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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

World War I, the Nebraska National Guard and the Spanish Flu

Friday, March 15, 2013

By Susan Doak

SW Nebraska

Genealogy Society

McCOOK, Nebaska -- The beginnings of our areas' Nebraska National Guard coincided with the World War I draft in 1917.

The McCook Tribune tells the story of the June start of the 6th Regiment NNG, by Captain O. E. Davis of Auburn. Twenty-four men (age requirements of 18-45 years) from the McCook and Indianola area were the first volunteers and their names were printed as follows (four young men asked to have their names with-held at the time): Dr. R.H. Gatewood, Arthur G. Gilbert, Ivan H. Quigley, John T Mackey, William H. Miesen, Sidney R. Hubert, Frank, F. Cisar, George L. Mackey, Dale S. McBride, Clarence Emerson, Clifford R. Lindbeck, Milton H. Conery, William W. Trehal, Charles E. Houlihan, Phillip E. Bush, Walter V. Campbell, James L George, Ora A. Clopton, J.E. Stiles, Harvey L. Lyon, and Samuel C. Murphy. By July 1917, 21 more men from the surrounding area had joined, urged on by Dr. Gatewood and the McCook Commercial Club. They included: Walter Greeway, Lawrence Dalton, Francis O'Rourke, Fredrick Brown, Chris Hansen, Merlyn Cox, Marion Silvernail and Harold McMillen. You might recognize one familiar name still used today: Chris Hansen Post 203 of the American Legion.

The requirements for forming a NNG regiment were 50 volunteers and accordingly McCook had fallen short by six men. Captain Davis concluded with the statement that the status of the effort would not be known until official word was received from the War Department.

At the same time that Captain Davis was working to form a Nebraska National Guard unit in McCook, the beginnings of the Selective Service for the purpose of drafting young men to serve in war were taking place. SWNGS website has for research the listings of Red Willow County's available registered men. By September 1917, the first "Call" of four men had been made and Fred Holmberg, Charles Hendershot, L.J. Hampton and Asa A. Wolf were notified to report to McCook on September 5 prepared to depart on Train No. 16 for camp and training at Fort Riley, Kansas. Alternates Philip Kautz and Mathias Colling were required to report that day in case all of the original four did not report. The McCook Tribune went on to list the men who would be called in order on either Sept. 15 or 29, 1917.

As the next two drafts took an additional 64 men from the SW Nebraska, NW Kansas region, the crowds gathered to say goodbye grew. One group was given handsome badges by the Sammies Aid and Home Guard after being hosted by McCook citizens to a presentation of "The Toymaker's Dream" at the Temple Theater and a "hop" at the Armory Hall.

The final notation of being called to Fort Riley was that of Dr. R. R. Reed who entered the surgeons' service in October 8, 1917.

Little did these men know that they were headed to the very place (Ft. Riley) where the first cases of the pandemic flu in a barracks would be reported. As history looks back, it is suspected that many of the 1917 deaths attributed to Typhoid fever may well have been the beginnings of the flu since both shared similar symptoms.

In January 1918, the first reported case of this killer disease was diagnosed in Haskell County, Kansas and by the March that year, Ft Riley had diagnosed cases. Twenty-eight percent of the United States population would have recorded cases of this "Spanish Flu" and over a half a million people in our country would die from it.

Much of the information you need to research your ancestors from this dark period is available on the SWNGS website: or join us at our research library: 110 West C, Suite M-3 on the third Saturday of every month from 1-4 pm for help in uncovering the past.

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