HISTORY: 1918 — Grant County men called to the Great War

One way World War I entered into the lives of Grant County residents in 1918 was through the draft.

By the time the United States entered the war in 1917, the federal government had conscripted soldiers in two prior American conflicts — the American Revolution and the Civil War.

President Woodrow Wilson opted to rely on the draft after only 73,000 volunteers enlisted in the first six weeks of the war when the target was 1 million. The Selective Service Act allowed exemptions for dependency, essential occupations and religious scruples.

The 1917 act authorized drafting men between 21 and 31 years, and 10 million men were registered. Eligibility was expanded to 18 to 45 years in 1918, and 24 million men registered.

By the time the war ended, 3 million men had been inducted, with little of the resistance seen during the Civil War thanks to a major campaign by the federal government to build support for the war. Newspapers and magazines that published articles opposed to the war were shut down.

The Wilson administration also imposed restrictions on German aliens. On Jan. 18, the Blue Mountain Eagle reported that all German men 14 years or older must register in the first week of February. A permit with their thumb print would be required if they wanted to move around the country.

By the end of January, 630 Grant County men had registered for the draft, and 200 in Class 1 were ordered to report for physical exams in Canyon City. Sheriff Howell and County Clerk Powell were busy handling the federal requirements. The Eagle printed the names each week of the men who were required to show up for exams or registration.

“Few delinquents must answer now,” a Feb. 1 headline said. “The Eagle advises all registrants to comply with all orders pertaining to the draft,” the front-page article said. “If they do not, a term in a federal prison will await them.”

About half of the men who showed up for physicals did not qualify. Problems included hernias, bad hearing, defective teeth, heart conditions “and two of them had the itch.”

By mid-April, Sheriff Howell was directed to round up “slackers,” deserters or other delinquents. The Eagle printed the names of four men who failed to show up for their physicals and the names of 10 men sought by the sheriff. Two women from Canyon City were called to Portland as witnesses in a case brought against a man who failed to register.

As the war dragged on and complaints were made that the system was unfair, the government made changes to the Class 2 requirements. The Eagle ran the names of 33 men who were called to war. Two weeks later, the Eagle reported that Class 1 men have been exhausted in Grant County, but reclassification will add 25 more to the rolls.

“Youngsters will be called into service in August,” a front-page headline read in mid-July. By early August, Sheriff Howell was gearing up for a big draft for men up to 45 years old. War marshals and assistants were named for every precinct in Grant County to assist in registering the men. The government expected to call up more than 13 million men across the U.S.

The Eagle reminded its readers in September that every man is supposed to know how to register for the draft, but it provided instructions just in case. Being sick or preoccupied with family matters or ignorant — those were not excuses.

Sheriff Howell notified all men in Grant County between 18 and 45 that they must show up to register Sept. 12. The names of 851 men were printed in the Oct. 25 Eagle, each assigned a draft number for the order in which they would be called.

But the war appeared to be winding down by early November, as signals from a weary Germany made their way to the Allies. The armistice was signed Nov. 11, ending the Great War and the draft.

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