Dakota Datebook Stories: The Great War

Lt. Bain and Lt. Huston, station platform La Ferte-sous-Jouarre.

Millions of Americans served in World War I — soldiers, sailors , nurses — and many at home provided support, suffered scarcities, and grieved for loved ones lost. The United States entered the Great War 100 years ago on April 6. Prairie Public’s Dakota Datebook is commemorating this anniversary with stories from North Dakota, thanks to historian Jim Davis and other Dakota Datebook writers.

Dakota Datebook radio features air weekdays at 8:35 am, 3:50 pm, 6:30 pm and 7:50 pm CT on Prairie Public. The Great War features will air weekly throughout the year. If a link below is not working, that essay hasn’t aired yet; please try again later.


Bismarck Name Change Controversy in World War I Fargo’s Women’s Relief Corps petitioned the North Dakota Governor to change the name of the capital city to one that sounded more American.

North Dakota POWs in Germany Stalag Luft 3 was a German prisoner of war camp in use from March of ‘42 through January of 1945.

Statewide Crop and Labor Survey It would be up to the state to produce “large quantities of food products.”

LeRoy Nayes While on a bombing mission to Linz, Austria, Nayes’ plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire and two of the four engines were knocked out.

Will You Finish the Job? The sale of Liberty Bonds raised over $21 billion during World War I.

On Messines Ridge By June 7, 1917, the British Second Army was prepared to attack the Germans at Messines Ridge in northern France.

War Declared With Congressional approval only a day away, the headline of The Williston Graphic prophesied in bold letters, “Into World’s War.”

Reception for a Native Son He was ordered to the rear when he was wounded, but he refused to leave his command.

ND Remembers WWI Patriotism was running high, and anti-American conduct was not tolerated.

Roosevelt’s Army On this date 100 years ago … in 1917 … the effects of the Great War were beginning to become a reality.

The State is Ready On this date in 1917, the Bismarck Tribune announced that North Dakota was ready, and it encouraged all North Dakotans to support the war effort.

Reality of War In a letter home, Fred C. Havelock told of life at the front.

Memorial Day On this date in 1921, the weather promised to be chilly, and the heavy clouds threatened rain.  But that did not dampen the spirits of folks in Grand Forks.  It was Memorial Day.

Draft Registration Day It was a critical day for many young men on this date in 1917.

Red Cross On this date in 1917, the final total for selective service registration was announced.

War Gardens When America entered World War I, it was not prepared.

Call to the Colors “N.D. Regiments Called to the Colors” screamed the headlines of the Bismarck Tribune on this date in 1917.

Food Supplies and Shortages With the First World War raging in Europe, much of the land had been devastated, and food was scarce.

Kate Richards O’Hare With the collapse of the Russian Army and the capture of their artillery due to a quick German advance, conditions on the Eastern Front were in disarray.

Papelpu’s Odyssey As a German prisoner, he watched as his fellow comrades died of starvation and exhaustion from forced labor.

Labor Shortage War news from Europe was somewhat grim in August of 1917, as the mobilization of troops in the United States was rapidly approaching.

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.

German Nationals At the beginning of the war, German nationals in the US without citizenship were monitored. In North Dakota there wasn’t any widespread mistreatment, but US District Attorney Melvin Hildreth, of Fargo, advised German nationals to “obey the law and keep your mouth shut.”

Draftee’s Mobilization For many, it was not until the first call of draftees that the reality of war was brought home.

Undesirables On this date in 1917, many of the state’s young men were in military camps around the state, having been mobilized through the draft or as members of the National Guard. Consequently, an increase in crime was seen as the absence of so many young men made it harder for the citizenry to counter criminal behavior.

Books for Soldiers The war caught America unprepared, not only by an inadequate military establishment, but in a source of revenue to fund it.

Civilian Casualty on the Home Front On this date in 1917, the Second Regiment of the North Dakota National Guard prepared to leave for Camp Greene, South Carolina.  Among them was Joseph Jordan, a Sioux of the Standing Rock Reservation, who had enlisted in Company I, Second Infantry of the guard on July 22 that same year.

National Guard Units Leave For the units of the North Dakota National Guard, the days in camp took on the feel of a summer bivouac more than a preparation for war.

Underappreciated and Under Fire On this date in 1918, the Hope Pioneer reported on the meeting of the Woman’s National Council of Defense in Sherbrooke.

Nonpartisan League Within a few years of its organization, the Nonpartisan League was overwhelming North Dakota’s political landscape by the time war was declared in 1917.

North Dakota Black Contingent W. S. Turley, living south of Dickinson, quoted part of a speech made in early April by Roscoe Simmons, nephew of Booker T. Washington, as to the loyalty of the African-American.

