Sheldon Aubut's Duluth History

World War I in Duluth

Kaiser Bill

1917 World War I, which began in Europe in 1914, begins for the United States when the Germans resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean. The "Rip-Saw, in a jingoist moment, published the following parody of "Yankee Doodle" in honor of the occasion:


Domains $7.49 - Why Pay More?1. Old Kaiser Bill, one summer day,
Was feeling kind of breezy.
Said he, "I think I'll lick the world,
I think it will be easy."


Wallop him with peas and beans
Paste him with potatoes,
Hammer him with cabbages,
And soak him with tomatoes.

2. And then this chesty Kaiser Bill
Conceived another notion.
He built a thousand submarines
And thot he owned the ocean.

3. "No ships with food," said Kaiser Bill
"May come across the water.
My submarines will send them down
To Davy Jones' locker."

4. "Friend Bill," said Uncle Samuel,
"That's going pretty far, sir,
And if you try a stunt like that
You'll surely get in wrong, sir."

5. Then Uncle Sammy filled a ship
With flour, beans and lumber.
A submarine let drive at her
And blew her all to thunder.

6. "All right," said Sam, "if you want war
By gum, you'll get your fill, sir,
I'll call two million fighting sons,
And make you take your pill, sir."

7. And now the boys are coming in
From Maine and Minnesota,
From Iowa and Idaho,
From Texas and Dakota.

8. They're practicing with aeroplanes,
With guns they're getting handy;
They'll teach the Kaiser not to fool
With Yankee Doodle Dandy.

May 18, 1918

And if patriotism couldn't rally the folk, propaganda could:

The Man With A Withered Arm

There's a man by the Rhine with a withered arm,
And withered soul and a withered brain;
Who has washed the world with a flood of blood,
And soaked it deep with a storm of pain,
And turned hell loose with the hobbles off,
And mangling hoofs and horrid mane.

There's a man by the Rhine with a withered arm,
And withered temples and shrunken skull,
Who has nursed the veins of the sacrificed,
He has sucked and gorged he is glutted full,
And he sits on a throne of dead men's bones,
With horns that drip like a bated bulls.

There are maids in France who have mourned and wept
For lovers slain by the trench and hill;
And Belgian women debauched and crushed
When the dreaded Hun swarmed to the ghastly kill;
And many a fair face in fair Alsace,
As white as the moon ---- as white and still.

There are piles of rock where the village was.
There are heaps of stones where the cotter dwelt.
And the blasted trees and the tainted breeze
Tell sure enough what the lands have felt,
And there's nothing kindly or good to see
But the old sweet time when the twilights melt.

The earth is gutted with trench and pit,
And pocked with holes where the shells have burst,
And sown like leaves with the fruit of wombs,
The strong, sweet fruit by a woman nursed,
The mangled shapes of the Rhine man's rapes,
Which he painted black with a paint accursed.

But blood with God is a precious thing,
Be it out of the veins of a dove or sheep;
And it speaks with a voice that smothers out
The roar of cannon which rip and sweep,
And it speaks when the batteries are red with rust
And still as stones by the bristling steep.

Ah, the man by the Rhine has a withered arm,
And a soul that is black as the gates of hell;
But this is the hour when Prussian power
Must bear the clank of the funeral bell,
And I greet the toll with a bounding soul,
For I know in the end all shall be well.

For the throne of the king and the den of the beast,
From the inland stream to the bordering sea,
Like a house of cards go down at last
In the scorn of word redeemed and free,
For the Snowy Christ must reign at last
In the true and clean democracy.

Guy Fiche Phelps (Rip-Saw)

[Were that it were so black and white]

1917 The Minnesota Public Safety Commission was established.


Urged on by rabid fears of German espionage and spying instilled by unrestricted submarine warfare, raids by Mexicans such as Pancho Villa across the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona borders and the call up of the National Guard of Minnesota and other states to repel those attacks, and the famous Zimmerman Telegram, a secret diplomatic message (broken by the English code breakers) from Germany to Mexico seeking an alliance in return for letting Mexico have its U.S. territories back, super-patriots in Minnesota pressured the legislature to create the Commission on Public Safety.

This dictatorial police organization violated just about every one of the Bill of Rights. They used as their precedent Lincoln's suspension of many rights during the Civil War. Only Connecticut came even close to Minnesota in restricting political rights (although at one point, South Dakota even prohibited speaking in German, even among families).

The Commission prohibited labor rallies and actions, banned speaking out against the War, outlawed actions by the Non-Partisan League, a farmer-led organization which was the forerunner of the Farmer-Labor Party, one of whose leaders was Charles Lindbergh, Sr., the father of the famous aviator, forbade aliens from owning guns or being employed in schools, banned suspect books, outlawed teaching of classes in a foreign language and prohibited food monopolies. They even set up methods to pressure people to purchase Liberty Bonds to help finance the War.

To carry out their aims, 10 battalions of Home Guards and 10 more of a Motor Corps were created and 600 agents were employed and given arrest powers to enforce the dictates of the Commission. Forty Pinkerton detectives were employed to serve as spies and snitches. (Ward)

1917-18 American Protective League

Just prior to the entry of the U.S. into the great World War, it was appealed to by the Department of Justice to organize a secret service division of volunteer Duluth citizens to assist the department in investigating pro-Germanism and all organizations or individuals who were working against our Government. In less than thirty days the American Protective League, the secret service volunteer division of the Department of Justice, was organized in seven divisions, as follows: Industrial, railroad, transportation, commercial, telephone, telegraph, steamboat and docks and a flying squadron. Each of the sub-divisions enumerated above had from 25 to 40 members, the entire organization being made up of 208 prominent business men who volunteered their services for the cause.

