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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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WW1 Daybook

Besieged by Urchins

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 11, 2018

This is an excerpt from the diary of Edward Gilkey which was taken off his fallen body and returned to his parents by his commanding officer First Sergeant Clifford Brundage, after he was struck by a high explosive shell in The Second Battle of the Marne. His parents had the diary published in memory of their son. In this entry, Gilkey talks about riding the train into Paris. He comments on the beautiful scenery, but his views of the city are tainted when he gets to the station. He states there were several young children, (which he calls urchins,) selling a plethora of different things. The soldiers were swarmed by them the moment they stepped off the train.


Tuesday, June 11 - Train stopped for breakfast about eight o'clock, didn't cover much ground because of some delay to a train in front of us, headed in direction of Havre, but turned off for Paris, which city we reached about 4:30, twenty kilos before we reached Paris the country became more beautiful the villages gave way to homes, more like those in the states, being scattered and not grouped, houses more beautiful and grounds more luxurious, extensive, beautiful gardens which were carefully taken care of, I got a seat on one of the wagons, and had a fine tour, greeted by Mdlles ["Mesdemoiselles"] all along the way while near Paris, stations crowded with pretty Mdlles, dressed in best styles, they sure did give us a royal send off, we sang and yelled all the way to Paris, we only went through the St. Denis section, but got a good view of Paris, of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, part we passed through wasn't much different from the railroad yards of any large American City, stopped for half an hour, was beseiged [sic] by urchins and girls selling wines, oranges, ect., if the fellows had been paid they would sure have done some business, people sure some excited, kids dirty and barefooted run along side of train begging for souvenirs and cigarettes, finally left Paris, disappointed with what we had seen of it, from Paris headed in general direction of Rheims, through the Marne country here thickly wooded and very thinly populated, we arrived at Monturail at 10:30 but stayed in box cars 'till morning.

Citation: Gilkey, Edward. Edward Norman Gilkey: His Diary of His LIfe in the War Zone, France. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B

Duties of an Ambulance Driver

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 10, 2018

Willard W. Bixby, an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, sent this letter to his Mother while stationed in Milan, Italy. In it, he describes his duties as a driver, such as transporting wounded soldiers between the front lines and different hospitals and rotating with other drivers to stay on the front lines in case there is a need for an ambulance. He reassures his family by telling them he is in little danger as an ambulance driver, aside from gas attacks, and he mentions that all drivers have gas masks to protect themselves. Half-way through the letter, Bixby comments that his pen "gave out".
Included are three photographs, one of Bixby and his friends on their way home, another of an armored car that was blown up only 30 minutes after the picture was take, and a photograph of Bixby sitting on his ambulance on a Saturday night.


"A last examination to the machine guns of an armored car, before it makes a dash through the Austrian lines. Half an hour after this picture was taken, this car was annihilated, only one of its four occupants escaping."

Citation: Willard W. Bixby and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/.B624

Typical Day on the Front

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 9, 2018

This entry depicts an average day in the life of a soldier. Most of the time it was a lot of sitting around and small excitements to make the days go by. The only thing of note that happened to Fraser today was that he saw some cute girls at the Y in the evening; otherwise it was a very uneventful day.


Rain in morn. Did some more packing. 5 Harrow sisters were at the "Y" in the evening were fair.

Citation: William K Fraser Diary. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1943

Promoted to Director of Physical Training

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 8, 2018

Paul Thompson wrote this letter to his sister describing his stay in Italy. He announces that he has been named as the Director of Physical Training for the district of Rome - and expects to have business cards made stating such. He is asking his sister to send viewpoints of the war from the American perspective, (if it is allowed,) as he is curious to hear how those who are not fighting in the war feel about it.


June 4-1918
Dear Ruth,
Your letter of May 4 came in today and I was much relieved to find that you knew I did not sail in the torpedoed boat. [...] I could have sailed on that boat but my trunk was at Muele Ge guie [sic] and I didn't have time to get it after I learned the boat was to sail. So I lost an interesting experience altho there were two encounters with submarines by a destroyer on our trip - one of which I stood on the deck and saw. I am now director of Physical Training for the district of Rome. In a few days I will have business cards printed to that effect. [...] You can imagine the job I would have if I were in charge of all military athletics at Mpls & Ft. Snelling. Then add to that all kinds of hospitals for all kinds of sick and wounded and the worst to be done by interpreter and you will get an idea of what I am to tackle. I am to start out at once to organize athletic committees in the military units and start the work going. [...] You had better consult the postmaster about sending printed matter to me here. If it is allowed you can help me a great deal by sending pictures and books of American views as these are of much interest to the people here. [...]
My best wishes to you all.
Your loving brother,

Citation: Paul Thompson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/T475 4/19-8/19

Ornate Military Uniform Buttons

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 7, 2018

The buttons used on military uniforms were very representative of their country. Pictured here are military uniform buttons from Australia, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and the United States. It is not hard to tell where each button is from just by looking at it. The Australian button has the outline of the country; the British depicts the crest of the monarchy. The Canadian, French, and German all have emblems referring to their monarchical history. And the US button bears the crest of the United States. These ornate buttons served as reminders to the men wearing them of what they were fighting for. Their individuality also made them a common souvenir picked up by soldiers abroad.

