Bausch Rumsey Janet Smith Kahn Wehinger
The Montana Sedition Project
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Selected Profiles

 

Herman Bausch was born in Heilbrun,Bavaria, on Dec. 11, 1882. After learning some carpentry and cabinet-making skills as an apprentice, Herman immigrated to the United States, arriving at Ellis Island on April 13, 1899. He first lived with his mother's cousins in Pennsylvania. After the Homestead Act was passed he acquired a small piece of ranching property in Limon, South Dakota, and also became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

In about 1915, Herman purchased a tract of land west of downtown Billings and began farming there. He designed and built a brick house above a spring creek. In 1916, he married "the girl next door," Helen Louise Burg, and in August 1917, their first son, Walter, was born.

A bright, self-educated man who read philosophy and politics, Herman despised war and refused to contribute to its financing. Finally a local "third degree committee" came to his farm west of town on April 13, 1918, as he was dragging a field with a team of horses. His wife watched while holding their infant in her arms as the men strung a rope over the limb of an apple tree. When Herman continued to refuse to buy Liberty Bonds, the committee ran him into town and grilled him until early morning in the hall of the Elks Lodge. A local lawyer sat on the arm of his chair and threatened to punch him in the face unless he agreed to buy bonds. What Herman said in defense of his actions was used to prosecute him for sedition.

Herman allegedly said "I do not care anything about the Red, White and Blue; I won't do anything voluntarily to aid this war; I don't care who wins this war; I would rather see Germany win than England or France; I am not prepared to say whether or not Germany is in the right; We should never have entered this war and this war should be stopped immediately and peace declared; We should stop sending ships with supplies and ammunition to our soldiers; As far as I am concerned, I do not care if the Third Liberty Loan is a success or a failure."

The Billings Gazette editorialized that "he should be prosecuted to the extreme limit of the law." Unversed in the law, Herman pled guilty, but was later persuaded to change his plea. Nonetheless, he was convicted on May 14, 1918, in a  1 1⁄2-day jury trial and sent to hard labor at Deer Lodge for 4-8 years. He served 28 months. While he was incarcerated, baby Walter died of infant dysentery, but Warden Conley would not let him attend the funeral.

In a letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2006, Herman's daughter wrote: "The humiliating tactics and imprisonment of my father who lived a life of integrity, honesty and compassion fractured his American dream and negatively affected his entire life and that of his family."

Herman was paroled on Sep. 12, 1920, and went back to farming in Billings. Tragedy struck again in 1934 when his other son, Norman, was struck and killed by a speeding car in front of the family's church while Herman and Helen were out of town.

In the 1930s, Herman wrote extensively about his experiences with Montana's sedition law, in letters and in memoirs. Helen typed his handwritten manuscript and it remains in his family's possession, as do letters written by Herman and Helen to each other while he was in prison.

In one passage reflecting on his imprisonment, Herman wrote, "We mourn the loss of our beautiful child, that wound is too grievous to ever completely heal. I regret the tears and anguish of my wife, her rude awakening from idyllic regions of beauty and innocence.  I also regret the loss of years, the loss of comparative large sums of money, the ruination of our garden and plantation.  But I do not regret the refusal to voluntarily aid in the starvation of millions of children, in the rape of nations, in the up building of a plutocracy that rivals that of Nero, no I do not regret what I have done, or rather what I have refused to do.  I have lost much, but I am more than ever in possession of my soul, my self-respect and the love and affection of my beautiful wife.  Perhaps after all I have been the gainer."

In 1946, after World War II, Herman and his sister traveled back to Germany. His impressions of his childhood home and the political turmoil in Germany were very disappointing & saddened him even more as his health began to fail.  In 1949, he moved to Long Beach, Calif., to be with his sister, and died there of complications from Parkinson's Disease on March 24, 1958. Helen received her PhD at age 78 and died in 1998 at age 99. His youngest daughter lives in California. Other relatives live in Oregon and Montana.

 

Fay Rumsey was born in Michigan in 1868. Not long after marrying in 1901, Fay and Sarah Lowder Rumsey struck out for Montana. Fay operated a dray business and tried other business ventures in Forsyth before the couple decided to homestead on 160 acres on Sarpy Creek, southwest of Forsyth.

