Dakota Datebook

Touching the Spirit of the West

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thousands of people lined the streets and gathered in the Bismarck auditorium on this day in 1921 to greet the French war hero, Marshal Ferdinand Foch. Marshal Foch was credited for holding the Germans at Marne, and for devising much of the strategy that won the war. Now the great war hero was on a tour of the United States, and because he wished to see as much of the United States as possible during his 60-day visit, the tour brought him to Bismarck for one day. The Bismarck residents set to work upon the news of his visit, and were determined to give Foch a visit he’d never forget. Following the ceremony, it was evident they had succeeded.

Foch arrived in Bismarck at 11 o’clock. A short parade led him through the streets of Bismarck, then to the city auditorium where he and several of his companions spoke to the large crowd. The audience waited patiently through the other speakers to hear Foch.

In his speech, Marshal Foch spoke of the similarities between France and the United States, and of their shared sacrifice in the Great War. “Even far in the west,” he said, “the people of North Dakota were united with all America and America united with France in the war…Therefore, I wish to come out to this state of North Dakota to bring the deep gratitude of the French nation and to tell you in person all this great state has done in the war.” Several other organizations showed gratitude to Foch as well, and among them was the Dakota Sioux nation.

Close to the end of the ceremony, Chief Red Tomahawk presented Marshal Foch with a peace pipe. Together, the Chief and Foch smoked the pipe, which was given to Foch, along with a beaded tobacco pouch as a gift from the Sioux nation. Foch was then given the name “Charging Thunder,” or Watakte Wakiya. The representatives of the French and Sioux nations then exchanged words of gratitude. “I know the record of the North American Indian in the war,” said Foch, “and I have come here in part particularly to thank this nation for the splendid men they sent—and the mothers of the Indian soldiers.” Foch also made a promise to Red Tomahawk that the graves of the Indians who died in Europe would never be disturbed.

Foch exited the city with as many cheers as when he arrived, and was particularly delighted when the Sioux Indians danced around him. His visit with the Sioux Indians made his stop in North Dakota particularly unique, reported the Bismarck Tribune. “Photographers, especially the movie weekly men who accompanied the train, saw a glorious opportunity for something different in the way of Foch pictures.” In this visit, Foch was able to “touch the spirit of the great west for the first time.”

Foch’s visit left a lasting impression on the state and Foch himself. Five years after Foch’s visit, the Sioux veterans sent Marshal Foch a card with holiday greetings and a note that they would turn toward France, raise their hands, and in spirit, greet the Marshal on Christmas. They asked that the Marshal do the same. The veterans later received a card from the Marshal saying he would, and in genuine Christmas spirit, wrote “Very many thanks, remembrances and best wishes (Remerciment et melleurs voeux).”

By Tessa Sandstrom

Sources:
“Charging Thunder sends greetings,” Oakes Times. Feb. 4, 1926: 1.
“Foch’s reception,” Bismarck Tribune. Nov. 28, 1921: 2.
“Marshal of France touches spirit of the West, is delighted; smokes Indian pipe of peace,” Bismarck Tribune. Nov. 28, 1921: 1.
“Marshal Foch as guest of American Leagion sets new globe trotting record,” Bismarck Tribune. Nov. 26, 1921: 2.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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