Dakota Datebook Stories: The Great War

Millions of Americans served in World War I — soldiers, sailors , nurses — and many at home provided support, suffered scarcities, and grieved for loved ones lost. The United States entered the Great War 100 years ago on April 6. Prairie Public’s Dakota Datebook is commemorating this anniversary with stories from North Dakota, thanks to historian Jim Davis and other Dakota Datebook writers.

Dakota Datebook radio features air weekdays at 8:35 am, 3:50 pm, 6:30 pm and 7:50 pm CT on Prairie Public. The Great War features will air weekly throughout the year. Find the full archives here.

Letters from France

Sep 19, 2018

On this date in 1918, many North Dakota soldiers were serving their country in the War, and when they wrote home, it was common for the recipient to give the letter to the local newspaper, which would then print it, so everyone would know what was going on.

Albert Grass

Sep 18, 2018

John Grass, or Charging Bear, was a beloved leader of the Teton Sioux and an ardent supporter of the war effort.  July of 1917, although weakened by a prolonged illness, the elderly chief accepted the vice-chairmanship of the Red Cross for Sioux County.  He stated that as a young man he went to war many times, but his thoughts were not of death but of honor.  Although it caused him great grief to see his children going into battle, there was joy in his heart to know they were not cowards.

Jewish Homeland

Sep 5, 2018

Among the North Dakota soldiers fighting somewhere in France, were a number of young men of Jewish faith.  Sam Rigler, from Taylor, North Dakota, trusted in his faith to survive life in the trenches.  He was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “There I was huddled up against the side of a trench...  I silently offered prayers to God and asked for divine guidance and protection.” In a letter to his brother, he stated: “The word was passed around that we were going over the top at 5 AM.  Just before daybreak we climbed over, packs thrown away, but rifles loaded and bayonets fixed… The battle was raging, shells cracking, hissing and exploding but a few feet away… we crept along close to the ground.  Dawn was setting in and the explosion of the shells lighted up the sky.  There we were, out there in No Man’s Land and only the will of God could save us.”

Newspaper Printing

Aug 28, 2018

Weekly or daily, depending upon the local publisher, North Dakotans counted on newspapers to publish the minutes of county and city meetings, land proofs, and other official documents. So, as Western lands were settled, publishers were soon to follow, making much of their income by publishing homestead proofs.

By 1918, North Dakota had approximately 350 newspapers. When the United States entered the War in 1917, the papers became an essential tool for coordinating the war effort. Meeting notices, war bond sales, food restrictions, and draft notices were all carried in local newspapers. Pro-German sympathizers were exposed. Red Cross and Y.M.C.A efforts were chronicled. The smash-up of the North Dakota Smashing Second Regiment was proclaimed, and Herbert Hoover’s meatless and wheatless days were announced.

New Draft

Aug 15, 2018

The American Expeditionary Forces were advancing, with the British and French forces, along the front in France. The causalities were heavy.  As of August 1, 1918, over 1.3 million American soldiers were in France.  The War Department announced plans to send a quarter of a million men per month to France. They were determined to expand the presence of American forces in hopes of shortening the war. This strategy would put almost 3.6 million men at the front by June of 1919, and it would call for a significant increase in the draft.  Congress was posed to expand the draft age to include all males between the ages of 18 and 45. The call was out for North Dakota to prepare to enroll 75,000 men in August and September. 

American Soul

Aug 10, 2018

When Dakota Territory was settled, the United States encouraged the arrival of European immigrants.  At a federal court hearing this week in 1918, Judge Charles Amidon, noted this in the sentencing of the Rev. John Fontana, pastor of the German Evangelical Lutheran church of New Salem, who was convicted for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. The judge said, “We urged you to come, we welcomed you, we gave you opportunity, we gave you land, we conferred on you the diadem of American citizenship, and then we went away and left you. We have paid almost no attention to what you were doing.” 

Help Wanted

Aug 1, 2018

The war had brought about some dramatic labor shifts. Immediately a call went out for 25,000 student nurses in July of 1918, it was followed by a request for graduate nurses who were not already associated with the Red Cross.  Also to this point, nurses who had male relatives in the army had been forbidden to go overseas, but due to the critical shortage, those restrictions were repealed.  North Dakota was asked to furnish eighty nurses to be sent to the front.  It was considered the patriotic duty of every qualified woman to respond at once. 

Nurses to the Front

Jul 26, 2018

As the American Expeditionary Force became more heavily involved on the battlefields of France, casualty numbers were staggering as trench warfare became a war of attrition.  Artillery and poisonous gases poured down indiscriminately, and machine guns raked thousands more in “No Man’s Land,” creating horrific wounds and sending thousands to evacuation hospitals near the front.  It had become a bloodbath on an unprecedented scale. 

Bismarck's Name

Jul 16, 2018

The trial of John H. Wishek, the former state senator and well known banker and businessman from McIntosh County, began in Bismarck on July 9, 1918.  Wishek, charged with sedition, faced several counts in the indictment including proliferation of pro-German propaganda and discouraging the sale of war bonds.

Council of Defense

Jul 10, 2018

In the Special Session of 1918, the North Dakota Legislature created and funded the North Dakota Council of Defense.  The Council was comprised of the governor, the attorney general, and twelve members selected by the governor.  The Council of Defense was granted broad powers to oversee coal resources and agricultural production.  The governor was granted additional power to authorize other actions necessary for the conduct of the war.