Since August of 1914, war clouds had hung over Europe. Although the United States had remained neutral, a declaration of war was not unexpected. With Congressional approval only a day away, the headline of The Williston Graphic prophesied in bold letters, “Into World’s War.” On this date in 1917, the House voted 373 to 50 in favor of war; the vote was 82 to 6 in the senate. The Graphic declared that the people of Williston were ready to take their place in the war effort and fraternal organizations in the city were lined up in full support. Pacifists circulating petitions for peace were met with open hostility as patriotism ran high. To show their patriotic support, the Williston German Club disbanded.
In Minot, the young women of the city organized a Minot Girls Military Squad. Plans were made for a patriotic concert in Riverside Park to rally the community behind the war effort with a theme of “Wake Up America.” Across North Dakota farmers pledged their cooperation to raise huge crops to feed an army. Local Red Cross units were organized. The National Guard filled its ranks with new recruits in anticipation of being called into service. Flags were flying and patriotic speeches filled the air.
In Pembina, F W. Wardwell, the 72-year-old editor of The Pioneer Express, penned a somber editorial on war. As a young man at the beginning of the Civil War, he recalled the nonchalant attitude of the public to the war, but with Union defeats at the outset that prolonged the war, the horrors became a reality for which the public was unprepared. He wrote, “We are at war. And yet we neither see or hear war. We are at war. Have you realized what this means to you and yours? It is hard to think that with all this bright sunshine, with workers and businessmen going on as usual, that we are about entering into the gates of hell, that fathers, brothers, sons and lovers may soon be weltering in blood on the fields of carnage… We are at war. If by some chance the war cloud should pass away, then we as a whole would never realize we had been at war…It takes blood to make people understand what war means and what war is. We do not recognize the war demon until he comes near enough to see his red garment. … Are you prepared for the necessary sacrifices?”
Back in Williston, the Graphic carried the name of Dick Burns, a local young man who died at the front. North Dakota was at war.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
“Patriotism Runs High In Williston”, The Williston Graphic, ,April 5, 1917
“War Time”, The Pioneer Express, April 13, 1917.