‘Slack­ers’ 100 years ago were war averse

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - CELIA STOREY

Look up the word “slacker” (slack●er) to find vari­a­tions on a theme, de­pend­ing on your dic­tionary:

■ a per­son who avoids work or ef­fort.

■ a per­son who evades mil­i­tary ser­vice.

■ layabout, idler, shirker, slug­gard …

Evad­ing duty is pretty much what the word meant 100 years ago, but back then “slack­ers” weren’t nec­es­sar­ily slug­gish. Here’s ev­i­dence from a re­port out of Ok­la­homa in the Aug. 6, 1917, Arkansas Gazette:

It is re­ported that 300 slack­ers are ex­pected to ar­rive with the an­nounced pur­pose of pil­lag­ing and burn­ing the town.

Whoa! These were draft ob­jec­tors, white and black ten­ant farm­ers — over­worked peo­ple — who didn’t believe the Se­lec­tive Ser­vice Act of 1917 was con­sti­tu­tional. They had been riled up by crop fail­ures and so­cial­ist ac­tivists op­posed to the “rich man’s war” de­clared that April by Congress.

Not only did these ob­jec­tors refuse to re­port to their lo­cal draft boards, be­gin­ning Aug. 2, 1917, they mounted an armed in­sur­rec­tion. Bands of a few hun­dred farm­ers am­bushed the Semi­nole County sher­iff, dam­aged two bridges and cut phone lines.

“Cen­tral Part of Ok­la­homa Re­sists Draft” read the first head­line about the re­sis­tance, in the Aug. 4 Arkansas Gazette. Fight­ing in Ada, Okla., had bro­ken out after a meet­ing of 2,000 or more res­i­dents, and “1,000 heav­ily

armed posse­men” from Semi­nole, Hughes, Pon­to­toc, Ok­mul­gee and Pot­tawatomie coun­ties planned to at­tack any in­sur­gents they en­coun­tered at day­break. Ok­la­homa’s gov­er­nor told them shoot to kill.

Here’s part of a fol­low-up the Gazette pub­lished Aug. 6:

Two large posses tonight are con­tin­u­ing the search for armed bands which were or­ga­nized to op­pose the se­lec­tive draft. How­ever, Sun­day passed al­most with­out in­ci­dent in the Cen­tral Ok­la­homa coun­ties, which for three days have been the scene of at­tempted rev­o­lu­tion against the gov­ern­ment.

Cap­tures of the re­sisters, mem­bers of the so-called “Work­ing Class Union,” the “Jones Fam­ily” and other or­ga­ni­za­tions of kin­dred be­liefs, have reached 193, ac­cord­ing to the best count avail­able at Sa­sawaka, in Semi­nole county, the base of op­er­a­tions. Of this num­ber, 30 were taken today, the large part of them send­ing in word, gen­er­ally by a woman, that they were ready to sur­ren­der. Small de­tach­ments would bring them in. But one death has re­sulted from the man hunt, that of Wal­lace M. Cargill, an al­leged leader, late yes­ter­day. …

Dreams of con­quest, riches and power have been im­planted in the minds of the ig­no­rant ten­ant class by or­ga­niz­ers of the dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions un­til they were led to believe that a show of force was all that was nec­es­sary to gain the promised fruits. Af­fi­davits in the hands of of­fi­cers tell of the in­no­cent be­lief of ten­ants that to be drafted into the Na­tional Army was to go to sure death.

Those ten­ants weren’t the only ones who felt dragged. Day after day in the first weeks of Au­gust, the Gazette and Arkansas Demo­crat re­ported on heavy ap­peals for ex­emp­tion as draft boards in Arkansas called in their reg­is­tered men.

The news­pa­pers named names, of those who passed the phys­i­cal exam, those who failed, those who sought ex­emp­tions, those who didn’t show up. A Gazette re­port Aug. 9 noted some ab­sen­tees had not re­ceived their no­tices be­cause ru­ral mail de­liv­ery was slow. But quo­tas were not be­ing met, so in Lit­tle Rock and other cities, men who failed the exam the first time were re-ex­am­ined by a dif­fer­ent doc­tor. And each board was to im­panel a pros­e­cu­tor.

