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As It Was: Trains Carry World War I Draftees through Southern Oregon

Special military trains passed through Southern Oregon 100 years ago, carrying thousands of drafted soldiers to Army training at Fort Lewis, Wash.

The military traffic disrupted regular train service, which the Southern Pacific blamed on unscheduled stops to feed the troops, including in Ashland and Grants Pass.

The United States had entered World War I in April 1917, eventually sending 2 million men to join the fight in France against the Germans.

The Medford Mail Tribune newspaper described the arrival from Nevada of two military coaches attached to a regular Southern Pacific train on Sept. 21, 1917.

The newspaper wrote, “… the irrepressible young men made know their presence with lusty cheers and noisy good nature.”  Writing in the vernacular of the times, the newspaper added, “There were a number of Mexicans and Indians and half breeds among the drafted soldiers and they were the most enthusiastic, in the crowd. A young Mexican, fairly bubbling over with life, led the parade and the shouting.”

The newspaper said patriotic inscriptions covered the coaches in chalk, the largest reading, “From, Reno to France to get the Kaiser’s goat.”

Source: "TRAINS OF TROOPS GOING THRU TO CANTONMENT." Mail Tribune, 22 Sept. 1917 [Medford, Ore.], [reprinted 22 Sept. 2017 as “Mail Tribune 100.”]

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.