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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

David Backus Runs Errands in Paris

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 24, 2017

Back in Paris after the most recent French offensive, David Backus took advantage of the opportunity to run a few errands. In addition to visiting a bank and a fine clothes shop, Backus bid farewell to the distinguished 25-year-old captain of the 51st Highlanders, who would travel to “the big show” at Ypres. What Backus called the “big show” was in fact the Third Battle of Ypres, or the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the deadliest military engagements of the First World War. Additionally, David Backus’s August 24th diary entry lends the impression that his days as an ambulance driver were numbered. He reported travelling to the U.S. Aviation Headquarters, where he qualified for the U.S. Army’s physical exam and filled out an application to become a pilot. And when he visited the American Red Cross Headquarters at Place de la Concorde, Backus received a letter of recommendation from Mr. Harjes, which would, ideally, secure him a place as a pilot in the First World War.


Backus diary page
Backus diary page

Saturday, Aug. 25, 17
[...] Went to U.S. Aviation Headquarters. Qualified for physical exam put in my application. Meet Mark & Stan Metcalfe, we went to the tipperary for lunch thence to Cafe. [...] Saw Mr. Harjes, nothing as yet so got a letter of recomdation [sic] from him for Aviatation [sic]. [...] Took Capt. Steward to Continental, got his hat from Brad. Went down to Gau du Nord & saw him off for Ypres for the big show. He is the senior officer in his battalion & only 25 years old [...] He is captain of 51st Highlanders, the chaps that took Vimy Ridge. [...]

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

"New Offensive is Begun Near Ypres by British Forces" and "Next Army Draft Date Tentatively Set For New Year" - The Daily People's Press. August 23, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 23, 2017

Winsted, MN Conscript Advocates Censorship and Internment of "Disloyal" Citizens

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 22, 2017

Before leaving to fight in France, an American conscript from Winsted, Minnesota, sent this strongly worded letter to Senator Knute Nelson, in which he criticized the U.S. government’s excessive valuation of freedom of speech. According to this soldier, the principle of freedom of speech was “rapidly promoting disloyalty and sedition” at a time when their consequences were extremely dire. The author argued that any American opposition to the war encouraged the German Army abroad, thus lengthening the conflict and resulting in more U.S. casualties. By this logic, those that criticized the United States in a time of war were “murderers by every law of Heaven and Earth.” In order to protect pro-American sentiment on the Home Front, the author would resort to extreme measures: shutting down all newspapers that were deemed anti-American and adopting the practice of internment or deportation for all disloyal citizens. In conclusion, the author promised Senator Nelson that he and his fellow soldiers could hold the Front, but it was Nelson’s duty to “keep the copperheads and hyenas from knifing [them] in the rear.”


Letter from conscript

Winsted, Minn., Aug 22nd, 1917
Dear Sir:
The United States of America is at war with the German Government for the express purpose of thrashing hell out of the Kaiser and the Krupp gun works, to help make the world a fit place for human beings to live in. Unrestricted freedom of speech is rapidly promoting disloyalty and sedition. Liberty has degenerated into license. The work of German propagandists is running rampant thru the land. Under the guise of socialism, or of anti draft meetings, or of peace councils, certain men are openly spreading anti American traitorous doctrines. Such agitation from the platform or thru the press is well calculated to breed discontent, and hinder our gorenment [sic] in every insidious and treacherous way in its supreme effort of carrying the war to a successful and speedy end. It seems that the honor of our country and our flag needs protection with the bayonet and the Lewis machine gun quite as much at home as it does abroad. Is there a single reason why disloyal citizens should not at least be interned or deported, -or why all seditious sheets should not be destroyed? Every man and woman who talks or writes at this time of non-support and obstruction of the duly elected and sworn officials of this government is aiding comforting, and encouraging the enemy. The more talk of this kind, the longer will Germany certainly hold out, and hence the more of our boys who will be killed and wounded in battle. Therefore, anyone expressing anti-American views are murderers by every law of Heaven or Earth. The chiefest of these are traitors like Bentall, Van Lear and Pfaender, - who when justice is done will be introduced to a stone wall and a firing squad. I am speaking as a loyal American conscript awaiting Uncle Sam's call to duty on the battle fields of France, and for all the boys there now, and soon to be there. [...] Before we go across the Atlantic, we would like to know whether or not all American citizens are going to give us a fair change. Are you going to think about us when we are gone and pray for us? Are you going to stand back of us ? We can take care of the front, but for God's sake, we plead, keep the copperheads and hyenas from knifing us in the rear.
Very sincerely,
American Conscript

