Escaping the Draft
A military draft was instituted during the American Civil War. It proved to be very unpopular, and was abolished when the war was over. But when World War I broke out, the draft was reintroduced with the Selective Service Act of 1917. All men ages of 21 to 30 had to register. This was later expanded to ages 18 to 45. Some exemptions were granted. Men who had dependent families, necessary jobs, or physical disabilities were excused. Members of pacifist organizations like the Quakers were granted conscientious objector status, but they had to perform service that did not require fighting. By the end of World War I, almost 3 million men had been inducted into the military.
The country’s involvement in World War I was not popular in North Dakota. Some say that was because of the high population of Germans. To be fair, residents of the state had been equally reluctant to get involved in the Spanish American War. But, just as with that earlier conflict, North Dakotans were determined to support the country. When war was declared, the state did its part. Company E of the 164th Infantry was reorganized in October, 1917, and served as an element of the 41st Infantry Division. The unit served with distinction.
However, not all North Dakotans were anxious to serve their country. On this date in 1918, The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican reported on a man who went to great lengths to avoid service. Louis Steiber claimed he was too old to be drafted. At the time, the upper age was 30. An indictment said Steiber presented a false document to the draft board. An altered date on a forged baptismal certificate made it appear that he was 31. In the process, he also got a friend in trouble. A.F. Marquetie, the owner of the Bismarck steam laundry, was arrested by a U.S. Deputy Marshal and charged with conspiracy for helping Steiber.
An article in The American Legion Weekly estimated that there were almost half a million draft dodgers during World War I. It stated that the War Department was determined to prosecute them all.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
InfoPlease. “Selective Service.” "http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/history/selective-service.html" http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/history/selective-service.html Accessed 23 February, 2016
State Historical Society of North Dakota. "http://www.history.nd.gov/nhdinnd/turningpoints/WWIinND.html" http://www.history.nd.gov/nhdinnd/turningpoints/WWIinND.html Accessed 23 February, 2016.
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Clay County Contributes Fourteen More.” “Forgery Used in Escaping the Draft Act.” 23 March, 1918.
Riis, Roger William. “Combing the Draft for Slackers.” The American Legion Weekly, January 20, 1930.