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Minnesota Home Guard

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Black and white photograph of the Minnesota Home Guard on parade in St. Paul, 1917.

Minnesota Home Guard on parade in St. Paul, 1917. Photograph by the St. Paul Dispatch.

When the Minnesota National Guard was federalized in the spring of 1917, the state was left without any military organization. To defend the state’s resources, the Minnesota Commission of Public Safety (MCPS) created the Minnesota Home Guard. The Home Guard existed for the duration of World War I. Units performed civilian and military duties.

The MCPS created the Home Guard on April 28, 1917. The Home Guard was meant to ensure public safety and protect citizens’ lives and property. Unofficially, the Home Guard was created to enforce the MCPS’s orders, many of which infringed on the rights of citizens.

Home Guard volunteers served for the duration of World War I. They were not paid unless they committed to extended active duty. Only men over the age of twenty-six were recruited. The Home Guard operated under the command of Minnesota Adjutant General Walter F. Rhinow and under the ultimate authority of Governor J.A.A. Burnquist.

Guard volunteers were armed with some weapons from the federal government, but most procured arms from military academies in the state and their home communities. Uniforms were provided by Adjutant General Rhinow or were manufactured and paid for through fundraising. Officers purchased their own uniforms. These uniforms followed the U.S. regulation pattern.

Eventually, twenty-three battalions exceeding seven thousand men were recruited. After petitioning the governor, African Americans formed the Sixteenth Battalion—the only battalion that allowed men of color to enlist.

In 1918 the Home Guard was augmented by a Motor Corps. Though organized in a military fashion, the Motor Corps was not recognized by any government act. Members volunteered themselves and their vehicles to the state. They performed duties alongside the Home Guard and many considered them to be part of it. The Motor Corps numbered over 2,500 men in ten battalions.

The Home Guard performed a number of basic duties during its existence. Units marched in parades and participated in patriotic gatherings. They provided honor guards at funerals, sold liberty bonds, and supported the Red Cross. Members of the Home Guard harvested crops and escorted enlisted men to train stations when they left to serve. A number of units conducted “slacker raids” in which they tracked down men who were not abiding by the laws of the draft. The largest of these took place in St. Paul, where over five hundred men were arrested.

The Home Guard played an important role in disaster relief in 1918. On July 1, 1918, a tornado swept through the town of Tyler. General Rhinow commanded the relief effort, which was carried out by members of the Home Guard and National Guard. On October 12, 1918, a devastating fire destroyed thirty-eight communities in northeastern Minnesota. Units of the Home Guard from Duluth and the Iron Range fought the fire. Afterward they provided first aid and security and buried the dead.

The MCPS employed the Home Guard as a de facto police force to quell labor disputes. Most famously, the Home Guard was used to break a strike of Twin City Rapid Transit workers in the winter of 1917. After dispersing a crowd of thousands, the Home Guard closed off six square blocks of downtown St. Paul. Most pro-labor advocates saw the Home Guard as a tool of business interests and the private army of a dictatorial governor. Use of the Home Guard helped lead to the unification of the Nonpartisan League and labor interests. In addition, with temperance movements on the rise, the Home Guard was used to force the closure of saloons in Blooming Prairie.

At times, the Home Guard helped bring stability to Minnesota during the World War I years. However, it was also a wedge that further divided opinion on issues like sedition and free speech, labor and business, loyalty and disloyalty, and race. Many people felt it was necessary; others thought it infringed on the rights of citizens. When the armistice with Germany was signed, Home Guard units began to muster out on their own accord. Some units were incorporated into the Minnesota National Guard when it was reorganized after the war. In December of 1920, the MCPS was officially dissolved and all of its orders, including the Home Guard, were voided.

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“Auxiliary Denied Use of U.S. Uniform.” Grand Marais Cook County News-Herald, July 11, 1917.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016544/1917-07-11/ed-1/seq-3/

Boorom, Jeff and Stephen Osman. Email message to author, October 13–15, 2014.

Buell, C.J. The Minnesota Legislature of 1919. [St. Paul?: C.J. Buell, 1919?].
http://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/NonMNpub/oclc00500242.pdf

Carroll, Francis M. and Franklin R. Raiter. The Fires of Autumn: The Cloquet—Moose Lake Disaster of 1918. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1990.

Chrislock, Carl H. Watchdog of Loyalty: The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety During World War I. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1991.

