ND Remembers WWI
Only two weeks after the Declaration of War, the military machine was progressing quickly. The prospect of raising an all-volunteer army was unrealistic, so Congress was expected to pass a draft bill by the end of April. However, North Dakotans had been quick to answer the call. Towns such as Edgeley were doing their part. With an area population of less than one thousand to draw from, eighteen young men had already joined up. The community of Taylor in Stark County saw five young men leave for the service. Minot anticipated sending fifteen candidates to officer training school at Fort Snelling.
Women’s clubs in the state were organizing programs in food and energy preservation as well as Red Cross activities. Suffrage advocates such as Elizabeth Prescott Anderson were advocating certified registration of women for service to the government. They were to participate in programs designed to eliminate waste and increase food from North Dakota resources.
Patriotism was running high, and anti-American conduct was not tolerated. John Van Warner of Minnesota, a member of the International Workers of the World, was arrested, tried and sentenced to thirty days in jail for jeering at two Jamestown men for wearing the Stars and Stripes on their lapels. The IWW had come out against the war, and news reports characterized Warner as an agitator.
During these early moments of the war, the news from the front still talked of British advances, with changes in the front lines measured in miles instead of yards. Many believed that the war could not go on much longer. Louis Dawson from Williston, who had crossed into Canada and joined the allies early on, wrote home that they were engaging in more work duties than in fighting, and that it was the opinion of the allied forces that the Germans were beaten. His casual confidence became even more apparent as he noted that the English tobacco was unacceptable, saying “If you want to help the allies, go out and buy me a can of Prince Albert and send it posthaste.”
But in the month preceding the declaration of war, the Germans had retreated to the Hindenburg Line with its series of fortified bunkers and trenches. This trench warfare, bolstered with rapid fire rifles and machine guns changed the face of the war. In a letter written six weeks later, after being wounded in the Battle for Vinny Ridge, Pvt. Dawson no longer saw an imminent collapse of the German Army, despite the fact that the U. S. had declared war. Like the American public, he too was beginning to visualize a prolonged conflict when he penned, “There is a big scrap ahead yet.”
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
“Edgeley, N.D. is Doing Her Bit for Government”, Grand Forks Herald, April 26,, 1917 p1.
“Club Women of State to Launch Move” The Bismarck Tribune, April 26, 1917 page 2.
“Williston Miner Killed at Front”, The Williston Graphic, April 5, 1917 page 1
“Louis Dawson Fighting in War Shot in Hand in Vinny Ridge Charge Easter Sunday Writes” The Williston Graphic, May 31, 1917, Page 1