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Patriotism Gone Awry


In times of war, a person's patriotism is often questioned. The Espionage Act of 1918, often called the Sedition Act, was heavily enforced, and the courts were busy trying cases in North Dakota. German immigrants still held a loyalty to the homeland, but when America entered the war the previous year, freedom of speech did not include criticism of the war effort.

But it was not only immigrants who faced the censorship of a patriotic public. On this date in 1918, it had been rumored about the town of Robinson that C. F Depke, the local lumber agent, had made statements detrimental to the war effort and had stated that money collected by the Red Cross was being unfairly appropriated. These were hardly treasonous remarks, but a mob of men dragged him from his office in the early evening, stripped him of his clothes and smeared him with yellow paint. Upon his release, Depke ran to the minister's house where he was cleaned. He then proceeded to press charges against his attackers, but in the end, they were fined five dollars each and released. A wartime, patriotic public condoned actions such as painting a traitor or using tar and feathers.

But not all demonstrations of public disapproval ended peaceably. Only a week before the attack on Mr. Depke, an angry mob of fourteen vigilantes at Hazelton armed with tar and feathers sought out a local farmer who was allegedly hoarding 1,000 bushels of wheat instead of turning it over for the war effort. The farmer, W. W. Daugherty, convinced them that he had sold the wheat. But when the elevator operator failed to confirm this, the mob convened on the Hazelton home of Mrs. Elsie Perras where they believed Daugherty was hiding. They demanded that she turn the man over to them, but she refused. One of the mob then drew his revolver. It discharged, and Mrs. Perras slumped to the floor, dead. Cecil Pennington, who did the fatal shooting, was indicted for murder, and the rest of the mob for unlawful assemblage and rioting. One of the accused pleaded guilty to rioting and was fined $25.00. A change of venue was granted for the rest, and the case was eventually tried in Burleigh County in December of that year. Pennington received a prison term of five years, but the other vigilantes were released after it was found impossible to obtain a conviction. It was a patriotic act in a time of war and ... the war was over.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Dawson Press June 20, 1918

The Emmons County Republican June 13, 1918.

The Robinson Times June 20, 1918

The Emmons County Republican October 17, 1918

The Emmons County Republican December 12, 1918