Collected Materials, 1917–[192–]
Minnesota War Records Commission
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Papers of individuals, records of organizations, and printed materials relating to wartime activities, collected or compiled by the War Records Commission. Orders for several Home Guard units are included in the collection.

“Duties of Home Guards Explained; Questions Answered by Towne.” Bemidji Daily Pioneer, June 22, 1917.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86063381/1917-06-22/ed-1/seq-1/

“Five Thousand Riot in St. Paul Streets; Cut Trolley Wires.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, December 3, 1917.

Funkley, Henry. “Home Guard Necessary.” Bemidji Daily Pioneer, December 18, 1917.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86063381/1917-12-18/ed-1/seq-2/

Holbrook, Franklin F., ed. St. Paul and Ramsey County in the War of 1917–1918. St. Paul: Ramsey County War Records Commission, 1929.

——— , and Livia Appel. Minnesota in the War with Germany. 2 vols. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1928.

“Home Guard has 7,501 Men in State.” Bemidji Daily Pioneer, April 22, 1918.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86063381/1918-04-22/ed-1/seq-4/

Home Guard Records, 1917–1919
Minnesota National Guard
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/gr00862.xml
Description: Records documenting the duties and activities of the Home Guard by battalion.

“Home Guards Arrest 500 in Slacker Raid.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 7, 1918.

“Home Guards Called for by Safety Board.” Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, April 4, 1917.

Luukkonen, Arnold L. “Brave Men in Their Motor Machines—And the 1918 Forest Fire.” Ramsey County History 9, no. 2 (Fall 1972): 3–8.

Millikan, William. “Defenders of Business: the Minneapolis Civic and Commerce Association Versus Labor During W.W. I.” Minnesota History 50, no. 1 (Spring 1986): 2–17.
http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/50/v50i01p002-017.pdf

SAM 1
Military Service Record Cards, [c.1860]–[c.1945]
Minnesota Office of the Adjutant General
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/sam001.xml
Description: The collection includes cards that provide information about individuals who served in the Minnesota Home Guard during World War I.

“Oaths to be taken in Home Guard.” St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, April 29, 1917.

“Oppose Military Rule.” White Earth Tomahawk, March 13, 1919.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89064695/1919-03-13/ed-1/seq-7/

Rhinow, W. F. Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Minnesota covering the Thirteenth Biennial Period Ending December 31, 1918. Vol. 1. Minneapolis, MN: Syndicate Printing Co., 1918.
http://books.google.com/books?id=Gj4WAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA340&lpg=PA340&dq=adjutant+general+report+minnesota+1917&source=bl&ots=kAV2FAUdZN&sig=PU11b3ruDqwx98vWiZARSUQ-8js&hl=en&sa=X&ei=JMkuVIK4GY-hyATivoKgAg&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

“State Home Guard Call Issued by Safety Board.” St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, April 29, 1917.

“Trades Assembly Delegates in Warm Debate Over Home Guard.” Duluth Labor World, August 16, 1919.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn78000395/1919-08-16/ed-1/seq-6/

