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A View From The Attic


Week of  02/22/2016

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Military Training at Tabor College

By Harry Wilkins

On a Friday afternoon, September 24th, 1897, around 30 students met at Tabor College and formed the Tabor College Cadets.  Cadet organizations, precursors to the federally controlled Reserve Officer Training Corps created in 1916, were common in the 1800s. Found throughout the nation in colleges and high schools, cadet companies were essentially school clubs under the indirect control of the school administrators, but otherwise independent. State authorities appreciated the groups as potential pools of trained soldiers, should the need arise, and supported them with training manuals, equipment and arms.


The cadets elected officers and chose fellow student James Elmer Mather to be the "professor of tactics" and military instructor to turn the volunteers into "soldier boys," as the college newspaper referred to them.  Learning the basics of marching and military customs—the company met on Wednesdays and Fridays. Uniforms were purchased from a vendor in Council Bluffs, and early in 1898, the Iowa Adjutant General sent 75 rifles to the school. The boys worked hard and additional days of practice led up to their first public drill exhibition on March 8th, in front of students, faculty and the public. The Tabor Beacon reported that "the boys are doing splendid work and make a fine appearance."   Other exhibitions would follow, including a parade during the college's Field Day in May, "one of the most interesting events of the day," according to the Beacon.

When war between the U.S. and Spain broke out on April 25th, 1898, Iowa, like other states, hastily formed regiments of volunteers to augment the small U.S. Regular Army and men flocked to the standard. The Tabor Cadets, not wanting to be left behind, sent a telegram to Iowa Governor Leslie Shaw volunteering their services and were placed second on the list for acceptance. Local papers described recruiting in Mills and Fremont counties and spotlighted Tabor's young men as being of credit to the town through their patriotic zeal and willingness to volunteer. The cadets were not called up as a group, something they were anxiously waiting for, but several of their number, including alumni, eventually went to war.  First to go was cadet captain Mather, who enlisted in Company L, 51st Iowa Volunteer Regiment. Other volunteers included Warren Ickis (Class of 1891), Albert Berry (1895) and John Stevenson (1898). The 51st Regiment would eventually see action in the Philippines, where the U.S. fought Filipino rebels for control of the islands after the conclusion of the war with Spain.

As America fought, the Tabor College Cadets continued on as best they could—the Adjutant General recalled the rifles shortly after the war began, forcing the boys to use broomsticks during their drills and some members had yet to acquire uniforms, undoubtedly a significant personal expense. The last documented activity of the group was a cadet reception held at the Tabor Armory June 2nd, 1899.  It was described as "one of the most enjoyable social events of the season," with flags and bunting of national colors and pictures of Admiral George Dewey and President McKinley adorning the wall.