Column: The long, hot walk of Nobles County's Company H

WORTHINGTON -- For many among us, the Minnesota State Fair is the final milestone along the path of summer. Now we are on the threshold of Turkey Day -- next Saturday. For me, Turkey Day is a fall festival.

WORTHINGTON -- For many among us, the Minnesota State Fair is the final milestone along the path of summer. Now we are on the threshold of Turkey Day -- next Saturday. For me, Turkey Day is a fall festival.

I talked to people who went to the fair. I guess not one neglected to mention it was hot on the fairgrounds. Withering hot. I think the state fairgrounds is no hotter than the Nobles County fairgrounds but, if you think you have had too much heat at the county fair, it is not difficult to get to the car and be off to someplace cool. Getting back to the car at the state fair can be quite a trek.

Some while ago I brought together information on the Nobles County boys -- Company H -- who volunteered for duty in the War with Spain. 1898. About 123 of them. They thought they might spend time in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt. Instead (in a manner of speaking), they went to the state fair.

They called themselves the H Boys. They boarded a train at Worthington and got only as far as St Paul before they were ordered to disembark and march to a site (about) two blocks from the state fairgrounds. They raised their canvas tents on a place the army was calling Camp Ramsey. One of the boys reported Camp Ramsey, along with the fairgrounds, occupied 360 acres.

Those among us who think a visit to the state fair is an ordeal with heat should think of the H Boys. The army supplied them with winter uniforms. They had blue wool shirts with sleeves to their wrists. Think of wearing one of those on a 90-degree day.


The young men complained. That is part of being a soldier. The uniforms were not changed.

The worst day for the H Boys was probably the July day they were chosen for a special honor. Gov. David Clough called on the Nobles County boys to stand tall for a ceremony at which the cornerstone of the new state capitol was laid. Pvt. Roscoe Palmer wrote home:

"We all brushed up our government clothes and went to St Paul last Wednesday to assist the governor and others in laying the cornerstone of the new state capitol building." The local boys were honored troops except that they had a long way to go, not as the crow flies but as soldiers must march.

They left Camp Ramsey in the wool shirts and the July heat at noon. The first stint was not difficult. They marched only a half-mile to some tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad. A special train of 13 coaches took all of the troops involved to downtown St. Paul. But -- as Pvt. Palmer remembered:

They became a part of a parade. "We then marched seven or eight miles through the streets to the capitol grounds." It was a lovely day for a parade; the sun bore down.

When the troops reached that place where the new capitol was under construction they were ordered to stand in ranks along the curbside.

"... We were halted and allowed to stand nearly two hours in the hot sun ... when the parade had partially passed we were marched double quick back to the depot and given an hour's rest.

"A great scramble was made for water. We had marched and stood in the sun all afternoon and no one thought of giving us a drink."


It was one of those situations where, if it hadn't been for the honor, the H Boys would rather have stayed at their campground.

The army hospital corps patrolled the ranks while the boys stood in their curbside formation on the capitol grounds. Pvt. Palmer had a sense of pride:

"The hospital corps were on in force during the march and cared for 13 of those who could not stand the march.

"Company H did not have a man but went clear through." Those Nobles County guys are tough!

It was a long, long day. Palmer noted, "We arrived back at camp about seven o'clock, hot, dusty and tired and glad the affair was over..."

Think of them the next time you see the Capitol.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

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