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections

True Soldier

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 6, 2018

This is the Gold Star Roll Record of Alexander P. Adwell from Renville, Minnesota. Adwell died on this day in the Battle of Belleau Wood from a machine gun wound. Seen here is the original Marine Corps Dispatch which informed Adwell's family of his death. Also included is a letter from one of Adwell's comrades to his family extending his condolences about their loss. He says that Adwell was an incredible soldier, and that he obtained all the qualities that make up a true soldier.


July 2, 1918
William Adwell
Renville Minnesota.
Deeply Regret to inform you that cablegram from abroad advises that Private Palmer Alexander Adwell, Marine Corps, was killed in action between June second and tenth. Body will be interred abroad until end of war. Please accept my heartfelt sympathy in your great loss. Your son nobly gave his life in the service of his country.
George Barnett
Major General Commandant.

Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma,
July 8, 1918.
Mr. and Mrs. William Adwell,
Renville, Minnesota.
Dear friends:
Having just learned today through the Official Bulletin from Washington that your boy, Palmer, had made the supreme sacrifice for his country, I wish to extend my heartfelt sympathy to you in your hour of sorrow and grief. I know that any words of mine must be weak but I wish to tender you the consolation that may be found in knowing that as a soldier Palmer was one of the finest it has been our country's honor to own. In my service with him on the Mexican border in 1916 I learned to know him as possessing all the finer qualities that go to make up the true soldier or man, courage, self-reliance, diligence, intelligence and a happy cheerfulness under adversity. Twice did he voluntarily offer himself to his country and twice did you cheerfully send him on to do her bidding. [...]
Yours most respectfully,
Lawrence M. Carlson

Citation: "Adwell, Alexander P" Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.2F

Stop Stealing the Linens!

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 6, 2018

This general order, issued on June 5th, 1918, reports that troops had been stealing towels, sheets, and blankets off Pullman cars in large numbers. This order thus declares that the soldiers must be inspected upon arrival so that stolen materials could be returned and the thieves brought to trial.


June 5, 1918.
1. It has been brought to the attention of the Commanding General, Port of Embarkation, that troops have been removing from the Pullman cars quantities of towels, linens and blankets; the aggregate loss amounting to many thousands of dollars.
2. It is therefore directed that on the arrival of troops at the Port of Embarkation, a thorough inspection of the clothing and equipment of the troops be made, and in all cases where property belonging to the Pullman Company is found, inspections will cause it to be turned in to the local Quartermaster and the guilty parties brought to trial immediately.[...]

Citation: U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th

"Enemy Drive Halted" and "Long Struggle is Predicted" - The Daily People's Press. June 4, 1918.

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 4, 2018

"German Submarines Sink U.S. Vessels Off Jersey Coast; Boston Port Closed" and "Germans Attempt Pust Westward on Marne; Battleline Huge Semi-Circle" - Bemidji Daily Pioneer. June 3, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 3, 2018

Recruiting in WWI part 1

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 2, 2018

Sergeant Fritz "Fred" Gustafson was from St. Paul, Minnesota. During the war Gustafson did his bit by serving as a recruiting officer for the Marine Corps. In this letter home, Gustafson compares the act of recruiting men to missionary work. He says he goes to churches and open air meetings, anywhere that men congregate, in order to recruit, and he plans on using a short bible verse to convince men to join the cause. Gustafson became ill on October 26th, 1918, the day he was supposed to sail for France with the Replacement Battalion. He died of pneumonia a week later on November 2, 1918, 9 days before the Armistice.


June 2, 1918
Dear Mother:
Just a few lines this beautiful Sunday afternoon[.] I just returned from a recruiting trip to St. Charles. We had a fine time and were successful in securing recruits. [...] I have been speaking at open air meetings and at the theatres, now I am going to make a round of the churches. You understand we must speak wherever men gather. A sort of Missionary work. [...] I am going to use that little verse, "What greater love hath man shown than that, that he lay down His life for a friend." I am going to compare this with the war. And tell the men that when they enlist they are doing as the Scripture says, that we should obey the government even though it be against our convictions. [...]
With love to father, sister and brother-in-law.
With warm love

Citation: "Gustafson, Fritz A." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B


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