In the summer of 1894, a group of North Dakota soldiers from the First Infantry Regiment of the North Dakota National Guard sat idly, waiting for a train to pick them up at their training camp in Jamestown and take them home. But no train would come, for the American Railroad Union, under the direction of Eugene Debs, was on strike. Despite Governor Eli Shortridge's pleas for permission to run the trains in North Dakota, Debs refused to make exceptions even to bring home the North Dakota troops. So, the resourceful soldiers commandeered three locomotives at the Jamestown roundhouse and brought themselves home. Though this small regiment may have been ignored by the striking railroad workers, North Dakota soldiers would one day come to demand the respect of the entire nation.
The First North Dakota Regiment of the Territorial Guard was formed in 1885 to protect settlers from Indian raids and other dangers on the frontier. In its earliest years, the regiment was a ragtag group of ill-equipped soldiers. The government supplied the men with only the barest essentials: food, shelter, a gun, belt, and bayonet. Training camps were more like social gatherings, and the men even had to purchase their own uniforms for $35.
When North Dakota entered the Union in 1889, the First North Dakota Regiment became the First Infantry Regiment of the North Dakota National Guard. The regiment saw its first major action when it was called into Federal Service during the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection in 1898. Entering the war under a new name, the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry, the soldiers took part in over 32 engagements, helping to capture Manila and put down the insurrection.
The regiment was called into service once more in 1916 to assist in the Mexican border conflict and again in 1917 to fight in France during WWI, when they became the 164th North Dakota Infantry.
On this date in 1941, the Fargo Forum reported that the men of 164th were heading out to train for combat before joining the fight during WWII.
During the Second World War, the soldiers the 164th were among the first Americans to fight in the Battle of Guadalcanal. During this battle, the North Dakota soldiers were involved in some of the heaviest fighting. The U.S. marines they reinforced at Guadalcanal commended their courage.
The 164th fought for the last time in the Korean War, and was disbanded in 1955.
Dakota Datebook written by Carol Wilson
The Fargo Forum, February 25, 1941.