AFTER THE UNITED States entered the fray in Europe, the efforts of all Americans – political, professional and personal – were expected to go toward winning the war. If one couldn't serve overseas, one served at home. If one couldn't work directly in the war effort, one could make life easier for those who did. If one couldn't give money, one could contribute by donating goods and services. If one couldn't donate, one could at least have a positive attitude - as Needlecraft Magazine pointed out in 1918:
There is one duty that belongs to us all alike. It is the duty of being cheerful, no matter how depressing circumstances may seem for the time. By being steadfast in this, we help our boys "over there" as well as our friends, neighbors and ourselves. Courage enables us to do better work and more of it.
Volunteering became one of the most important duties of American men and women at the home front. In addition to the local Red Cross, which donated thousands of pounds of medical supplies and bandages to the soldiers overseas, other volunteer organizations in Sheridan County included the Loyalty League, the Wyoming Home Guards and the secretive American Protective League.
The YMCA, Boy Scouts, Women's Club, Daughters of the American Revolution and other groups, including schools and churches, also provided ample opportunities for volunteers. They held knitting bees, conducted Liberty Bond raffles and sponsored food conservation workshops. Everyone, Sheridan County residents included, was geared toward helping America “fight the good fight.” As The Sheridan Post noted in 1918:
The proper spirit is evident upon every hand. Ever since the declaration of war, the flag has flown from the top of almost every business house in the city, as well as from ninety per cent of the residences. The patriotic fund in aid of volunteers and to pay necessary expenses contracted by public organizations has been liberally supplied with money for all helpful purposes. The school children and those ineligible for military or naval service have turned cheerfully and enthusiastically to the production of food stuffs and hundreds of acres of land that would otherwise lie idle and unproductive will be brought into cultivation this season. In addition, numerous organizations and ladies societies are even now at work in a number of helpful ways assisting to bear the public burdens.
THE AMERICAN RED CROSS
One of the most important volunteer organizations was the American Red Cross. Before war broke out in Europe, the American Red Cross dealt primarily with disaster relief. After the start of hostilities, the British Red Cross asked for more volunteers to help tend wounded soldiers and civilians. Hundreds of Americans – many of them women – went off to assist. Some of the bravest volunteers during the early days in France were American Red Cross ambulance drivers – male and female – and Red Cross hospital nurses.
At President Wilson's urging, the Red Cross changed from an efficient private agency into a powerful branch of the government. At the start of the war, about 500,000 Americans belonged to the Red Cross. By late 1918, there were over 31,000,000 members. One of those was Eula Kendrick, who was active in the Washington, D.C. chapter. During the First World War, Eula wrote to The Cheyenne Daily Leader about the contributions Washington society was making to the war effort: "Nearly every one is contributing his bit, either at home or in clubs, meeting in church parlors, club buildings, or as we, the ladies of the senate, do, at the headquarters of the Red Cross. … It is here the boxes are packed and shipped to the front."
The Sheridan Chapter of the A. R. C. was organized in May 1917. Within two months, it enlisted over 500 members and raised nearly $42,000. By the end of the war local membership exceeded 4,300 while donations amounted to just under $100,000 (national donations topped $400,000,000). Elsewhere in the county, auxiliary chapters were started in Acme, Arvada, Ash Creek, Beckton, Big Horn, Carneyville, Clearmont, Dayton, Dietz, Dietz No. 8, Monarch, Parkman, Soldier Creek, Story, Ucross and Ulm.
Locally, the spirit of the A. R. C. was embodied in the service of two Big Horn residents, Robert and Charlotte Walsh. Both in their fifties, they left their privileged lives (he was the polo-playing president of Sheridan's First National Bank; she was the daughter of a millionaire architect) and "entered the service of the American Red Cross in November 1917 ... and sailed for France the same month." While Bob served in the war zone, organizing and controlling Red Cross hospitals, Charlotte was initially detailed as a canteen worker close to the front. In a January 1918 letter to The Sheridan Daily Enterprise, Bob noted the conditions under which Charlotte labored:
My wife is doing canteen work a long way from here [in the French war zone near Rheims]. She works all night. They are all obliged to run to bomb-proof caves during the night several times which makes it thoroughly interesting, yet she seems to enjoy it.
After six weeks at the canteens, during which time she suffered from a serious illness, Charlotte left the A. R. C. to work as a hospital nurse with the French Red Cross (for which service she received a "medal with palm from Societe Secours Blesses Militaires" [the Wounded Military Relief Society]). Another worker in the system of French hospitals was Oliver H. Wallop, another English-born resident of Big Horn.
