers. The railroad brought an influx of illegal gambling, prostitution and alcohol. The farming economy dropped, and people looked for other avenues to make money. When prohibition began, the production of illegal alcohol increased.

Chicago was also experiencing similar woes as North Platte. Crime ran rampant through the streets, and gangsters were taking over. Illegal alcohol was the center of most illegal businesses. When crime bosses and gangsters need to cool off or lay low, they would retreat to small towns like North Platte, Nebraska.

Al Hastings became North Platte’s crime boss. He ran illegal gambling establishments, controlled the town’s money flow, and had control of many of the city officials including the mayor.

“All this is thriving off of prohibition,” said Jim Griffin, Curator Director of the Lincoln County Historical Museum. “Illegal alcohol means there is money to be made, and it breeds corruption. The right people are put in place, and the right people can be bought off.”

Anne Cook was another major crime player during this time. She had her methods of controlling city officials. With over 20 brothels in the area, Cook kept up with the people attending them as a way to control city administrators behind the scenes. Anne Cook avoided trial for her daughter’s murder, which historians believe shows how much authority she had over city officials.

“Anne Cook is an example of if officials weren’t able to be corrupted, they could have stood up to her,” said Griffin. “She bought off most of the town and council members to continue operating her ventures.”

Al Hastings and Anne Cook were prominent figures that contributed to the high time of crimes for North Platte. Both had city administrators and government officials under their control. Al Hastings was able to lead a mob to run all the African Americans out of town. Anne Cook ran a poor farm and had officials sign off on death certificates of people who died mysteriously on her farm. The two were the center of heinous crimes in North Platte.

“It is a perfect example of how two people can cause so much hate and discontent in a community when no one is willing to stop them,” said Griffin. “People voted in the elected officials who could get corrupted. Whether there was prohibition or not, this is the kind of stuff that can happen, so you always have to remember to be a responsible citizen.”

By 1950, a new generation emerged who voted out the corrupted elected officials and closed the brothels in town. The World War II Canteen also helped change people’s perception of North Platte and aided in fading away the infamous nickname.