The activities of the Duluth Division of the APL has gone down in history as being the premier organization as regards efficiency of any district in the U.S. This division has the record of clearing up more cases of pro-Germanism and sedition by thorough investigation; of causing the greatest number of arrests, and detentions in a great many cases; of deportations of guilty parties to the various Federal prisons; of the rounding up of a number of army deserters, and the ferreting out in a thorough and business like manner of more obstinate cases detrimental to the welfare of the Government and the winning of the great war than any city of like population in the U.S.

One notable example of their work were the activities of some of the members on snowshoe cruises in the northern wilds of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and the rounding up of violators of the war laws. The Duluth division has also to its credit the discovery of seventeen wireless stations, located in the wilds of northern Minnesota, capable of receiving and delivering messages to either coast. These stations, all of which were demolished, had been operated by German ex-officers or under German supervision. The Flying Squadron, which consisted of fifteen prominent Duluth citizens owning automobiles at the disposal of the Duluth Division, covered in excess of fifty thousand miles in the performance of their duties.

One of the peculiar features of the organization in carrying out this secret work of investigation for the Government was that each division had a captain and lieutenant, and these were the only persons in each division who knew who the Chief was, he being known as C-1. The captains and lieutenants also were operating under symbol letters and each operative of each division were also assigned symbol letters and numbers and they, in turn, did not know who the other operatives in their respective divisions were.

All communications pertaining to work of the APL were in written form, addressed in symbol letter and number to the proper offices and signed in symbol letter and number by the operative.

The Department of Justice today has a complete record of every person living in the Duluth district who uttered words against the Government from April 1, 1917, until the division was disbanded on February 1, 1919. (biography of Edward J. Filiatrault, in von Brunt).

"The American Protective League was the largest company of detectives the world ever saw. Their members served without earlier specialized training, without pay, and without glory." "Her geographical situation made Duluth a Mecca for dodgers, drifters and deserters, and a good part of the APL work at that point consisted in running down those unwilling patriots who preferred the seditiousness of a logging camp, trapper's shack, or even a logging drive, to bearing arms under their country's flag." For all their fears of German spying and espionage, the true role of the APL was enforcing patriotism and seeking out draft dodgers. Their official report indicated that there were 1,293 investigations of disloyalty and sedition, 3,287 "slacker" raids, 41 propaganda investigations, and 186 naturalization investigations. (The Web)

One wonders what the constitutional lawyers were doing at the time!!!

August 18, 1917 A mob, which included 100 members of the Minnesota National Guard, in a fit of patriotic fervor and anti-socialist zealotry destroyed the headquarters of the IWW in Duluth. (Chrislock, p. 145)

February 25, 1918 Alien Registration Day. The MN Commission on Public Safety requires all non-citizens to register and declare the names of their relatives participating on either side in the War and their draft status, citizenship status, value and location of real and personal property and safety deposit boxes. (Chrislock, p. 277)

April, 1918 Monster rally in Fairmont, MN, calling for the confiscation of all property of disloyal residents. Order issued prohibiting the employment of disloyal people in Schools, public or private. (Chrislock, p. 280)

April 7, 1918 "At about 7:30 p.m. last week Thursday, about 200 citizens of Proctor gathered quietly at the high school where they collected all German books. While the volumes blazed, the crowd sang 'Yankee Doodle.' After the high school books had been destroyed, the raiders went to the Odd Fellows hall where they tore German songs from books used in ritualistic work. The crowd was most orderly and after the bonfire of books, the members marched down the street singling, 'Tramp, tramp, tramp, the Boys are Marching.' Constable McTaggart appeared on the scene after the burning of the books was over. He is considered a wise old constable." (Rip-Saw)

"Proctor proposes to go in heavily for war gardens this season. Homecrofters are busily engaged in picking out garden plots and a large number of teams will make a hard drive on the plowing. After the garden plowing and planting are established, there will be a general spring cleanup of village premises." (Rip-Saw)

"When it comes to standing by Uncle Sam in his drive against the barbarians of Central Europe, Proctor people refuse to take a back seat. Already, the village has furnished men freely and willingly. The village was apportioned $30,000 as its bit to raise. That sum was realized on the second day of the Liberty Bond sale drive and on the third day it had reached $80,000." (Rip-Saw)

May 18, 1918 "Last Tuesday evening, a detachment of 90 Home Guards from Duluth turned Proctor upside down in a search for deserters and slackers. About 100 men were found delinquent in ability to promptly show credentials and six of them are believed to actually be slackers or deserters, in fact. The contingent came to Proctor on a special, arriving at 6:30 p.m. and leaving at 10:30 p.m. Proctor was completely surprised but every possible assistance was given to the raiding party." (Rip-Saw)

July 4, 1918 Public Safety Commission issues "Fight or Work" edict: "Every male person in Minnesota shall be regularly engaged in some useful occupation." (Chrislock, p. 287)

September, 1918 Fourth Liberty Loan campaign. All residents of Minnesota were assigned a quota of bonds to purchase to finance the War effort. Finnish resident, non-citizen, is lynched near Duluth by the "Knights of Liberty" for refusing to register for the draft. (Chrislock, p. 288-90)


Ripsaw -- "Reports are out that cards are to be printed in Duluth and that every resident of Duluth will be approached with these cards and demanded to fill them out if they fail to purchase a Liberty Bond, says D.A. Craig in The Buhl Advertiser. Those who fail to buy a bond will be regarded as German sympathizers."


From the files of Ray Marshall  -- 

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Last modified: January 15, 2011
copyright 1986-2013 , Sheldon T. Aubut, all rights reserved

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