The Walshes and Wallops were exceptions; most Red Cross work took place on the home front. In addition to fundraising, Red Cross projects included rolling bandages, sewing hospital garments and surgical dressings, knitting socks, helping soldiers in transit, assisting widows and orphans, collecting used clothing and, toward the end of the war, nursing influenza victims. As Louise Eberle noted in Needlecraft Magazine in December 1918,
The great Red Cross Mother asks you and me to answer "present" to the Christmas Roll-Call, so that there may be no missing stitch to mar the garment she is weaving to cover the sufferings of the world. … The Red Cross, beginning with the idea of saving wounded soldiers from the terrible lot that once was theirs, has extended its activities to the relief of every distress that is born of the present conflict.
To assist with the relief and recovery effort overseas, the Red Cross asked homemakers to sew or crochet clothing for refugee babies in France and Belgium. Each official Red Cross layette included two flannel dresses, a flannel jacket, crocheted booties, two wool blankets, twelve diapers, three undershirts and a crocheted bonnet. To these was added a “comfort bag” containing safety pins, soap, a washcloth, talcum powder, six needles, white thread and a thimble.
As part of their patriotic duty, private citizens were asked to contribute money to the war effort through the purchase of Liberty Bonds. Issued by the government, the war bonds were promoted by motion picture stars and other celebrities who crisscrossed the country on Liberty Trains. Competition sprang up between towns as to who could sell the most.
Issued in eight denominations from $50 to $100,000, Bearer Bonds and Registered Bonds were sold during the four Liberty Loan campaigns, so-named because the money was “devoted to the establishment of liberty in Europe and on the high seas.” In the last one, concluded in October 1918, Sheridan County alone raised nearly a million dollars.
Bonds weren't just for the wealthy. War Thrift Stamps were for those who couldn't afford to give more than a few cents at a time. Sixteen of the 25¢ stamps, sold at post offices and banks, could be exchanged for a $4 War Savings Stamp, also called a baby bond. Twenty of these could then be converted to War Savings Certificates worth $100 at maturity. Some people even borrowed money to buy the bonds, seeing the purchase as a long-term investment in America. As Cecilia Hennel Hendricks noted in 1918, "We ourselves have invested in five one-hundred dollar bonds. Of course we had to borrow the money, but it sure is the time to lend our credit to the nation now. We can pay off the money when our crop returns come in next fall."
The voluntary fundraising effort was a tremendous success. Nationwide, over $21 billion dollars – nearly two-thirds of the cost of the war – was pledged and collected between April 1917 and October 1918.
FOOD: SHARING & SHORTAGES
One of the hazards of war is famine. From the earliest days of the Great War, the people of Europe faced severe food shortages. Because so many of the battles took place on their soil, the French and Belgians were hardest hit. When it joined the war, America became a major supplier of food to Europe's civilian population.
Led by United States Food Administration Secretary Herbert Hoover, the all-volunteer Food Conservation Army fought as hard to win the war as any soldier. The USFA was created to assure adequate and reasonably priced food supplies for both civilians and the military. Through Meatless Mondays, Wheatless Wednesdays, and Victory Gardens, American consumers either cut back, grew their own or did without: "From our fields and orchards and gardens we must feed and clothe our hundred million of men, women and children, supply our armies, and feed a large part of the population of Europe, where the need is far greater than here."
Food manufacturers were eager to help with the war effort. Through patriotic-themed advertising, they showed consumers how the use of their products could help win the war. Royal Baking Powder, the consumption of which might have been curtailed with the rationing of wheat flour, went out of its way to supply new recipes that conformed to government regulations:
The New Wheat Saving Biscuits – Wholesome and Appetizing, Easily and Quickly Made with Royal Baking Powder – Our Red, White and Blue book, "Best War Time Recipes," containing directions for making many other wholesome and delicious foods, which economize in wheat flour, butter and eggs, mailed free.
Due to the wheat shortage, corn meal and graham flour replaced white flour in cakes and breads, while beans and eggs replaced meat as a major source of protein. Women's magazines tried to help by providing even more new recipes: "Receipts That Save Sugar," "Making Meat Go Twice as Far," "Conservation Receipts That Save Wheat." Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, a farmwife from Powell, Wyoming, was just one of many American housewives who followed this new style of cooking in 1918, stating, "I am using very little white flour now. We use corn bread for dinner every day. We want to try to heed as much as possible the request of the Food Administration to refrain from using wheat until the new crop is in."
