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.
Early recruiting of soldiers was not going so well in Fairfax, Minnesota, at least according to Chas Hopkins of the Grant Army of the Republic. In a letter to Minnesota Senator Knute Nelson, dated May 5, 1917, Hopkins complains that the Recruiting Officers sent to Fairfax had been “failures as public speakers,” and recruitment had been unimpressive despite the high attendance at each of their three Patriotic Meetings. Hopkins offers two potential solutions to this problem. First, he suggests passing a law that allows for the Army to commission Civil War Era soldiers to serve as recruiters alongside their younger counterparts. Second, he recommends using the Populist politician William Jennings Bryan as a recruiter. Hopkins believes that Bryan’s earlier resignation as Secretary of State had conveyed weakness and division to America’s enemies abroad, and that potential recruits would be inspired to military service if Bryan were to express full devotion to the war cause. While Hopkins is fully aware of the impending draft, he believes that volunteer fighters are essential for maintaining high morale and for demonstrating the nation’s conviction in defending democratic principles.
Fairfax, Minn. May 5, 1917.
Honorable Knute Nelson.
My Dear Friend and Comrade:
We have had three Patriotic Meetings in Fairfax, and have sent out six Recruits, but the Recruiting Officers sent here ,were failures as public speakers, which is a bar to helping to line up the eliment [sic] that have been favoring Germany. The thought occurred to me thast it might be the proper thing to have a Law passed to commission any old Ex Soldier of the Sixties that had the abillity and physical abillity to an Army Office, and wher they would make good recruiting Officers let one go with each young Officer, and they would be a geater [sic] force to build up enthusiasm. [...] I know we are to have a Draft, and was very much in favor of it; and am glad that you so elected, but beleave [sic] that many more will enlist on account of the draft, and that the more that will volunteer, will tend to cement a stronger feelinng for the principles that we are wageing this War for. [...]
I am very Respectfully Yours. C.H. Hopkins
Citation: Knute Nelson Papers, 1861-1924, Minnesota Historical Society. 144.I.13.2F Box 25 May 5-11
"League asks for Full Manhood Rights" and "Chance to Serve Your Country" - The Twin City Star. May 5, 1917
A photograph of a Roller Derby race in progress on August 5, 1937.
This image forms part of our Minneapolis and St. Paul Newspaper Negative collection.
Additional photographs in this series may be available in the library, please view the finding aid.
A little over one month after the declaration of war, the U.S. had not yet deployed any of its own units overseas. The only soldiers abroad were those who had volunteered to fight. David H. Backus, a 24-year-old man from St. Paul, was one such celebrated volunteer. Backus had spent one year at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, and had been following the conflict in Europe since it began in 1914. As he put it years later, he “got hot pants to get overseas and do something about the War.” He joined the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver and applied for a U.S. passport, which was approved on May 4, 1917. Backus then paid for his own travel to London, thinking he would work alongside the British forces. However, through the boss of a family friend, Backus became acquainted with the head of the French Norton-Harjes ambulance division, and he enlisted with them instead. For 89 days, David Backus would work as an ambulance driver near the strategically important Chemin des Dames ridge on the Western Front.
Citation: Backus, David H., David H Backus and family papers. Minnesota Historical Society. 102.I.4.7B-2
In response to a federal law mandating that all Dakota be removed from the state as punishment for the U.S.-Dakota War, on this date in 1863 Dakota captives at Fort Snelling, mostly women and children, were loaded onto two steamboats to be transported to a reservation on Crow Creek in southeastern Dakota Territory. The total number of people removed was 1,310; many would die of disease and hunger soon after arriving at the reservation.
Huldah Bryant, an elderly woman from Monticello, Minnesota, wrote a letter to the American Red Cross on May 4, 1917. In the letter, she confesses that she is an “old lady” and does not have money to contribute, but she would be happy to spend her time knitting socks for American soldiers if the Red Cross could provide the wool. Notably, Bryant has a long history of contributing to war efforts. She notes that in 1862, she worked for “the soldiers,” though it is unclear whether these soldiers served in the U.S. - Dakota War of 1862 or the Civil War. Unfortunately, the Red Cross turned down Bryant’s request the next day, telling her that they only offer wool to be purchased and cannot provide it to her free of charge.
May 3, 1917
Mrs Horace Lanery
Red Cross Com -
I am an old lady would be glad to knit some socks for our Soldiers. If the yarn was furnished would knit two Pairs[.] If you wish for Reference my Pastor is Rev Henry Holmes[.] I worked for the Soldiers in 1862[.] Huldah E. Bryant
Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [P781]
This photograph is of a crowd at Lake City watching Ralph Samuelson water skiing behind a World War I era Curtis Flying Boat, 1925. Samuelson was known as the "father of water-skiing," which started with him on Lake Pepin in 1922.
For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this photograph in our collections database.
World War I was a conflict of unpleasant “firsts”: the first widespread use of trench warfare, the first use of long-range artillery, and the first use of tanks. Today’s artifact bears witness to yet another gruesome first, that of chemical warfare. The world’s first recorded use of chemical weapons agents occurred on April 22, 1915, during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, when the German army fired chlorine gas cylinders at French troops. As the war progressed, all major belligerents made use of poisonous gas, and to the best of their ability, they took pains to protect their own soldiers from it. This French-issue protective mask and case was carried by a soldier circa 1917. The bulk of the mask is made of rubberized fabric, and it features two circular eyeholes with celluloid lenses. It's accompanying cotton bag has a shoulder strap for easy transport.
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections, PUID 1981.38.37.A,B