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Swell Letters


With the troops now gone, those remaining in North Dakota took on the challenge of dealing with many concerns. Winter was fast approaching and a coal shortage was becoming critical. While the Great Lakes were still open for shipping, coal was slow in reaching the docks, and the demand was great across the Northern Plains. To make matters worse, coal strikes at Burlington, near Minot, were keeping six hundred tons per day of locally-produced coal off the market, and rationing was sure to follow.

While rationing quotas had not begun for food, people were being asked to conserve. On this date in 1917, thousands of Food Pledge letters were being distributed in North Dakota. Helping the food campaign meant readjustments in eating habits. Among the foods quickly becoming scarce was sugar. Guidelines for sugar conservation included leaving frosting off cakes and cookies, and reducing the consumption of candy and soft drinks. If everyone used one ounce less sugar a day, one hundred thousand tons per month could be shared with our allies.

On October 29, a carefully worded message had come that American troops were now at the front, and at 6:00 AM on a recent day, an American artillery unit had fired the first shell by American forces. The empty shell case was to be sent to President Wilson. At this same time, American troops had entered the front line trenches.

As for the families worrying at home, they anxiously waited for letters from their boys in service. For some of the young men who had never been away from home, the whole event was quite an adventure. The experience was, in their words, “swell.” Soldiers like J. R. Quinlivan from Valley City wrote home from Camp Greene, stating that they had a swell camp and even had a swell dinner with some swell old Southern people. Max Giese from Jamestown thought that they had some pretty swell entertainment at the Y. M. C. A. every night at Camp Grant, while Chuck Harmon of the 164th at Camp Greene thought things were pretty swell there, too. As the troops began moving to their points of departure for France, censorship became stricter. Germans submarines stalked the waters. Any hint as to when troop transports would be sailing could send hundreds of men to a watery grave. The flow of letters from the camps would be stemmed, but for the time being, for the folks at home, any letters from their loved ones were ... in a word… “swell.”

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


Weekly Times Record, Valley City, October 18, 1917

Jamestown Weekly Alert November 1, 1917

Grand Forks Herald November 2, 191

Sioux County Pioneer, November 1, 1917