Updated: Apr 1, 2020
As a build up to the Latah County Historical Society’s World War One coverage we are taking a look at WW1 events and headlines across Latah County. Look forward to these posts once per month to set the scene for life and news across Latah County 100 years ago.
Prior to and Including July 1916
The United States did not suddenly find itself involved in the Great War in Europe. Nor was the impending war the only ongoing circumstance causing concern. There were other conditions and circumstances which would play a part in determining the response of the citizens of Latah County to unfolding events of the next year. A possible shortage of food, labor unrest and violence, the battle over temperance, as well as the impending war were all of concern.
A war which ultimately involved most of Western Europe began in July of 1914. From the beginning Americans had conflicting feeling regarding the war. Theodore Roosevelt and others were for “preparedness “and advocated for our intervention in the war. However President Woodrow Wilson insisted that America remain neutral. As a result we initially declined to participate in the war and stated repeatedly that we desired to remain neutral and trade with both parties to the conflict. This became increasingly difficult over the next several years. Germany and the other Central Powers resented the supplies America sent to Great Britain and the other Allied Powers. Germany attacked commercial and passenger ships with submarines. The sinking of the passenger ship, Lusitania, in May of 1915 caused more Americans to begin considering whether we should enter the war on the side of Great Britain and the Allies.
By 1916 America was already engaged in a limited war, but not with the Central powers. On March 9, 1916 Pancho Villas with 500 soldiers crossed the border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing a number of soldiers and civilians. President Wilson immediately sent General Pershing to capture Villas and bring him to justice. The Army currently consisted of about 100,000 men, not nearly enough to fight Villas and prepare to join the Allied Powers in Europe.
In early June congress passed the Defense Act of 1916. This act and its subsequent modifications substantially changed the composition and mission of America’s defense system. It brought the state militias into the national defense system as the National Guard. In doing so it authorized an increase in guard training and size, and made the qualifications for officers in the National Guard and the regular Army identical.
Moscow at one time had a militia company but it had been disbanded and some of its member had joined a unit in Lewiston. By the end of June 1916 as a result of the request for troops to go to Mexica and the passage of the National Defense Act, there was a “patriotic meeting” in Moscow to encourage enlistment in the National Guard. In the back of the same paper another article noted that National Guard troops from all parts of the United States were being sent to the Border. “Congress is crowding army and navy legislation under a full head of steam.”
By the 10th of July the Second Idaho Infantry had left Boise “to be taken to a border city of Arizona." At the same time recruitment for another battalion for the regiment continued. Simultaneously it was being reported that recruiting for the second regiment had been suspended “because of diminishing funds for expense” but would be resumed by the War Department which was currently working “toward a draft, should that become necessary.” On the same day President Wilson “declared that fighting results in hatred and ruins the opportunities for progress in trade and civilization.”
With troops to be fed as well as the nation, the crop forecast which was released on July 11 was an additional source of concern. The forecast for all major Idaho crops was lower than the final estimate for the same crops in 1915.
Fighting in Mexico and a possible food shortage were not the only concerns in Moscow at the time. The Woman’s Temperance Christian Union planned to hold a meeting in the park to ask for a “constitutional amendment providing that the state remain dry and that liquor be abolished forever.” The group planned to have its meeting in City Park but were determined to have their meeting regardless of the weather stating that if it were to rain the meeting would be held in the Methodist church. The W.T.C.U.’s concern was that if interest in the amendment was small it might fail to pass in the general election.
The Daily Star Mirror continued to report on American activities related to the war in Europe. On July 18 it had a picture of Americans fighting for the Allies in France. The next day it reported that a former UI student had been wounded while serving with Canadian Forces in France. And the following day it reported that the French government said in the event of war between the United States and any other country it would release any Americans from its army. And Senator Borah in a Senate speech urged that we enlarge our Navy. “If the United States is to enjoy the blessings of peace, we must convince the world that we are prepared for war.”
It was only mid-July but Burton L. French had already file for the U.S. House of Representatives. He had served in the House five times previously and ran for the Senate in 1912.
Dudley Loomis, a Moscow resident with Company F of the Second Regiment which was at Nogales wrote home.