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A Humane Order

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In the middle of the night on February 15, 1898 the battleship USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor. Americans immediately blamed Spain. Although Americans were shocked and angered, war was slow to follow. Spain declared war on the United States on April 24. The United States responded by declaring war on Spain the following day.

President McKinley called for volunteers and the country answered. North Dakotans responded with their typical patriotism. Almost the entire North Dakota National Guard resigned from the Guard so they could enlist in the North Dakota Volunteers. Americans were soon on their way to Cuba and the Philippines.

Getting troops to their destinations was a well-orchestrated process, but getting them home again was more chaotic. Whether they had been discharged or were on furlough, the troops were often on their own. Many North Dakotans took it on themselves to raise money for train tickets to bring “their boys” home.

On this date in 1898, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad announced what the Oakes Republican newspaper called “a humane order.” Railroad officials became aware that many of the returning veterans were in sad condition – often hungry and sick, sometimes still suffering from wounds received in battle. The officials were determined to care for the veterans who traveled on their railroad, and this was welcome news to a state with so many citizens in military service.

The Chicago and Northwestern covered six states. General Manager Whitman announced that none of the “boys in blue” who traveled on his railroad would “suffer from lack of attention.” He ordered all employees to treat the veterans kindly, whether they were discharged or on furlough. Every employee was instructed to determine if a veteran needed food or medical care. Whitman said a veteran in need would be cared for at the railroad’s expense.

The railroad’s superintendent supported the order, saying the soldiers didn’t put themselves in harm’s way for money. Instead, “They did it for love of country.” The newspaper hoped other railroads would follow suit.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Oakes Republican. “A Corporation Soul.” Oakes ND, 10/7/1898. Page 1.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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