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Kansas State Guard


Prior to 1917 the citizens of Kansas did not bestow much thought upon protecting municipal and industrial properties by organized bodies of troops. When we entered the World War the municipalities assumed that in the National Guard the state offered ample protection against sabotage and destruction of property by alien sympathizers.

Stories of espionage published in eastern papers, exaggerated through the constantly reiterated repetitions of overzealous and excitable but well-meaning patriots, soon brought Kansas to look upon any person having the slightest trace of German origin or connection with suspicion, Every community had its tales based upon its fearful imaginings of pro-German activities.

To the excited public every necessary utility was menaced with ever-present destruction by enemy aliens or German sympathizers. The peak of this war hysteria was reached in 1918. Its effects were evident, however, in many localities in the earlier days of the war.

On April 17, 1917, the State Council of Defense was organized in the Governor's office at Topeka. The object of the organization, as set out in the Council's history, edited by Prof. Frank W. Blackmar, and published in 1920, was "to mobilize all of the resources of the state for the support of the war." After organization the Council was divided into a number of departments, to one of which the Department of Public Defense was assigned the duty of organizing the Home Guards "for the protection of local property." Immediately after the meeting of the Defense Council in April, 1917, the organization of Home Guard units was begun in many communities. The first company to be enrolled was located at Kansas City, Kan., and its organization was completed in April, 1917. From this initial unit approximately 150 companies were organized throughout the state. Few, if any, of the sponsors for the Home Guard movement in the state had knowledge of military organization, and the plans adopted by the Council bore little semblance to an orderly and effective organization of a military force. It has been stated that many of those active in the original organization expressed the desire that the Home Guard be nonmilitary in its character, and we find evidence of this intent in the instructions printed on the original blanks used for enrollment of members. These instructions stated that the Home Guard "is a civilian organization and has no connection with the military service of the state of Kansas or of the United States." Under the plan of organization adopted by the Council, the officers of each company were a commander, a surgeon, a recorder, and a treasurer. Mayors of cities of the first and second class were appointed as commanders of the units in their respective cities. In localities other than in cities of the first or second class, the sheriff of the county was appointed such commander. The other officers of the company were elected by vote of the members. The four officers named above were authorized to appoint additional officers, whose duty it was to instruct the company in military subjects, and together with the officers so appointed by them, constituted an executive committee having full charge and management of all affairs of the organization.

Other than the action taken by the Council of Defense, no official recognition was given to the Home Guard by the state, and the organization had no official state status until August 6, 1917. On August 5, 1917, civic bodies awoke to the realization that the National Guard had changed its character overnight, and was from that date a part of the army of the United States and no longer subject to orders of state officials. This departure gave impetus to the Home Guard movement in the larger cities of the state, and emphasized the needs of the organization for arms and ammunition. Five hundred Springfield rifles, cal. 45, were on hand in the state arsenal at the outbreak of the war. These guns, while in serviceable condition, were of an obsolete type, which had been issued in bygone years to the state for use of the militia. The rifles were used by a number of the Home Guard companies for drill purposes for several months. On receipt of the Russian rifles hereinafter referred to, the companies were directed to return the Springfields. In obedience to the order, 400 were received. The remainder were lost or retained by members who refused to turn them in to their company officers. Many of those returned were in unserviceable condition, badly rusted, and otherwise damaged through carelessness and neglect. An El Dorado company had rendered the guns returned by it worthless by sawing off a foot or more of every barrel; probably this was done upon the theory that the guns were longer than necessary, and carried too much gun metal.

The act of congress of June 14, 1917, authorized the issue of arms and ammunition by the government to Home Guard organizations. On September 26, 1917, the Governor forwarded a requisition to Washington for 100 rifles, ammunition, etc., for use of the Kansas City organization; this issue to be used by men on guard duty at the following industrial plants in that city: National Zinc Company, 8 men; Armour & Co., 46 men; Peet Brothers Manufacturing Company, 35 men; Kansas City Soap Company, 2 men; Ismert-Hincke Milling Company, 3 men; Thomas Ruddy Company, 6 men. This requisition was returned by the War Department with the information that the state should advise the Ordnance Department relative to the number of rifles desired for issue to the entire Home Guard of the state, the War Department desiring to act upon the needs of the Home Guard of the state as an entity. The state authorities delayed action until after the disbandment of the Home Guard. Thus the organization received no arms other than those referred to in the preceding portion of this paragraph.

The activities of the Home Guard were largely confined to weekly meetings and drills, and to individual and organization participation in patriotic movements in the various communities of the state. There was no expense incurred by the state in the organization and maintenance of the Home Guard.

By executive order dated February 15, 1918, a reorganization was effected under the designation of "The Kansas State Guard." Under the provisions of this order members of the newly created State Guard were subject to call for duty in any part of the state. For this reason many organizations of the Home Guard, whose liability for service under the original organization plan was limited to duty in the county or city in which their respective units were stationed, did not desire to reorganize and assume the enlarged obligations of service. The Home Guard ceased to function as an organization on February 15, 1918, and its members and organizations, not desiring to re-enroll in the Kansas State Guard, were considered by the state as having been mustered out on that date.

The Home Guard was a community organization, with little supervision exercised by the state. No funds were available to meet the expense of clerical hire necessary for the successful operation of a state headquarters for the organization. Such administrative work as was carried on by the state was handled as a secondary matter by state officials and employees whose principal duties lay in other directions. Few reports were required from organizations and few records of value are therefore on file in this department. Those few records, however, indicate the organization of Home Guard units in the state.