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March 22: Citizen Soldiers

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In 1916, revolutionary leader Pancho Villa controlled much of northeastern Mexico. As a part of his campaign to destabilize United States interests in northern Mexico, Villa launched an attack on US mining executives. Eighteen Americans were killed.

He hoped the attack would convince the United States to remain neutral. It had the opposite effect. Americans who had previously paid little attention to the conflict in Mexico were outraged at the deaths and demanded a response. Then Pancho Villa led an attack on Columbus, New Mexico, prompting President Wilson to order a raid into Mexico to capture Villa and end the turmoil. In spite of Wilson’s support of the Mexican government, President Carranza regarded the action as a violation of Mexican sovereignty.

Nevertheless, General John “Blackjack” Pershing continued the pursuit. On this date in 1916, it was announced that the National Guard would assist with the campaign. Quartermasters and commissary officers were informed that they should report as soon as possible to their state army depots. Senator Lawrence Sherman of Illinois introduced a resolution to authorize a call for 50,000 volunteers. Only seventeen years after they had served in the Philippine American War, it appeared that North Dakota boys would soon find themselves in another international conflict.

That conjecture turned out to be correct. National Guard units from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico were activated, but those states had small units and could only provide 5,000 men. Wilson ordered the activation of another 110,000 National Guard soldiers, and that included those from North Dakota. Local newspapers touted “their” companies as the best in the state and North Dakota’s companies as the best in the entire country. Towns held banquets and dances for the boys and raised money to help support the local companies. The North Dakota troops left for Fort Lincoln on June 24, accompanied by crowds of well-wishers and brass bands.

On July 22, a thousand of the men left the state. But in contrast to their service in the Philippines, they were not gone long. They returned the following January.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


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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