The Animas Museum is marking the service of hundreds of people from La Plata County who served in World War I this year with activities and a new exhibit in honor of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering the war.
The conflict lasted from 1914 to 1918, but the U.S. didn’t enter the war until April 1917.
Museum volunteers dug into articles and letters published in The Durango Democrat to create an exhibit focusing on local men drafted into the war and efforts to support the troops in La Plata County.
“Patriotism was just at a fever pitch,” said Carolyn Bowra, a museum volunteer who did research for the exhibit.
A parade was held for contingents of drafted men leaving for the war, including an African American man who had to leave alone to serve in his segregated regiment, she said.
Red Cross chapters organized efforts to roll bandages, knit socks, sweaters and other clothing.
“We basically sent an army with homemade equipment,” Bowra said.
Anti-German sentiment accompanied the patriotism and a German language book-burning was held in June 1918.
The exhibit will be on display for about year, and since opening in June, it’s been well received, she said.
“People are loving it. ... They kind of knew they didn’t know too much about WWI, and then when they see it, they realize how much they didn’t know,” she said.
A chautauqua performance, an unscripted and historical improv presentation, on Sept. 5 will provide a national perspective of the war, when Ron Edgerton takes on Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing’s persona.
Edgerton is an emeritus professor of history at the University of Northern Colorado and he is writing a book on Pershing, who commanded the American forces in Europe after a long military career.
Pershing was well-known at the time but has not risen to the acclaim of other major generals such as Ulysses S. Grant, possibly because he largely stayed away from politics and WWI was not a popular war, Edgerton said.
However, Pershing re-entered headlines earlier in August when President Donald Trump referenced a myth about how Pershing ordered his men to shoot a group of Muslim fighters in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pigs blood leaving only one Muslim man to retell the story.
“There’s not a shred of truth to it,” Edgerton said, of the tale.
He finds the story unfair to a man who worked hard to prevent unnecessary bloodshed in the Philippine-American War, which took place around the turn of the century.
He is writing a book on Pershing and America’s first military encounter with militant Islam – the Philippine-American War, a conflict that made Pershing a prominent figure.
Edgerton learned about Pershing while he was serving in Peace Corps in the Philippines in an area the general traveled through.
Many of the techniques Pershing used while are similar to those promoted by Gen. David Petraeus for counter-insurgency warfare.
Pershing limited civilian suffering in the conflict, developed a good relationship with local leaders and isolated the opposition fighters into small pockets, which echoes the same strategies promoted by Petraeus, Edgerton said.
In World War I, Pershing insisted that American troops spend time training so they could be ready for the fight, an unpopular decision with the leaders of England and France at the time, he said.
Pershing also made a number of mistakes during the war, yielding tactical command in 1918 to Major General Hunter Liggett, Edgerton said.