Friday, February 18, 2011


With all the forces at work in a nation at war, and the dissentions over them, keeping community unity functioning was almost miraculous. That the little Montana hamlets, by and large, accomplished it is a strong testament to how desperately the settlers had to depend on each other. Despite the special needs of supporting the war effort they kept working together even while they disagreed. Interest in farm bureau activities was high throughout the west end of Sanders County. It seemed that the government was at last helping the farmer in a constructive way, as Sanders County Independent Ledger's editor was happy to report. He devoted space to the topic two weeks in a row,

January 10, 1918
"A special meeting of the Noxon Community club was held Saturday evening to discuss the matter of co-operative marketing of fence posts. At a previous meeting County Agent Hillman had been requested to secure data on this subject, and his report was made at this time.
"The advisability of forming an association for the purpose of selling direct to farmers was considered, but for the present it was decided to handle it through the club, the county agent agreeing to take care of the correspondence. In the future, if the plan proves a success and the volume of business warrants it, an association will be formed.
"It is contemplated to deal through similar clubs and through other county agents organizing co-operative buyers, as it is seldom that individual farmers require carload quantities. The purpose is, of course, to eliminate the middleman and to divert the money he would collect for expenses and profits to the pockets of the buyers and sellers."
January 17, 1918
"A telephone message today from F. M. Hillman, who in company with Sam T. Hampton and E. H. Lott, from the agricultural department, is holding a series of meetings in the interest of the farm bureau organization ...
"Successful meetings at Heron, Noxon and Trout Creek ... attendance surprisingly good and practically all favored the plan when once the objects of it were made clear. 17 members were secured at Heron, 32 at Noxon and 22 at Trout Creek ...
"Chosen to represent the communities were: Heron - F.A. Bump, Fred Smith and M. H. Larson; Noxon - J. W. Hammons, Marion Larson and Marion Cotton; Trout Creek - Elihu Wilson, John Larson and A. N. Brooks... "

These quickly became an organization of local county Extension clubs to aid farmers. When Montana became a state, certain lands were reserved as land grant colleges with income from them pledged to aid the people of the state in all manner of educational endeavors. The county extension agent literally meant extension of the college to the people.

Acceptance of registering firearms and the sale of War Savings Stamps, however, caused more agitation among the settlers. Almost as though the plan was to add insult and injury, Montana legislators showed a good deal of grit when, in a special session, they enacted a law requiring the registration of all firearms and weapons.*1.

Owners were to register them with the county sheriff. All sales were to be reported and all commercial sales registered, with only "30 days to comply." Fines of $50-$500 or jail tijme of 10 days to six months or both would be imposed on anyone who disobeyed the new law.

Objections dared not be voiced. Prying neighbors who might feel compelled by patriotism to report non-compliance squelched resistance.

Probably only in the tiny communities with a strongly placed County Defense Council, could compliance be as effective as it seemed to be in Sanders county.

On March 14, 1918 the weekly newspaper reported progress on gun registration, when the editor wrote,
"Sheriff Hartman reports that between 3,000 and 3,500 firearms and weapons have been registered at his office during the past two weeks in compliance with the law passed at the special session of the legislature. The affidavits have been coming in so rapidly that he has not been able to check them up, but he expects fully 5,000 will be accounted for before the final day, which is next Wednesday.
"The record seems to be held by Lux Bros. who reported on eleven guns. Practically everyone has one or two, and there are a great number who have from four to six such weapons."

In addition to registering guns, everyone was being exhorted to buy War-Savings and Thrift Stamps to benefit the service men.
"A single Thrift Stamp (25 cents), the county newspaper editor wrote, "will buy a tent pole or five tent pins, a waist belt or hat cord, shoe lace or identification tags: two will buy one trench tool or a pair of woolen gloves. Four Thrift Stamps will buy two pairs of canvas leggings; six will buy five pairs of woolen socks or three suits of summer underwear; twelve will buy a steel helmet. One War-Savings Stamp (Sixteen 25 cent Thrift stamps) buys one hundred cartridges or a cartridge belt or a scabbard for a bayonet, two purchases two pairs of woolen breeches or two flannel shirts; two and a half buys a gas mask. Three War-Savings Stamps buys an overcoat or two service coats; three and a half purchases three pairs of woolen blankets; four will buy a rifle. The investment value to the purchaser was also touted. "If you buy 25 cent Thrift stamps at the rate of only one a day, and exchange each book of 16 (with a few cents added) for a certificate worth $5.00 in 1923, you are saving money at the rate of $10.00 a month."*2.
Anyone foolish enough to question who might be getting rich from this "scheme" did so at great peril. Some did recognize it as a measure to fatten the pockets of capitalists, and rightly so. But to voice such thoughts or resist purchase brought immediate community censure.

  1. Sanders County Independent Ledger, February 28, 1918.
  2. Sanders County Independent Ledger, March 14, 1918.

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