Dakota Datebook: Calmer times but not calmer minds
Nov. 28, 2017 – Early in September 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. It stated that, “… they were now enjoying a moment when the blood courses calmly, but it would not remain so long. When the news of wounds and death among the loved ones at the front fills the cables, then there will no longer be apathy in the American homes.”
The Forum blamed the German language press for a rise in anti-German sentiment. Attributing this to selfish motives, the paper claimed the German language press had become a dying institution in the United States, and it was profit that motivated the papers more than patriotism to the mother country. Pro-German sources were spending large sums to influence feelings towards the war, and with the Germans in North Dakota anxious for word from home, subscriptions soared. Unfortunately, with insidious propaganda and seditious remarks, the trend had clouded the issues both for the German immigrants and in the minds of the general public.
The Forum concluded that it remained for the Germans who were resolved to continue in this country as to how to approach their future. It warned, “They will have to face their neighbors through many tomorrows. And the sentiments of those neighbors … evolved from the bloody events that will soon be upon us, will be the sentiments of the children of those neighbors towards their children.”
There was a lot to consider.
Only two months after the Forum editorial, American troops were occupying the trenches in France. Although no North Dakota troops had yet reached Europe, the absence of these men from their homes was felt by those left behind. Remarks perceived as seditious or anti-war were less and less tolerated. News came from Granville, in McHenry County, that a local cobbler had been administered a “dose of patriotic punishment.” It was rumored that Bernt Folstad had been for some time, making disloyal statements bordering on treason. On the night of Nov. 21, more than 100 citizens decided to take action. Commandeering the fire truck, they trained the hose on Folstad’s building, breaking the windows and soaking the shop and contents, as well as the owner. Following this, Folstad was marched to city hall where he was forced to kneel and kiss the American Flag. As the Fargo Forum editorial predicted, the time for calmer minds had passed.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org.