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Call to the Colors


“N.D. Regiments Called to the Colors” screamed the headlines of the Bismarck Tribune on this date in 1917. The War Department had called the North Dakota troops into active federal service effective on July 15th. The Federal Militia Board was preparing for the transportation of the North Dakota National Guard, which was mobilizing on August 5th. Fort Lincoln in Bismarck was officially designated as the assembly point for all North Dakota troops. The various units of the guard were to be separated into sixteen practical divisions and assigned to camps for final training before being sent to France. When founded, the National Guard was designed to be a militia for the protection of the homeland. However, the proclamation activating the Guard contained a clause specifically discharging the force from militia status.

It was also noted that since April 2nd, three hundred and fifty-three North Dakotans had enlisted in the various branches of the military. This information indicated the enlistment by county so each county could be credited when determining their numbers required for the draft. Cass County led the way with forty-seven.

Mobilization plans were uncertain, and many units of the North Dakota National Guard lacked the required quota of men. With the organization of a Second Regiment in the state, the pressure was on to fill the ranks. Minot was the first to organize a full company, becoming Company A in the new regiment. The area around Crosby recruited enough men for a company in just a matter of hours, but others areas of the state had a tougher time. In Grand Forks for example, Company M, with its machine gun component, was having trouble recruiting volunteers.

When Capt. A. B. Welch proposed organizing a company of Sioux Indians from Standing Rock, Secretary of War Newton Baker opposed the plan and preferred to have them join units that had already been established in Bismarck or Mandan. Of the ninety-eight Native Americans registered in Sioux County only seven were citizens and eligible to join.

While many state draft registrants tried to avoid military service, there were those who enlisted but were rejected due to their physical condition. With poor eyesight, Ralph Beede, son of Judge Aaron McCaffery Beede failed the physical and wrote a letter home with a poem which read in part:

“With ancient longing, all forgot
For aye, I long to share the lot
Of those consumed as candles are…
To wage this God-appointed war.
For freedom destined to retrieve
World-Justice, right for those who grieve…
Oh God, rejected, “I am unfit,
To do and die and do my bit.”

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Sioux County Pioneer, July 19, 1917

Grand Forks Herald, July 11, 1917

The Bismarck Tribune, July 10, 1917

Ward County Independent Jul 12, 1917