“A Day at the Races, August 24, 1916”


In the hot summer of August, 1916 what would a Gratiot County native do for a good time? Head for the county fair! Of course, you would have to pay for a ticket and the fair usually only took place from Wednesday through Saturday. Be sure and attend on Saturday night, that was the highlight of the fair as something was going on that always drew a big crowd.

In 1924, one of the biggest crowds to attend the Gratiot County Fair took place when the Ku Klux Klan held “Klan Day” at the fair in Ithaca. The largest crowd to ever attend an event in Ithaca took place on that Saturday as people watched the parade of Klansmen marching,  riding on floats, and on horseback.

The county fair in 1916 was the last one before the Great War took place. Young men from Gratiot County who attended the fair in August 1917 just might be required to tell why they had not enlisted to fight, or what they thought they were doing to support the war effort. “Slackers” even found themselves in a roundup that year as the local sheriff and his deputies checked the status of these men.

And I thought the fair was supposed to be fun.

“I Jumped the Fence to Join the Great War”- Gratiot County’s Men at War in Canada, 1916-1917


Above: Canadian Cross of Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery

Before the Sammies and Doughboys went to war in April, 1917, some Gratiot County men could not wait to get to Europe to fight in the Great War. In a few cases, these men crossed the border and served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

At least four Gratiot County men served in the CEF.  These included Robert C. Davies  and Ivan Brown from Alma, along with John Bartlett Allen and William M.Salter from Ithaca.

John Bartlett Allen was an Ithaca farmer and probably saw the most action. After arriving at Saskatoon, he became part of the 243rd CEF in August, 1916. He made it to France by December 1, 1917, several months before most Gratiot County Doughboys ever arrived on the continent. Allen served until May, 1919.

William Salter was a life insurance salesman in Ithaca and enlisted in Toronto, Ontario on May 23, 1917 in the Canadian Armed Service Corp. He was moved among camps in Canada and never made it off of the continent. Soon after Salter arrived back in Gratiot County at the end of the war his wife died, leaving him with a four month old son.

Robert Davies worked for the Republic Truck Company in Alma and joined the CEF in August, 1917. He became a service pilot for the Royal Flying Corps and returned home in January, 1919.

Ivan Brown is a little more difficult to trace. By June, 1918 he attended a training camp for engineers at St. Johns, Quebec. He wrote home and stated that he had become an engineer and expected to head immediately for France. Brown crossed over to Canada because he had been rejected three times by the American Army due to poor eyesight. The Canadians did not seem to care and they accepted him.

As many as 40,000 Americans enlisted in the CEF during the war, most giving their addresses as either being from the United States or Alaska. Over 35,000 claimed to be Americans by birth. The 97th Battalion was known for its large composition of Americans who came to serve in the CEF.  While Americans were accepted, it is estimated that 2,700 Americans died in the Great War for Canada. These men are buried in Canadian war graves in Europe and in Canada.

Coming home from the Great War may not have been that easy for these Gratiot County men. In many cases, Americans lost their citizenship and crossing back over the border could have been a problem. However, by 1920 the United States resolved the problem and Americans were readily welcomed back home.

First Post – Welcome Aboard


Well, here we go. I am trying to learn new ways of conveying Gratiot County’s history to what I hope will be an interested audience. If you follow this blog I hope you find and learn about the parts of Gratiot County’s past that you don’t know too much about. At the same time, I hope the blog is worth your time. I am learning, I hope you learn and let’s see what happens. Above: the town that moved to the tracks  over a century ago- Pompeii, Michigan on a snowy day.