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.I.13.2F Box 26

"American Sailors Warmly Greeted in Paris" and "Government Seeks Horses for Army" - The Bemidji Daily Pioneer. August 21, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 21, 2017

"French Begin Offensive on Verdun Front" and "Abandoning Deep Dugouts" - The Duluth Herald. August 20, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 20, 2017

Backus Receives Disappointing News - August 19, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 19, 2017

In a diary entry penned on August 20th, David Backus describes receiving two pieces of disappointing news. In some sense, his day was not all that unfortunate; he was not involved in any military action that day, and he and some friends were able to visit a French Blimp Camp, where Backus took a few pictures. However, Backus also received word that his application to serve in the French Officer’s Reserve Corps had been rejected, which surprised him, as he had been accepted to a similar position in the United States. More troublingly, a letter from his mother informed him that both of his brothers had been drawn into the draft. Backus’s younger brother, Romayne, and his older brother, Clinton Jr., would both serve in the war.

Backus diary page
Backus diary page
Backus diary page

Monday Aug, 20, 1917
Out 9, Cleaned up. Mr. Hayes was here for a minute, he said he would have something for me in a week or so. Yes, got a letter from him day before yesterday telling me to wait, he had me in mind. Also, got a letter rejecting my application for Officers Reserve Corps over here, after I had been accepted in the States. [...] Howard, Hill, Tommy & I walked over to Sausage Camp, very interesting & took some pictures, got one of the chap he came down in the parachots [sic] the other day, fine fellow. [...] Received letters from Mother & Joe [Lehman]. Clint & Romayne were drawn in the draft. poor little Mother. [...]

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

"Teutons Destroy Cathedral; Loot Invaded Villages" and "Drastic Action Planned Against I.W.W. Activities" - The Daily People's Press. August 18, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 18, 2017

The Red Cross Plans an Exhibition at the 1917 Minnesota State Fair - august 17, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 17, 2017

As part of its continuing effort to raise funds and recruit volunteers, the Minnesota Headquarters of the Red Cross planned a series of exhibitions for the Minnesota State Fair in September 1917. In an August 17th letter, the Chairman of the State Fair Red Cross Committee outlined the organization’s various planned exhibitions. In one booth, Red Cross nurses and Boy Scouts were scheduled to perform first aid demonstrations for the public. Other booths focused on the production of necessary supplies, such as surgical dressings, hospital garments, and knitted clothing. Twice-daily musical performances were scheduled to lighten the mood, and an Information Booth contained pamphlets on how to get involved with the Red Cross, either as a nurse, a volunteer, or a contributor. The Chairman is sure that the Red Cross exhibitions will be a success. She notes in her letter, “I feel sure we shall all enjoy the week, even though it will be very strenuous.”


Red Cross State Fair Plans
Red Cross State Fair Plans
Red Cross State Fair Plans
Red Cross State Fair Plans
Red Cross State Fair Plans

August 17, 1917
My dear Mrs. Lowry:
This is not a formal report, but an informal one, meant to embody the decisions of the State Fair Red Cross Committee during the course of the two meetings which have been held. The Committee decided that every department should send me a report on certain points, so I am suggesting that you let me have, as soon as possible, the data outlined in the enclosure. I am also embodying decisions made by the Committee on various questions of management. As you all know, the Fair opens Monday September 3rd and closes Saturday September 8th. I feel sure we shall all enjoy the week, even though it will be very strenuous. A letter will follow soon, showing positions and space of each exhibit. It seems to me we have a fine committee and that we are sure to be really proud of the results. Please be sure to let me help in any way I can and report any matter that is not being attended to.
Sincerely yours,
Caroline M. Crosby

Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P781

"Popes Initiative Strongly Opposed" and "Free War Prisoners, is Demand of I.W.W." - The Bemidji Daily Pioneer. August 16, 1917.

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 16, 2017

"Allies Sweep Through German Lines" and "Allies will Probably Refuse Consideration of Pope's Peace Appeal" - The Duluth Herald. August 15, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 15, 2017


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