By Bryce Martin | Pioneer Editor | email@example.com
“Tuesday of this week was one of the greatest, if not the greatest day, in the history of Bowman, for at that time a host of patriotic people from all parts of the county gathered here to attend a patriotic meeting and to bid Godspeed to those perfect specimens of manhood who leave us to fight for the cause of humanity in a foreign land, and to assist in overturning the rule of a despot whose equal for savagery and brutality is not recorded in modern history.”
That dramatic quote was at the top of the Sept. 20, 1917 edition of the Bowman County Pioneer, a few months after U.S. troops joined its allies to begin their engagement in World War I. That passage hangs somberly at the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum (PTRM) as part of its new exhibit to commemorate Bowman’s role in the international event.
As part of the 100th anniversary of WWI, which began in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the museum felt it was necessary to provide its visitors with a small piece of the insurmountable history.
“(The exhibit) is for people to come in and see Bowman’s history placed within this international context,” said Lori Nohner, manager of PTRM.
Many men from Bowman County and the surrounding areas fought in WWI, according to Nohner, while women on the home front helped to support the Red Cross and the Navy League by wrapping bandages, making bed shirts and going into nursing.
The exhibit, finished earlier this month, has much to display from Bowman during that period in history. A military suit belonging to a local resident who has since passed away stands proudly on display along with a gas mask, a service flag dedicated to men from Rhame that went off to war and several propaganda posters that adorned businesses during that historic time. Photographs of Bowman and its residents rest behind the exhibit’s glass, which have never before been on display but have remained part of the museum’s collection.
“I really enjoy learning about the people in Bowman County and all around this area in how they viewed the war and a lot of that we got from reading the old newspapers,” Nohner said.
An article in a 1918 edition of the Pioneer described a black man named Fred Winters who lived in Bowman. The article thoroughly detailed an account of Winters’ “unique” sendoff to fight overseas.
Winters, who Nohner said was assumed to have worked at one of the local banks, was drafted into the war in 1918, just as it was reaching its conclusion. Because of his race — at that time segregation was still enforced — he was to take a train from Bowman separate from the white men who also headed off to war.
He had to board the train by himself and desired a sendoff like the one his white counterparts received, a big parade, people waving and patriotism abound.
“So this guy wanted to say goodbye to everyone, too, and he wanted people to say goodbye to him,” Nohner explained.
The man then lit some crates on fire and rang the city’s fire bell. Everyone came rushing to the scene to discover Winters. They accompanied him to the train depot and waved him off.
He achieved his robust farewell.
To erect the exhibit, Nohner said they first decided on the space, which is located across from the front entrance to the museum. Then they sorted the items they already had in their collection — much of it donated over the years by longtime museum supporters Nancy and Terry Schaefer of Bowman — and decided what story they wanted to tell, what happened in WWI, why it started, how it ended and then to place Bowman in that context.
“This is how these people fit into this story,” she said.
Nohner said when guests visit the museum it is the first exhibit they are attracted to.
There are plans to expand the exhibit in the future.
When the museum expands into the space of a larger building on the museum’s grounds, they hope to transfer related historical items over and create an exhibit dedicated to Bowman’s role in other military endeavors.
Those plans, however, are years away, according to Nohner.
“It’s not going to be a quick transition, I’m sorry to say. Obviously we’re moving forward one little step at a time for it,” Nohner said.