Fay built a small house (which is still standing). The couple had 12 children, Two of them, a newborn infant and a toddler, died on the same day in August 1908. The Rumsey ranch apparently was a target for rustlers, who would cut the fences and run cattle through the crops.

In 1918, at age 49, Fay was arrested for sedition. He allegedly had wished aloud that "the Germans would come in and clean up the U.S. and especially Sarpy Creek." He was also charged with having said that President Wilson was “in cahoots with the money power of this country, and that if he was drafted he would not fight for the U.S. but would fight for the Kaiser."

His three oldest daughters testified on his behalf but a jury found Fay guilty of sedition. His conviction was based in part on testimony given in September 1917, before passage of the state sedition law.

Fay was sent to prison for 2-4 years in September 1918. When he was paroled after a year, he was a very sick man. He traveled home to Cheshire, Mich., and died there on May 11, 1922, of heart disease . Sarah had remained behind to keep up the homestead, but with Fay gone, the work proved impossible and eventually the property was foreclosed on and sold for a few hundred dollars. The county stepped in to put her children with relatives and at the state home in Twin Bridges. Louise, 14, the oldest of the girls sent to the home, died of an overdose of chloroform administered by a doctor operating on an infected ingrown toenail.

Fay's children and grandchildren searched for each other, and for the truth about Fay's imprisonment, for decades. Finally, in the late 1990s, they found his court record in Forsyth. Three grandsons and their wives came to the pardon ceremony in 2006, as did one of Fay's daughters, from Oregon. Another daughter lives in Wyoming, and a son in Oregon. Other relatives live in Montana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and California.

 

Janet Smith, 42, born in Iowa in 1876, lived in Deadwood, S.D. for a year and also in Lead City, S.D. before coming to Montana in about 1906 and to the Powder River country in about 1910.She was the second wife of William K. Smith and was the postmistress in Sayle, Montana, a name that was assigned by the Post Office, near the Wyoming border in what was then part of Custer County. She and her husband together owned close to 1,000 acres, on part of which Smith ran 2,000 head of sheep with R.R. Selway. He also owned 300 head of cattle, 35 horses and had “accumulated a competency” of $30,000 to $50,000.

According to a Powder River County history, Echoing Footsteps, "Many of the cowboys made [the Smith ranch] their stopping point as they rode between Tongue River and Powder River. On occasions there would be as many as 24 people there for a meal." W.K. was also known as "Glass Arm Smith" after a fight in which he rammed his arm through a window.

The couple were arrested for sedition and tried in Miles City. The statements and actions attributed to them sound hard-bitten and distrustful, the kind made by tough, taciturn loners—in other words, the kind of people that might be expected to survive in the desolate buttes and gulches of southeast Montana.

Witnesses testified that Janet Smith "advocated turning the stock into the crops to prevent helping the government." They said she declared the Red Cross to be a “fake,” and that "while she didn’t mind helping the Belgians with the relief work, the trouble was that the damned soldiers would get it." She allegedly sent back War Savings Stamps supplied by the Post Office Department.

Although she denied all the allegations and was hospitalized at the end of the trial, Janet Smith received a 5-10 year prison sentence. Her husband got the max: 10-20 years as well as a $20,000 fine (satisfied with a sheriff’s sale of 80 acres of his land).

William Smith's sentencing the next day, Oct. 19, 1918, prompted a wrathful 15- or 20-minute sermon from Judge Spencer. Gushed Miles City Star editor Joseph Scanlon, It was "an address the like of which has rarely been heard in Custer County and will live long in the minds of the fortunate ones who heard it."

"If I could follow the dictates of my own judgement," thundered the judge, "I would either sentence you to a term in the state prison for your natural life, or I would order you banished entirely from the country…I would send you straight to Germany, where you would flourish and glory among the savages and barbarous people the Germans have shown themselves to be."

The Smiths ended up staying about two years as Warden Conley’s guests—he slightly less, working at the penitentiary as a weaver, she slightly more, one of only two women incarcerated at Deer Lodge at the time. Both were released after their convictions were reversed by the State Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 1920, because the charging language in the information was not specific enough. Powder River County, which had come into existence in the meantime, prepared to try the Smiths again on the same charge, but gave up in 1923.