Home gardening was very important to the war effort. With help from monthly magazines and the Department of Agriculture's National War Garden Commission, housewives started growing as many fruits and vegetables as they could. These foods were primarily for home use, allowing commercial producers to send most of their goods to the military. To provide incentive for youth participation in food production, garden clubs were established for Sheridan students in grades four through eight. To participate, each child had to care for one-tenth acre of ground planted in a variety of vegetables. He or she was required to keep a record of all the produce harvested and of all the labor expended. The resulting crop could be displayed at the county fair, sold in local markets, or preserved for use in the home.
Preserving the crop could be done in several ways. The most popular was to can the food in glass, ceramic or tin containers. Almost everything could be canned, from applesauce to zucchini. Even meat could be canned: whole chicken and stewed rabbit were especially popular. Because improperly canned foods could be deadly, local agricultural extension agents offered classes on safe canning and preservation practices. Cecilia Hendricks was one of the women approached about teaching the classes in 1917:
The state agricultural station at the state university wants a dozen or more women to come to be trained to give canning and drying demonstrations over the state. The station will furnish the training and expenses for traveling, if the women will give their time and talents for a month or two this summer.
FARMING & RANCHING
The Great War was a time of mixed blessings for farmers and ranchers. While production was high and there was a guaranteed market for everything that could be grown, there was an acute shortage of workers. While many young men left for overseas, others went north to take high-paying jobs in the Canadian wheat fields. So like other industries, farms had to rely on women and other nontraditional farm workers to get out the goods.
One of these nontraditional groups was the American Indian. While ranching on western reservations was not uncommon, farming beyond the subsistence level was unusual. Nevertheless, in a telegram to Major E. W. Estep, superintendent of Montana's Crow Reservation, Federal Commissioner Cato Sells called for seeds of cooperation to be planted between Indians and neighboring farmers:
War situation makes it imperative that every tillable acre of land on Indian reservations be intensively cultivated this season to supply food demands, particularly wheat, beans, potatoes, corn and meat. Call farmers and leading Indians together immediately for organized, united effort under your continuous supervision. This is of highest importance and requires aggressive action. There must be no delay in anything necessary to insure results.
For American cattle ranchers, the war was a time of prosperity. In Wyoming alone, cattle production almost doubled between 1914 and 1918. Much of the meat was sent overseas to feed the troops. It was during this profitable time that John Kendrick, incidentally, substantially increased his land holdings and the size of his herds.
THE WAR HORSE
In addition to meat, the army also had need of horses – some 500,000 head – and ranchers were asked to breed as many work horses as they could. Although horses were no longer ridden into battle, they were still a vital part of modern warfare. Because motorized trucks were often impractical due to fuel and tire shortages and muddy roads, animals were frequently used to pull wagons and artillery. Unfortunately, there was such a shortage of horses that cavalry recruits had to train on wooden models.
The life expectancy of a horse at the front was short. Many of the eight million horses estimated to have died during the conflict were killed by bombs, artillery, overwork and starvation. Others were victims of poison gas. In 1918, an American ambulance driver named William York Stevenson described the fate a horse could expect: "Many new dead horses along the road. The gas gets them, even the smallest whiff, and, of course, they have no masks. Some of the dead [white] horses around Verdun … are very useful landmarks at night."
THE CHILD PATRIOT
Children were taught about patriotism through their toys, games and hobbies. Just because boys and girls were too young to go to the factory or the front, that didn't mean they were too young to help with the ongoing war effort. Boys’ Clubs, the Boy Scouts and other youth organizations encouraged membership based on patriotic terms. The physical and mental preparation of America's future soldiers and citizens was deemed a vital war effort and any money donated to these groups was considered a patriotic gesture. As noted in Needlecraft Magazine in 1918,
It's up to the boys at home to help those at the front. Your support of the Boys' Club Federation in extending its BOY mobilization here – to back up your boy, husband, brother, son – in France – is a patriotic duty. Will you send a contribution now?
Just like adults, children were encouraged to make good use of their free time. In Sheridan, hundreds of school children were involved in farm and ranch clubs. Each child would select at least one farm project such as raising a calf or growing a crop. The resulting food was used by the child's family, thus freeing up commercially grown crops for military use and to feed the starving civilian population of Europe: "It is the patriotic duty of boys and girls to enter club work this year as, under existing conditions, every amount of food grown, no matter how small, will be that much toward fending off famine."
Children's toys were also influenced by the war. Toy tanks, cannons and airplanes were popular with boys, while girls were encouraged to become make-believe nurses, using their dolls as wounded soldiers. German-made toys – including porcelain dolls and toy soldiers – were banned in England and America. As a result, the all-American Teddy bear became even more popular than when it first appeared in 1903.
From In the Great War, 1919 (Kendrick Collection, TESHS)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
April 1997 - December 1998
Detail from Red Cross poster, circa 1917 (Private Collection)
State Historic Site