Birth of the 164th The Second Regiment of the North Dakota National Guard had been quickly assembled with volunteers having little or no military experience.

Swell Letters Families worrying at home 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.

Keeping Busy With the war raging in Europe, there was plenty to do for North Dakotan’s in the fall of 1917.

The Fighting Chaplain When the North Dakota Second Regiment was organized for the Great War in the early summer of 1917, they found a champion in the form of Herbert G. Markley of Hamilton, North Dakota.

Thanksgiving 1917 On this date in 1917, the people of North Dakota were planning for the first major holiday with many loved ones away, awaiting transportation to the battlefields of Europe.

Calmer Times Early in September of 1917, as the units of the North Dakota National Guard awaited orders, the Fargo Forum published an editorial cautioning the citizens of North Dakota that now was the time to address the feelings toward friends and neighbors who were German immigrants.

Camp Mills Most of North Dakota’s National Guard were assigned to the 41st Division at Camp Greene in early October of 1917, and in November, the division began moving to Camp Mills, New York to be closer to their embarkation point for the trip to France.

Taking on the American Legion On this date in 1919, the Washburn Leader reported on a World War Veterans meeting in Bismarck. The newspaper called the group a socialist organization and said it was determined to break the political influence of the newly established American Legion.

Railroad Travelers At Langdon on the first week of December, the thermometer hit thirty-nine below.  Coal remained in extremely short supply and the suffering was widespread.  But to complicate matters, the shortage affected the railroads.

The Face of War We were at War, and for Carl Kositzky, State Auditor for North Dakota, the Great War had more meaning than many.  His father, Gustave Kositzky had immigrated to Yankton, Dakota Territory from Germany in 1871.

Christmas, 1917 For the Red Cross, December of 1917 was an active season in North Dakota. With loved ones ever closer to the front, there was an urgency to ensure that the boys had the comforts of home as much as possible.

Kate Richards O’Hare Trial Kate O’Hare had been arrested for making seditious remarks at a lecture in Bowman back in July. At that lecture, among other things, she stated that women who sent their sons to war were no better than brood sows.

Somewhere in France With the North Dakota boys now on foreign soil, news from the front was anxiously awaited, but censorship rules had tightened.

Special Session Citing extraordinary conditions unparalleled in the history or our country, and a need to secure sufficient seed and feed for maximum agriculture production, Governor Lynn J. Frazier called for a Special Legislative Session on this date in 1918.

Tag Your Shovel Day During the Great War, many items were needed for the troops fighting halfway across the world.

Louis Ousley, First Casualty Over There It was only a matter of time before the causality lists came back with familiar names from North Dakota.

Wheatless & Meatless With thousands of American troops now at the front in France on this date in 1918, food conservation had become critical.

Sandy-Haired Bismarck Boy With the North Dakota boys manning the trenches on the front lines on this date in 1918, local newspapers were carefully scrutinized, hoping that the name of a loved one would not appear on the latest causality list.

YMCA In September of 1917, the North Dakota Regiments left the state to the training camps in the East. They found comfort there in the YMCA huts in the large cantonments.

Kaiser’s Goat On this date in 1918 there was a goat traveling around Fargo, quickly going from one owner to the next.  “Get the Kaiser’s Goat” was a unique method for encouraging the sale of War Thrift Stamps.

Casualty Lists Early in the war, the newspapers in North Dakota carried casualty lists containing only meaningless names or numbers.

Loyalist Association In 1918, with the casualty lists now containing the names of North Dakota soldiers, any anti-war sentiment was not to be tolerated.

Wartime News Throughout the first year after America entered the war in 1917, the War Department maintained a strict censorship on the news from France.

The Soldier Tobacco Fund On this date in 1918, the Washburn Leader announced that the newspaper was participating in a program that would provide comfort to the American soldiers at the front – the Soldier Tobacco Fund.

Daylight Savings One hundred years ago, serial stories of the war, such as “Over the Top” as well as Associated Press articles, provided details of life in the front line trenches, creating a vivid picture of the war for people back home.

War Exhibit April 6, 1918 marked the one year anniversary of America’s entrance into the Great War.  In many of North Dakota’s towns and cities, impressive celebrations were held to recognize the dedicated, patriotic effort that had engulfed the state over the past twelve months.

Conscientious Objector “They can come and take me and put me in prison or kill me, but they can’t make me fight. God’s against war, and it isn’t right.”

Trench Warfare Soon after they arrived in France, privates in the North Dakota Regiments were often separated from their units and spirited to the front as replacements.





Dakota Datebook is is generously funded by the North Dakota Humanities Council, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of the North Dakota Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.



Thank you to the State Historical Society of North Dakota for their contributions and guidance.

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