Dakota Datebook

First to Leave

 

While newspapers across the state heralded the announcement that American soldiers were now poised to enter the war, they also carried grim reminders that North Dakotans who had joined the Canadian Armed Forces early on were already fighting and dying in the trenches in France.

For the most part, the units of the North Dakota National Guard were either at Fort Lincoln or still training at their local armories. They awaited the completion of huge Army bases to accommodate the large influx of soldiers.  But not all units had to wait.

On this date in 1917, seventy-eight members the Hospital Corps of the First Battalion of the North Dakota National Guard stationed in Lisbon passed through Fargo on their way to Fort Deming, New Mexico.  This was the first unit of the Guard to leave the state.  They were given a rousing farewell as hundreds of people from all over the area gathered to wish them well in Lisbon and when the train stopped in Fargo.  As a going away gift, the Hospital Corps was presented with over five hundred dollars in gold.

Among those present at the ceremony was W. J. Arnold, publisher of the North Dakota Standard, and Smith Stimmel, a Civil War veteran and former bodyguard to Abraham Lincoln.   Known as the North Dakota Patriotic Squadron, the two men were on a mission to visit every town in North Dakota to encourage the establishment of a Home Guard.  When organized, the guard would act basically in a vigilante style to protect each community — a response to the power void created as men in law enforcement entered military service.

Of immediate concern was a group known as the Industrial Workers of the World, a socialistic, radical group of pro-union advocates.  They were attempting to organize labor in the mines and factories as well as the migrant farm workers.  Traveling like hobos, members of the IWW moved from one area in the state to the next, riding the rails in boxcars.  By organizing strikes, they hampered the war effort, and were often blamed for committing acts of violence.  Barns and haystacks were burned and farmers threatened.   Nationally, Wobblies, as they were called, were arrested, harassed and even tarred and feathered. In Butte, Montana, Frank Little, a member of the executive committee of the IWW, was taken from his room and hanged from a railroad trestle. In North Dakota, Governor Lynn Frazier issued a proclamation protecting their constitutional rights, but all across North Dakota, Home Guard units sprang up endeavoring to enforce laws and to ensure patriotic principles.  Wobblies beware.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

Grand Forks Herald, August 17,  1917

Jamestown Weekly Alert August 2, 1917

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