By Mick Woodcock

The declaration of war by Congress on April 6, 1917, made unity of thought and effort a necessity in winning the war. While this applied to the United States as a whole, it was accomplished on the local level in every city, town and village in the country. Prescott, Arizona, was no exception.

A Patriotic Day was organized for April 6, 1917, with an overflow meeting at the Elks Theatre that evening. From this meeting there were six resolutions adopted that committed Prescott’s aid to the nation. The auditorium was packed, with an estimated 1,500 people standing in the street listening to the speakers. Patriotic songs were sung and numerous speeches given. The shortest was by Harry Heap who said, “I never have been an advocate of war. But if you want to know how I stand, my country has spoken and I am for Preparedness, Military Training, the Stars and Stripes and President Wilson.”

The following day was designated Loyalty Sunday and men and women were requested to attend their church of choice. This was also a time of meetings for minority members of the community to establish their support for the task ahead. Local officials met with representatives of the Mexican community to gauge their loyalty to the United States. This was due to the “Zimmermann note,” a secret order from Berlin to Germany’s ambassador to Mexico to explore persuading Mexico to enter the war on Germany’s side against the United States.  Judge F. O. Smith addressed the crowd gathered at the Noriega-Abbot Hall and explained this and made it understood that their loyalty was not in question, but that there was a need for everyone to support the United States. Those there pledged their support for the war effort. 

Members of the African-American community held a mass meeting that Sunday where they pledged themselves to stand by the country during the present crisis. The newspaper indicated that “…the spirit of patriotism was much in evidence.” L. J. Harris gave a rousing speech that caused everyone that heard it to pledge themselves to the job at hand. From this meeting the newspaper reported, “Realizing that we are a part and parcel of this great American nation and knowing that our part is as important to play as that of any other men who live under the Stars and Stripes, we, as Afro-Americans feel and believe that the present crisis should be met with a united effort under the directing hand of God.”

An entirely different problem was presented by residents whose citizenship was of one of the countries with which the United States was at war.  German men were considered “alien enemies” and were not allowed to become citizens of this country as long as there existed a state of war. They were allowed to file a declaration of intent to apply for citizenship, but no action could be taken for the duration of the war. They also had to register with a local board. Later this was extended to women as well.

The logic behind that was to keep spying and espionage to a minimum by keeping track of those who might have a reason to carry out such activities. A small article in the Weekly Journal-Miner dated April 7, 1917, from Tuckerton, noted:  “Five Germans who represented Berlin at the big radio plant until the Federal authorities took charge of it a month ago were arrested today. It is believed they are suspected of a conspiracy to destroy the plant.”

Apparently you did not have to be German to have an unfriendly attitude toward the United States. The newspaper reported the arrest of an unnamed Swede in Seligman at the end of September, 1917, on charges of being a German spy. While Sweden was officially neutral during the war, it had definite sympathy for Germany during the conflict. This man had been watched for a week visiting different places on the Santa Fe Railway and when arrested had a large sum of money on him, a train ticket to Chicago and a tool kit which it was suspected might be used to damage railroad equipment.

Nonetheless, these were isolated problems as Prescott rallied under the town’s slogan “Help the War.”

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.