South Dakota in World War One - The Old Courthouse Museum Exhibit

Last Updated by Brian Gevik on
Old Courthouse Museum Exhibit Logo
Siouxland Heritage Museums

So this farm kid from Toronoto, South Dakota grows up, goes to college and ends up with a journalism degree from the University of South Dakota. He gets a job at a Sioux Falls newspaper.

The thing is, it's 1917. The guy quits his newspaper job and enlists in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, America's fledgling air force. There's a shortage of pilots so he figures he'll be made an officer sooner than later. He admits he doesn't know anything about flying but is told not to worry about it. "Well," they tell him, "nobody else does either."

world war one uniform

world war one uniformPilot's qualification badge

aviator's flight hatAviator's flight helmet.

He's 21. The Army sends him to California for pilot training. He learns to fly some of the first aircraft ever designed and built to carry big, heavy bombs. He goes to Texas for more training, then goes to New York City to wait for a ship. In 1918, he sails to England for still more training. Once there, he learns to fly England's biggest, heaviest and most dangerous bomber.

handley-page bomberBritish Handley Page 0/400 BomberNote American flag on nose

And then, Armistice. He celebrates like everybody else and goes home.

He goes back to being a journalist and after a couple of interim jobs, he's hired as an editor at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. He works there for 33 years, finally retiring in 1961 as the paper's executive editor. Along the way he's praised as a terrific journalist, philanthropist, and all-around civic leader. He's one of the first to be inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

Fred C. Christopherson in 1918Fred C. Christopherson, 1918

His name was Fred C. Christopherson*.

Fred C. Christopherson postwarFred C. Christopherson, post-warSouth Dakota Hall of Fame

world war one uniform

Christopherson's World War One uniform, which looks as sharp and crisp as it likely did a hundred years ago, is on display in an exhibit at the Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls. The exhibit summarizes World War One and details South Dakota's role in the conflict. Some elements of the exhibit come with rich and well-documented histories, like the Christopherson uniform. Other relics sort of speak for themselves.

world war one german machine gunGerman machine gun

german infantry rifleGerman infantry rifle

german helmetGerman "Pickelhaube" Helmet. (Pickaxe-helmet)

american machine gunAmerican machine gun, helmet, rifle

Relics and war booty - old rifles, machine guns, bayonets, hand grenades and the like - are displayed in cases set into the walls of a simulated trench.

old phonograph

sheet music

Another part of the exhibit features the music of the era.

world war one propaganda poster

A wall is plastered with propaganda posters and other wartime artworks.

There's a case containing some of the ribbons and decorations of the time. Awards for valor, campaign, good conduct, and so on. About 29-thousand South Dakotans served during World War I. Many saw combat.

One section is dedicated to remembering the role of women in the war and on the homefront.

recruitment poster for womenRecruitment poster

child sized uniform

toy cannon

paper cutout of Kaiser WilhelmPaper target - Kaiser Wilhelm

A child's army-style jacket is displayed next to a small toy cannon aimed at a paper cutout of Kaiser Wilhelm, which was sold with the cannon.

kids playing with toy cannon

Some of the many photographs in the exhibit were taken on European battlefields. Others were shot closer to home.

trench warfare in France - ca 1918Trench warfare in France - ca. 1918

South Dakota National Guard Parade on Philips Ave. before leaving for France, 1917South Dakota National Guard Parade on Philips Ave. before leaving for France, 1917

world war one parade

south dakota home guardHome guard troops pose in front of the Coliseum, ca. 1917

portraits of soldiers killed in WWI

Portraits of fallen South Dakota soldiers look back from honor roll posters that resemble pages from an old high school year book.

portraits of soldiers killed in WWI

portraits of soldiers killed in WWI

portraits of soldiers killed in WWI

portraits of soldiers killed in WWI

"World War One - The Great War" can be seen at the Old Courthouse Museum, Main and 6th St. in downtown Sioux Falls. Admission is free. Visit the Museum's Web site for more information.

"Personalities with Chuck Anderson"

Vintage radio interviews with well known and not so well known South Dakotans.

Personalities: South Dakota Soldiers, Sailors, War Memorials

On July 16, 1994, Chuck Anderson visited Pierre to attend an event called "South Dakotans in WWII." It took place at...

Personalities: The Great Flood of 1993

The Great Flood of 1993 hit the American Midwest from May to September, running along the Mississippi and Missouri...

Personalities: At Home with Baxter Black

In Chuck Anderson's first interview with Baxter Black, the duo had a strong rapport. So, Chuck had to visit Baxter...

Personalities: How to Survive A Death March

When you're drafted into the military, you have a chance of being on the front lines. When you're on the front lines,...

Personalities: "Hell No, We Don't Glow!"

In the southern shadow of the Black Hills sits a small town with a small population...and a big past. Chuck Anderson...

Personalities: Being Volga German in an Anti-German World

The "Germans from Russia" story continues with Drs. Tim Kloberdanz and Harry Delker, experts in German anthropology...

Personalities: How the Volga Germans Came to America

The Dakotas are a product of Native American and northern European cultures. With a deeper look, one can see the...