Company B Rides Free
North Dakota played an integral part in the Spanish American War. In 1898, President McKinley put out a call for volunteers. North Dakota experienced a surge of patriotism. In Fargo, Captain Keye asked Guard members willing to volunteer to take two steps forward. It was reported that every man responded. The volunteers did not know at the time that they would be gone for eighteen long months.
Men from all across North Dakota formed the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry. Company B was made up entirely of men from Fargo. Twenty-three students from the Agricultural School (now NDSU) joined the company. They spent a few short weeks training. In late May, they departed Fargo from the Great Northern Depot. They were on their way to the Philippines.
The North Dakota troops expected to return home when the Spanish American War ended, but that hope was dashed with the Philippine insurrection. Rebels attacked American troops just two days before the peace treaty was signed with Spain. The North Dakota troops suffered from battle wounds, disease, and exhaustion, but had to stay on the job.
In August, 1899 they finally boarded the USS Grant to return home. Communities all across North Dakota planned joyous homecoming celebrations. The news came that the troops would be mustered out when they reached San Francisco. That meant the government would not pay for train tickets home. Citizens of Fargo started a campaign called “Company B Rides Free,” collecting donations to pay for train tickets. The campaign also caught on in other North Dakota communities that had sent men to the Philippines.
On this date in 1899, the first returning troops stepped off the train in Dickinson. They arrived at two o’clock in the morning. They were greeted by a large, enthusiastic crowd. Well-wishers met the train at every stop. By the time it arrived in Fargo, 10,000 people waited at the depot. There was a parade to the armory. The next day there was a community barbecue and potluck. An estimated 15,000 people attended, sharing hundreds of loaves of bread, stacks of pies, and more food than the crowd could consume. The troops were home. Company B – and all the North Dakota troops – did, indeed, ride free.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Alexander Louden Recalls His Service. "http://www.spanamwar.com/1stnorthdakotalouden.html" http://www.spanamwar.com/1stnorthdakotalouden.html Accessed 8/5/14
Fargo History Project: An NDSU Public History Initiative. "
National Guard North Dakota. "http://www.ndguard.ngb.army.mil/history/164WWII/parttwospanishamericanwar/Pages/default.aspx" http://www.ndguard.ngb.army.mil/history/164WWII/parttwospanishamericanwar/Pages/default.aspx Accessed 8/5/14