Eastern Montana homesteader “Uncle Sam” Hampton recorded the spring of 1917 with an exuberant voice I now know well. His writings – first as a homesteader from the fields and then as a newspaperman – saturate these formative years in our Montana Farm Bureau history.
Uncle Sam fought valiantly both with the plow and his pen for his often-stated life mission: to unify the farmers of Montana by “stimulating the hope and hearts of the people, giving them a glimpse of independence and interdependence on each other.” (Hampton, 1935)
This will not be the last time you hear from this legendary Farm Bureau leader:
“I was happy when spring made its appearance, and the deep snow was moving from the hills and valleys, when old Mother Earth was showing her smiling face. We planned an early start at farming. The teams and tools were ready and an abundance of seed had been stored. Again a high degree of hope leaped forward and a bright vista enchanted us on. …
“The work has just fairly started when the news was flashed over the country that the United States had declared war on Germany and the call for volunteers was sent to every able-bodied man in the country. The call reached my son Frank in the summer of 1917, and he went to Miles City for examination and enlistment. It was a sad day in our home when he had to leave us. He was the main dependence in all the activities of homestead life. He was sent to Fort Dodge, Iowa where he was placed in a machine gun battalion with other huskies, similar in height, 6 feet 4 inches, where he went into training preparatory to the great tragedy of the World War.” (Hampton, 1935 b)
The Great War’s call to action was heard twice in farm country: first for their boys, and then for food to win the war.
When President Woodrow Wilson announced April 6, 1917, that the United States would enter World War I, it pressed the Extension Service into action, too.
Upon the state’s recommendations, emergency agricultural agents were swiftly placed in every county in the state. War Emergency Funds injected nearly $100,000 in additional funds to the 1917 Extension Service budget, which almost doubled the agency’s state and federal funding sources.
“There was immediate and universal recognition that this agency was ready-made for the urgent task at hand, that of reaching every farmer and rancher in the nation.
“County agents’ offices immediately became seething centers of action as meetings were arranged to urge expanded production and then find seed, labor, machinery and credit. (Burlingame & Bell, 1984)
The Extension Service went from eight state staff members and eight county agents at the start of the US involvement in the war to a total of 85 members at the close of the war in November 1918.
The growing county agent army wielded their greatest tool for bringing their work “right to the door of every rancher, and do it in person,” – the Farm Bureau field soldiers.
“Montana is called upon in a national crisis for greater, more economical production. … In these things the Farm Bureau is not only important but it is necessary for efficiency. Those counties now organized with the Farm Bureaus should strengthen and foster them; those in which Farm Bureaus have not been formed, should lend support to any movement that may develop this winter looking toward their establishment.
“The work of the county agent is of maximum service to the farmers of his county only when it is upheld and assisted by the Farm Bureau.” (Davis, 1917)
Extension Director F.S. Cooley later noted how helpful established farm bureau units would have been in the early war efforts of the summer. New county agriculturists scrambled to procure seed to increase crop acreage, place labor on farms and ranches that were sending their boys to war, secure loans for farmers who were attempting their “patriotic duty” in spite of the summer’s severe drought, teach food preservation to eliminate waste at home and more.
This was the call to the grassroots to carry the agricultural battle cry.
The bureaus that were already established moved promptly to action:
Others filed in to quick formation:
And the nearly-dead flagship was called to rise to the occasion:
Our friend “Uncle Sam” wrote his first column in the state-wide Montana Farmer magazine that winter, using his knack for personal storytelling to share an inspiring hope for this recently resurrected bureau in Dawson County.
“It is a great privilege for a working farmer to be admitted to your state forum, the spokesman of many thousands of loyal Montana farmers, and back, too, at a time when the crisis of our nation demands the extraordinary cooperating force of the strongest and most dependable class – the American farmers.
“The rapidly changing economic conditions since the declaration of war, finds the farmer confronting new problems which will require skilled and concerted action to solve.
“If we are to do good and help each other the first step is to get acquainted. I will now introduce myself as a Dawson County homesteader, located in the western part, near the big dry Creek, 8 miles north of Edwards. I came here four years ago from Oklahoma and bet our Uncle Sam $25 against 320 acres of land that I could live here three years and not starve or freeze to death. I have won and Uncle Samuel is minus 320 acres of land, and that it’s not all. I brought six children with me, and four of them have been able to filch 320 acres each from our good old uncle. (I might add here by way of parentheses that there are only 17 of the Hampton family.) So you might observe what one little bunch of farmers can accomplish by organizing and sticking together. Single handed and alone we might’ve failed. Our motto was to help each other. If the dark day of adversity was about to overwhelm one, loyal hands were ready to make the sunshine and dispel the gloom.
“I have sorely felt the need of general organization of farmers in this new and open country. Seeing the benefit of organic unity in my own household, I have often thought why these efficient results could not be extended to the whole family of farmers. It is certainly very lonely to live in a country where there is no organization of farmers, where the social opportunities are neglected and our financial interest suffer severely. In the old states where school houses are frequent, good roads in the telephone are provided, the farmers are adequately equipped to enjoy the benefits of social and financial cooperation.
But a brighter and better day is dawning for the lonely farmers of Montana. Many communities in this, Dawson County, now enjoy the pleasure of regular organized clubs and unions. …
“The farmers are the hope of the nation and the most important of any class, and what helps the farmers will also help every other legitimate class in the whole country. (Hampton, 1917)
Next week, we'll see how these unified voices faired in the thick of the war efforts of 1918. Subscribe below for blog updates and other news from the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. For 99 years and counting… "We Care for the Country."
- Hampton, Samuel. 1935. "‘Uncle Sam’ The Sodbuster, being a novel and humorous history of the life of a storm-tossed Texan, Chapter 36". The Belgrade Journal, April 4, 1935.
- Hampton, Samuel. 1935. "‘Uncle Sam’ The Sodbuster, being a novel and humorous history of the life of a storm-tossed Texan, Chapter 33". The Belgrade Journal, March 7, 1935.
- Dunn, Harvey, Artist. Victory is a question of stamina--Send - the wheat, meat, fats, sugar--The fuel for fighters United States Food Administration / / Harvey Dunn. United States, 1917. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2002709058/. (Accessed April 10, 2018.)
- Burlingame, Merrill G., and Edward J. Bell. The Montana Cooperative Extension Service: A History, 1893-1974. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University, 1984.
- Davis, C.C., “The Farm Bureau’s Work,” editorial column. MONTANA FARMER, Dec. 14, 1917.
- Hampton, Samuel. “The Farm-Makers and Their Work: A Glimpse of the Efforts That Are Transforming Western Dawson County from Raw Prairie to a Productive Empire.” Montana Farmer (Great Falls), November 23, 1917.