“2,500 Rioters Attack Trolley Cars; 40 Men Hurt; Home Guard Called out; Night Traffic Halted.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, December 3, 1917.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of the Minnesota Home Guard on parade in St. Paul, 1917.
Black and white photograph of the Minnesota Home Guard on parade in St. Paul, 1917.
Black and white photograph of three members of the Minnesota Home Guard during the Streetcar workers strike of 1917. The stars they wear designate them as special deputy sheriffs of Ramsey County.
Black and white photograph of three members of the Minnesota Home Guard during the Streetcar workers strike of 1917. The stars they wear designate them as special deputy sheriffs of Ramsey County.
Black and white photograph of A. A. Baker, member of the Minnesota Home Guard, 1917. The star he wears designates him as a special deputy sheriff sworn in during the Streetcar Workers Strike.
Black and white photograph of A. A. Baker, member of the Minnesota Home Guard, 1917. The star he wears designates him as a special deputy sheriff sworn in during the Streetcar Workers Strike.
Black and white photograph of Company A of the Third Battalion, Minnesota Home Guard, from Duluth, 1917.
Black and white photograph of Company A of the Third Battalion, Minnesota Home Guard, from Duluth, 1917.
Black and white photograph of Governor Burnquist with officers of the Minnesota Home guard and Motor Corps, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of Governor Burnquist with officers of the Minnesota Home guard and Motor Corps, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of Dr. O.D. Howard Sergeant in the Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard and his grandson, Howard Maxwell, 1918.
Black and white photograph of Dr. O.D. Howard Sergeant in the Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard and his grandson, Howard Maxwell, 1918.
Black and white photograph of a Minnesota Home Guard Camp during the fires of 1918.
Black and white photograph of a Minnesota Home Guard Camp during the fires of 1918.
Black and white photograph of Minnesota Home Guardsmen burying dead of the Fires of 1918.
Black and white photograph of Minnesota Home Guardsmen burying dead of the Fires of 1918.
Black and white photograph of a full Battalion of Minnesota Home Guard at Glenwood Park, Minneapolis, 1918.
Black and white photograph of a full Battalion of Minnesota Home Guard at Glenwood Park, Minneapolis, 1918.
Black and white photograph of a Minnesota Home Guard Band, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of a Minnesota Home Guard Band, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of members of the Minnesota Home Guard at Camp Pershing, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of members of the Minnesota Home Guard at Camp Pershing, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of members of the Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard, c.1918. After petitioning the governor, African American citizens formed their own battalion in order to serve.
Black and white photograph of members of the Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard, c.1918. After petitioning the governor, African American citizens formed their own battalion in order to serve.
Black and white photograph of embers of Company A, Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of embers of Company A, Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of the Fourth Battalion Band, Minnesota Home Guard, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of the Fourth Battalion Band, Minnesota Home Guard, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of Adjutant General Walter F. Rhinow, commander of all state troops, including the Minnesota Home Guard, c.1918.
Black and white photograph of Adjutant General Walter F. Rhinow, commander of all state troops, including the Minnesota Home Guard, c.1918.
An advertisement for a concert put on by the Sixteenth Battalion Band from the St. Paul Appeal, October 25, 1919. The band was led by Lieutenant William Howard.
An advertisement for a concert put on by the Sixteenth Battalion Band from the St. Paul Appeal, October 25, 1919. The band was led by Lieutenant William Howard.
Color image of a Minnesota Home Guard sack coat.
Color image of a Minnesota Home Guard sack coat.
Color image of a Minnesota Home Guard, Motor Corps Cap, showing Motor Corps insignia.
Color image of a Minnesota Home Guard, Motor Corps Cap, showing Motor Corps insignia.

Turning Point

On April 28, 1917, the Minnesota Home Guard is created by an order of the Minnesota Commission of Public Safety.

Chronology

April 28, 1917

The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety orders the creation of the Minnesota Home Guard.

December 2, 1917

Striking street car workers turn violent after a rally in Rice Park, St. Paul. The Home Guard is called out and breaks the strike.

January 1, 1918

The Home Guard numbers eleven battalions with over 4,400 men.

April, 1918

After petitioning the governor, African American men begin mustering into the all-African-American Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard.

July 1, 1918

The Home Guard forces the closure of saloons in Blooming Prairie.

July 6, 1918

Two Home Guard battalions and justice department agents sweep all of St. Paul, searching for “slackers.” Over five hundred men are arrested. The Home Guard reaches its numerical height with 7,373 men later in the month.

August 21, 1918

A tornado passes through Tyler. Adjutant General Walter F. Rhinow, along with members of the Home Guard, provide relief to the townspeople.

October, 1918

Home Guard units begin to respond to the forest fire disaster in northeastern Minnesota.

November, 1918

After the armistice is signed with Germany, many Home Guard units begin mustering out. Some are incorporated into the Minnesota National Guard.

December, 15, 1920

The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety is dissolved. As a result, the Home Guard officially ceases to exist.









  

Comments

Thanks to Mr DeCarlo for this excellent article! I am the Executive Director of the Department of Military Affairs, and am periodically asked about past activation of the Home Guard, but had little information readily available. In his research, did he find any reference to later organizations of the Home Guard in Minnesota? I have heard anecdotally that the Home Guard again manned the armories during WWII, but have not looked hard enough to confirm or deny that.

Hi Donald, thanks for your comment and interest in MNopedia. I didn't find any reference to later organizations of the MN Home Guard in my research. However, my work was narrowly focused on the MN Home Guard during WWI. I can say, that the organization that this article focuses on formally ended in 1920. If another Home Guard organization existed afterward, it would have been completely new in a legal and organizational sense.