For Liberty’s Sake: #ThisWeekInWYHistory
The One Hundred Percent American Society had a chapter in nearly every Wyoming town. These Cheyenne children–and their dogs–appear to have doubled their parents’ patriotism. (Wyoming State Archives.)
If you were to ask a Wyomingite today to ponder the notion of liberty, they would most likely recall the famed speech of Patrick Henry in 1775 and the famous quote, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
At the very least, most would have a decent grasp of the general definition of liberty as the concept of freedom, for the country and for its people.
For all its fame and historical significance in history, however, liberty has not always been a beacon of light and freedom for residents of Wyoming.
In the months following the 1917 declaration of war against Germany during the Great War, a series of bonds were offered to citizens in the United States.
These so called “Liberty Bonds” were the sign of the time for patriotic duty on the part of U.S. citizens. They were war bonds, sold across the U.S. to support the allied cause in WWI.
If you think Wyoming was gung-ho for patriotism now, you should have seen it during that time.
There was immense pressure from neighbors, public officials, and even newspapers for residents to do their patriotic duty and buy bonds, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society.
A June 1917 edition of the Douglas Enterprise asked residents, “What would George Washington or Abraham Lincoln think of the American who failed to buy Unites States Liberty Bonds?”
The bonds matured in 30 years from the date they were purchased and paid 3.5 percent interest. They were available in denominations from $50 through $100,000, according to a May 1917 edition of the Pines Bluff Post.
The sales pitch was effective. The WSHS reports that the first Liberty Bond issued was for $ 2 billion.
During WWI, Wyomingites purchased $23.6 million worth of Liberty Bonds. Donations reportedly totaled an additional $1.4 million. Even post-war bonds, “Victory Bonds,” raked in $7.2 million.
Wyoming residents gave until, in some cases, they had nothing left to give, according to the WSHS.
The concept of liberty in 1917 was fanatical. The public’s interpretation of it created a patriotic cult where residents paid their dues or faced the consequences. Interestingly, it was not retribution from the government that made Wyoming residents purchase so many bonds; it was the retaliation of their peers.
On April 22, 1918, two men in Frontier, Wyoming, refused to purchase Liberty Bonds. They were publicly humiliated by being tarred and feathered, a painful form of vigilantism.
Around the same time, a Los Angeles woman essentially got away with murder after she shot her German husband for refusing to buy Liberty Bonds in Lander, Wyoming.
The Town Marshal at the time claimed the shooting was “an act of self-defense,” according to Alex Goodall’s “Loyalty and Liberty: American Countersubversion from World War I to the McCarthy Era.”
Acts such as this were not uncommon, but they weren’t as effective as a more subtle tactic utilized by Wyoming women. Any young man who objected to the war effort was often given a feather by a young woman. While the gesture could seem romantic, it wasn’t. It was a symbol that young women viewed the young man as a coward.