Bloody Flags & Painted Horses

The website declares that in 1919, "the Kansas State Guard quietly went out of existence.  It had performed valuable service during World War I, but today few people know it ever existed.”  Until a few weeks ago, I was not among the few.

Dave Lovewell emailed one day to ask if I knew anything about the organization and how it had operated during the war.  Assuming that he was referring to the Kansas National Guard, I replied that I knew some stories about its deployment overseas and its overall war record, had even met Wint Smith who commanded the unit, and knew a few other World War I veterans.  He politely clarified what he was talking about and mailed me rosters for companies “A” through “F” of the 35th Battalion of the Kansas State Guard, Jewell, Formoso, Mankato, Lovewell, Republic and Webber.  I found my grandfather listed as a second lieutenant in the Kansas Guard, and an uncle I visited about once a month (He lived between Lovewell and Webber and gave my family free haircuts) as a sergeant.

With the Kansas National Guard headed for the battlefields of France, the Kansas State Guard was recruited to patrol the home front, replacing an informal volunteer group known as the Home Guard, which is described on the museum website as “a cross between a civic club and a sheriff’s posse.”  Members of the Kansas State Guard were expected to adhere to higher standards than the ragtag Home Guard had maintained, though they received no pay and wore no uniforms, received a bit of instruction in military skills, marched in parades, solicited donations to the Red Cross, and sold war bonds.

They were also supposed to keep an eye out for any funny business, a charge some of them may have taken too far.  After the war, the various companies compiled reports outlining their accomplishments.  According to the museum website, Company “A” from Blue Rapids congratulated itself on one particularly satisfying outcome:

February 16, 1918, a pro-German near Blue Rapids had become rather bold in his utterances against our country.  The guard went to his home and brought him to the Commercial Club rooms.  He was persuaded to kiss the flag, swear allegiance to the United States, and to pay $100 to the Red Cross.  This prompt action of the guard checked pro-Germanism and aided in the collection of the Red Cross funds. 

Today we might think that kidnapping and coercion in a good cause still sounds like kidnapping and coercion.  We might even wonder about the violation of a man’s right to voice his opinion, however unpopular.  On the other hand, a war was going on and everyone had a case of jitters about sabotage that might be committed by neighbors with Teutonic-sounding names - better to nip this kind of thing in the bud.  The abuse of the German sympathizer at Blue Rapids was not an isolated incident, and thug mentality was by no means reserved for members of the Kansas State Guard.  The November 21, 1918 edition of the Osage City Free Press carried two similar reports side-by-side, bold headlines about “might” and “right" printed with no discernible trace of irony or sarcasm.


Kaiser’s Prototype Makes Discovery

That Might Is not Always Right

Ben Tucker, a farmer living three miles east of Scranton, made the painful discovery Monday evening that force does not rule the world, when a number of patriotic Carbondale men compelled him to kiss the American flag and renounce many of the things he has said anent the United States and the war.

Last Saturday, while in Carbondale, Tucker took part in an argument with Frank Sparks, a farmer and stock-raiser, and W. C. Warner, druggist, and others…  Monday evening Tucker was in Carbondale, and in Warner’s drug store.  When Sparks came in a few words followed, when Warner attempted to hit Tucker with a chair.  The blow never reached him, for Sparks hit Tucker with his fist, knocking him down.  He was badly used up by both Sparks and Warner when some one proposed to give him a chance to kiss the flag.  Tucker was eager to make good and kissed the flag and hugged it, and took back the things he had said about the war.

The men of Carbondale have not filed charges of disloyalty against Tucker but are said to be holding off to see if this severe lesson has the desired effect.

Made to Kiss the Flag

The Lyndon folks got busy Friday afternoon and showed Henry Bingenheimer and his 22 year old son a hot time.  It seems that Thos. Skidmore, chairman of the local United War Work Committee, had gone to the Bingenheimer home northwest of Lyndon, to solicit them for contributions to the War Work fund, and Bingenheimer got mad and attacked Skidmore.  The latter threw his arm around Bingenheimer and he says he thinks he also hit him.  The son rushed to the rescue of his father with his hoe, and struck Skidmore on the side of the face with it, inflicting a wound, which later the doctor closed with several stitches...

A kind of kangaroo court was held in Judge McLeod’s office and a great many Lyndon citizens took part.  Bingenheimer was forced to make arrangements at the bank for $500.00 to be given to the War Work’s campaign, which he did.  Then Bingenheimer and son were made to crawl on their hands and knees, up to the flag and kiss it.  Some of the boys got busy in the meantime and painted their buggy, harness and horse.  The man and his son were forced to get into the outfit and ordered to get out of town as fast as they could.

The volunteers from Jewell County seem to have gone about their business without indulging in such shenanigans.  As those familiar with the community might expect, the roll call for Company “D” of the Kansas State Guard was answered by a clutch of Leeces, Lovewells, VanMeters, and Swiharts, among other neighbors whose surnames are represented singly or in pairs.  Dave’s granddad Stephen Lovewell was a private, as was his grand-uncle, Grant.  Fred Ross was a sergeant - his name stood out for me because Fred's daughter “AJ” recently contributed the photographic views of the village of Lovewell on this website.  

According to the report on their activities, “Company D was very active in the Red Cross, and Liberty loan campaigns, and the FiveOne drive; our community always exceeded the quota which we were to raise.  The organization, also, gave exhibition drills.”

I should stress that no American flags were soiled by bloodied lips and no horses were painted on their watch.

© Dale Switzer 2023