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Keeping Busy


With the war raging in Europe, there was plenty to do for North Dakotan’s in the fall of 1917. School programs of both an academic and patriotic nature proliferated. There were bake sales to support the YMCA, a newly created fund-raising effort, and sewing circles for the Red Cross. The Red Cross enlisted women in every part of North Dakota to provide mittens, socks, surgical dressings and other items needed desperately by the military. They preached quality, not quantity, and hoped that the sheer number of participants would help fill their quotas. It was fall, and agricultural fairs showcased the products raised on the farm. Local farmers, unable to serve, found hog raffle fund-raisers a convenient way to contribute to the war cause.

Providing a welcome diversion from the war was the evolving film industry. It was a time when film underwent the transition from short, one-reel programs to feature films with stars like Charlie Chaplain, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

For men there was the fall hunting season, but with prohibition in effect, bellying up to the bar was not an option … at least not legally. And although the harvest was over, there were still the year-end chores, like fall plowing and corn husking.

Coinciding with the war was a quick exit of migrant workers after the harvest. At fault was North Dakota’s Bone Dry Law. Having made their stake, these men were anxious to get to some place where they could wash the threshing dust out of their throats. With higher wages and an abundance of work, they had more money than they ever had before. As one editor put it, “they were heading to joyland to put their golden crop through the separators of the great white way.”

So, besides the many year-end chores to complete, there was the annual fall preparation of fruits, vegetables and meats – the curing and canning – that would carry families through the winter. But the wartime rules about food conservation and hoarding had some people confused. So confusing were the regulations, that it prompted the federal government to issue an announcement to homemakers. It promised that Uncle Sam and Herbert Hoover, the Food Commissioner, didn’t want the jelly and the jam families had preserved. They stated that when a slick-looking “food inspector” comes along offering to confiscate all one hundred quarts you’ve put away, don’t listen. He’s a thief. Gently call your dog, reach for your shotgun, phone the sheriff, and then call the coroner. They prompted, “Do your duty.”

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune, November 8, 1917

Williston Graphic, November 1, 1917

The Ward County Independent, November 8, 1917

Wells County Farmer, October 18, 1918