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Rolette County Farmer


During World War I, North Dakotans from all walks of life joined the army. Among them were two brothers from near Rolla in Rollette County – Clarence and Lyle Davis, who enlisted in Company G, Second Infantry, North Dakota National Guard, on July 13, 1917. They were immediately called into federal service.

Clarence and Lyle went to North Carolina for basic training. Shortly after, their father, Alfred Davis, was struck with pangs of longing to see his sons and held hopes of joining them. And so, Alfred Davis, devoted father, departed from Rolla by train, bound for North Carolina to find his boys.

On the surface, it looked ridiculous, for Alfred Davis, age 50, was too old. When Mr. Davis arrived, he went directly to regimental headquarters to plead his case. The officers, being too busy, made Davis speak with newspaper reporter Earle Tostevin, a Grand Forks Herald correspondent. On this date, in 1917, the newspaper told about Davis and his quest.

Davis asked: “Could you tell me where I can find my two boys?”

Sorry, he was told, your boys [have] been transferred to Mineola, New York.

Davis gulped and asked: “Do you suppose the government would let me join their company? You see,” continued Davis, “I’ve been farming . . . for twenty years, ever since the boys were born. My wife is dead and my daughter is teaching school back home. I’ve cleared up all my affairs and I’m ready to go fight for Uncle Sam . . . . Clarence is only twenty and Lyle is twenty-three, and . . . . I want to be with them.”

Taken to see Commander John Grant, Davis pleaded: “Don’t you suppose I could get in somehow?”

Captain Grant advised Davis to send a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson, which he did.

Four days later, an executive order signed by President Wilson gave the “O.K” for Davis to serve as a cook at his boys’ camp until they went overseas in December. In service in France, son Clarence worked in a field hospital, while Lyle was a cook. Both came home, unhurt, in 1919.

As for Alfred Davis – he fulfilled his unlikely quest; and this story of a Rollette County farmer remains as a heartwarming testimonial to a father’s devotion to his soldier-boy sons in World War One.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Rollette County Farmer Wants To Enter Service To Be Near His Two Boys,” Grand Forks Herald , November 6, 1917, p. 7.

“Sans Teeth, 50, Years Old, Gets Into The Army,” Grand Forks Herald , November 10, 1917, p. 12.

“Davis Makes Grade,” Bismarck Tribune , November 12, 1917, p. 2.

“Father Joins Army To Be Near His Sons,” Grand Forks Herald , November 13, 1917, p. 6.

“Clarence Dewey Davis,” and “Lyle Elmer Davis,” Rollette County, N.D., in Roster of the Men and Women Who Served in the Army or Naval Service of the U.S. . . . from the State of North Dakota in the World War, 1917-1918 , Vol. 1, (Legislative Assembly of N.D.), p. 684, 687.