Janet later married a man with the surname Thomas in Iowa. It is not known what became of W.K. Janet died in Hawthorne, Calif.on Oct. 27, 1966, at age 90.

 

Ben Kahn, born in New York on Dec. 25, 1879, and raised in St. Joseph., Mo., was a traveling salesman for the Sierra Campo Wine and Brandy Co. in San Francisco. His territory was Montana and Wyoming. He had been representing the company in the area for about a year, based in Billings. He helped support his father, Aaron, who was in the Old People’s Home in St. Paul.

In Red Lodge, he stayed at the Pollard Hotel, the social and business center of the coal-mining town. Early guests had included such legends as Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody and William Jennings Bryan. The proprietor, T.F. Pollard, was an influential man in town and, unbeknownst to Kahn, was the chairman of the county council of defense.

At about 8:30 a.m. on the morning of March 6, 1918, Kahn sauntered downstairs from his room to the lobby to await breakfast. He struck up a conversation with Pollard. Kahn griped that Prohibition, set to come soon to the state and nation, would put a lot of salesmen like him out of business. Pollard seemed to agree.

"Mr. Pollard, this is a rich man’s war," Kahn ventured.

Pollard warned him he could get in trouble for saying things like that.

Kahn turned to the food regulations enacted by the U.S. Food Administration under Herbert Hoover, popularly known as Hooverism.

"There’s nothing to that, it’s all a big joke," he said.

Pollard got up and walked over toward his office. Kahn followed.

"Well, if you feel that way about it, you must justify the sinking of the Lusitania," Pollard exclaimed.

"[The Americans] had no business in that boat," Kahn replied. "They were hauling over munitions and wheat."

“Anyone who says that is either a pro-German or an I.W.W. or a damn fool,” Pollard growled.

Kahn walked out of the hotel and visited several saloonkeepers on business. By lunchtime, he had been arrested for sedition.

The jury promptly found Kahn guilty on the "big joke" statement.

Judge A.C. Spencer sentenced him to 7 1/2 to 20 years in Deer Lodge. Kahn served 34 months, one of the longest terms of the state’s sedition prisoners. In Deer Lodge, he played in the band. His appeal, the first heard by the Montana Supreme Court, was turned down on May 20, 1919.

Martin Wehinger was born in Dorbein, Austria, in 1860. His older brother Michael emigrated to the United States and landed in Miles City in 1883. Martin followed and became a freighter, a man who handled wagon trains pulled by long strings of horses. He was a tough cuss. He once related to photographer L.A. Huffman, who made a studio portrait of him around 1889, how he had killed a bear with his ax as it was pawing through his wagon. In time, as the teamster business gave way to the railroads, Martin became a farmer and homesteaded land in Pine Hills near his brother. He never married. In World War I, he was a ripe target for the anti-German hysteria.

In the spring of 1918, while on his ranch, Wehinger allegedly told some passing teamsters that: "[W]e had no business sticking our nose in there and we should get licked for doing so. In the first place we don't have any soldiers to amount to anything and those that did amount to something didn't have any guns and those behind them would have to wait until the first ones dropped so the other fellows could pick up the guns and fire; that one German soldier could kill 5 or 6 American soldiers without any trouble, because we didn't have any experience and were not trained and didn't know anything about war..; that if people here could read the German papers they would get the right news and that U.S. papers were not getting the facts...”

Custer County was an exceptionally bad place to say such things. It had an ambitious D.A., a reactionary newspaper editor who was constantly sounding the alarm and a hanging judge. Thirteen men were charged with sedition (more than in any other county); ten men were convicted, Wehinger and a neighbor among them. He received a 3-6 year sentence, and served 18 months in Deer Lodge State Penitentiary. He was released just before Christmas in 1919. His teeth were all gone. He died four months later, before reaching the age of 60, on April 12, 1920.

The man who once killed a bear with an ax died a toothless felon for having spoken his mind.

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A project of the University of Montana School of Journalism

Project Director: Professor Clemens P. Work