As registration soared in America during WWI, the Selective Service Act of 1918 required all able bodied men from the ages of twenty one to thirty to register for the draft on Registration Day (June 5th). As a state “Montana’s registration [was] at least twice as what was estimated,” but Montana newspapers took it a step further by printing the names of all those listed in the registrar's each weekday and boasting of their accomplishments as a state. Those that did not attend to solidify their enlistment were considered terrorists under the Montana Sedition Act of 1918 under crimes of being “anti-war,” “unpatriotic,” and guilty of German sympathizing and were promptly arrested. In Ravalli County alone, Sula registered 11, Darby 90, Grantsdale 46, Hamilton 241, Corvallis 97, Woodside 40, Victor 109, Stevensville 253, and Florence 49 for a grand total of 849 who registered. The few that did not had been unaware of the day’s significance and pleaded accordingly in court.
"Ten Million Americans Register." Western News [Hamilton] 07 June 1917: 34. Print.
Written by Mary Royce, Heidi Nisly, and Dylan Josey
The Council of Defense persecuted many people in the Bitterroot Valley for either not showing enough support towards the war effort, or not placing their support in areas the Council saw fit. F.H. Nichols, a farmer, stated to the Council that he was “sending money to the Christian Science people in Boston to send to the trenches,” yet, the Council questioned him heavily for not supporting “local organizations.” Even veterans were persecuted. Thomas Bilkey “served in the Spanish American War, and in the Philippine Insurrection.” Bilkey agreed to contribute to the War Service League the following fall, but was put on trial anyway, because he could not contribute immediately. The poor populous during World War I was seen as being unpatriotic, simply because of its financial situation, which was primarily determined by seasonal income.
Levenston, Michael. Speed Up and Spade Up. Digital image. City Farmer News RSS. City Farmer News, Sept. 2014. Web. 18 May 2017.
In May of 1918, as the war dragged on, American communities had greater responsibilities placed upon them. The Hamilton War Chest Fund ran a $20,000 drive, to be donated for war relief . Patriotically-inspired peer pressure was a major factor in inspiring the community to give generously. An article in Western News published on 5-9-18 reads “...those refusing to subscribe will be filed on Blue Cards in order that a record of all the unpatriotic people of the community may be preserved.” The same source says that citizens who subscribed would be rewarded with a card to place in their windows. In addition, “The Honor Roll of those subscribing [would] be published in the local papers” to be recognized for the act of patriotism. Thus, local news sources helped to supplement national and state patriotic propaganda efforts to help finance the war effort.
Ralph James Laws never wanted his loved ones at home to worry. He wrote home, only including positive things about his service and rarely mentioned the dark occurrences of war; even stating that “It was fine to forget the danger altogether”. Laws, stationed in France during World War I received a serious injury. Hospitalized for over a month, his only mention of the trauma was that “I am well except for a small wound in the left ankle...”. Laws made light of the artillery firepower used in battle, thinking the “fireworks” were nice. By always putting a positive spin on things, Laws was sparing his family the worry and stress that plagued many of the families involved in World War I.
Laws, R. J. "Somewhere in France." Letter to Folks. 18 Oct. 1918. MS. N.p.
Photo courtesy Sandra Ann Moss Laws
In 1918, William Zittell was accused of sedition by coworkers and upper management from the Bitter Root Stock Farm. According to the testimonies of these acquaintances, Zittell engaged in derogatory speech denouncing the American military and was questioned about his loyalties to the United States. In his testimony, Zittell defended himself by denying all accusations regarding his behavior and reiterated that he was an American citizen and loyal to his country. During this time, cases like Zittell’s were tried under the jurisdiction of the Council of Defense, which was responsible for trying and convicting acts based on public opinion. A witness against Zittell stated, “If [Zittell] is not for us, he is against us”. This statement exemplifies the nationalistic views many citizens of Montanans held at the beginning of World War I. Zittell is yet another case of how of the German-American population was scrutinized and how the public attached negative connotations to the ethnic background of these citizens.
Source: Council of Defense Records - Hearing Transcript, 10/07/1918, R5 19 (17:6-6), Montana Historical Society
Cartoon drawn by James Montgomery Flagg, posted on History on the Net, "The WWI Home Front: War Hysteria & the Persecution of German-Americans," http://www.historyonthenet.com/authentichistory/1914-1920/2-homefront/4-hysteria/index.html