So it was a par­tic­u­larly ugly ef­fort by the en­e­mies of Lit­tle Rock Mayor Charles E. Tay­lor that sought to de­pict his sec­re­tary — who was his son — as a draft dodger. Young Charles Tay­lor was ar­rested Aug. 10 but quickly re­leased when his birth an­nounce­ment from the Gazette ar­chive proved he wasn’t old enough to reg­is­ter. Also that he had been a 10-pound baby.


The Ok­la­homa anti-draft up­ris­ing today is known as the “Green Corn Re­bel­lion.” But the first use I find of that term in the Lit­tle Rock news­pa­pers dates from a book re­view pub­lished in 1935: Gazette book ed­i­tor He­len Hat­ley Hor­ton praised Wil­liam Cun­ning­ham’s novel The Green Corn Re­bel­lion, which uses the re­bel­lion as a back­drop for ro­man­tic tragedy.

A peace­ful farmer re­luc­tantly goes to war to avoid ex­pos­ing his af­fair with his sis­ter-in-law, Happy McGee. Happy, oth­er­wise a fine girl, fell into bliss­ful adul­tery with him after an ill-judged in­dis­cre­tion with a high school se­nior. “But,” Hor­ton writes, “‘Happy’s’ life is meant for a sinister end, and fi­nally she shoots her­self.”

Hor­ton quoted an­other

book lover, R.M. Berry of Mena: “Be­cause of the re­al­ism in de­scrib­ing cer­tain sooty sit­u­a­tions, the novel may be banned by some overzeal­ous cen­sors.”

All that to say this: The only men­tions the Gazette made of “green corn” in Au­gust 1917 came in an ad for Ar­cade Gro­cery Co. and the cook­ing-ad­vice col­umn “Fam­ily Meals for a Week.” The Demo­crat named it that Au­gust while con­trast­ing “A Fash­ion­able Din­ner in Atlanta” with “A Fash­ion­able Din­ner in Paris” — that in­cluded snails.

Hu­mor aside, more than one non­fic­tional tragedy at­tended Ok­la­homa’s draft re­sis­tance. Here’s the Gazette from Aug. 7, 1917:

Moose Fam­ily Is Sorely Af­flicted

Mis­for­tunes have fallen thick and fast upon the fam­ily of the late Judge Wil­liam L. Moose, who was at­tor­ney gen­eral of Arkansas at the time of his death about three years ago.

Yes­ter­day it was learned that J. Fletcher Moose, who was shot and killed by a guard at Hold­enville, Okla., late Sun­day night, was a son of the late at­tor­ney gen­eral. Mr. Moose had been teach­ing school at Okemah, Okla., and had mo­tored to Hold­enville, ig­no­rant of the fact that armed guards had been sta­tioned on all the roads lead­ing into the town, be­cause of the anti-draft ri­ots.

Mr. Moose en­coun­tered one of the guards, who or­dered him to halt. Mr. Moose ev­i­dently did not un­der­stand, for he paid no at­ten­tion to the or­der, and the guard fired. The bul­let struck Mr. Moose in the head. He died soon af­ter­ward. He was 27 years old. Com­pound­ing the tragedy, the Gazette went on, the wife of Capt. Wil­liam Moose of the 8th U.S. Ar­tillery had re­cently died at his post in the Philip­pines. Cap­tain Moose had sailed for New York on July 18 to carry her body home.

His mother, the widow of the late at­tor­ney gen­eral, came to Lit­tle Rock yes­ter­day en route to New York to meet her be­reaved son. While here she re­ceived a mes­sage telling of the death of her son in Ok­la­homa and she re­turned at once to Mor­ril­ton.

She was ac­com­pa­nied to Lit­tle Rock by her son, Clifton Moose, who is af­flicted with ap­pen­dici­tis, and who, on the ad­vice of physi­cians, had come to Lit­tle Rock to un­dergo an op­er­a­tion. He re­turned to Mor­ril­ton with his mother.

From the 1920 U.S. Cen­sus records and from post­ings on Fin­daGrave.com by de­scen­dants of Wil­liam L. and Lenni Porter­field Bright Moose (see bit.ly/2u5n­j3g), we know that Clifton sur­vived. He lived un­til 1932, when he joined his par­ents and sev­eral sib­lings in Mor­ril­ton’s Elm­wood Ceme­tery.

Next week: He Tes­ti­fies to Ger­man Bru­tal­ity

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