Hidden History: ‘Kiss the flag’ – Mobs enforce patriotism in Osage County – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: ‘Kiss the flag’ – Mobs enforce patriotism in Osage County

By Wendi Bevitt

The Great War may have just ended, but in November of 1918 emotions still ran high in Osage County regarding the duty to one’s country. Osage County made newspaper headlines all over Kansas for patriotism gone wild. The newspaper headlines read, “Osage County No Place for A Pro-German” and “Ben Kissed Old Glory”. Within those articles were the stories of two men that within a week had both been publicly corrected for their believed pro-German sentiment.

The “Ben” of the headlines was Ben Tucker, a farmer living three miles east of Scranton. Tucker was fed up with the government and had become so anti-government as to see no good in any of it. His frustrations led him to spout off to some Carbondale locals that he did not believe the reports of the German atrocities and he “would rather have his children taken care of by Germans than by these sons of … here”.

These men were aware that Tucker had neither participated in the recent Liberty Bond drive, buying war bonds to support the Allied effort, nor had he followed through on his contract to buy a $50 war bond previously, and they were incensed. So after the men parted ways, they resolved to teach Tucker a lesson.

The next time he came to town and the argument arose once again, one of the Carbondale men punched him. The fight was on, but Tucker came out on the losing end. With Ben bloody and battered, the winners encouraged him to retract his former statements and to kneel and kiss the flag. The promise made and the bloody flag as a testament, he was allowed to retreat home with the pledge by the patriots to not press charges against Tucker for disloyalty unless his lesson did not have the desired effect.

The other Osage County citizen accused of pro-German sentiment was Henry Bingenheimer. Bingenheimer’s family had a sizeable farm northwest of Lyndon.

Henry had purchased war bonds, but of course “could scarcely trace his ancestry back to Ireland”. The Bingenheimer family was criticized because their oldest son, Roy, had been issued a draft number, but had it reduced to a lesser rank because of his involvement with the farm activities. This caused some to label the family as “slackers”.

During November 1918, the United War Work Committee was going house to house promoting the “Seven in One drive”. This drive raised monies for seven leading relief organizations and eventually raising over $200 million for the effort.

However, Henry Bingenheimer wasn’t planning on buying a bond when the UWWC came calling. Heated words were exchanged between the Bingenheimers and the UWWC representatives, resulting with a hoe striking the lead representative for the UWWC and the Bingenheimer ladies rushing out of the house to break up the brawl.

The committee hurriedly left to swear out a warrant for the Bingenheimers. Henry and Roy were gathered and brought to the county courthouse at Lyndon where they were met by an angered crowd.

The Bingenheimers were ushered into the courthouse were they were assured that the problem could all go away with the purchase of a $500 war bond and a subscription to the YMCA. Henry eventually agreed to take a trip to the bank to purchase the bond, but the crowds outside on the courthouse lawn would not let them leave without a further price to pay.

When the Bingenheimers walked outside they were met by jeers, threats of personal injury, and the sight of their buggy, horse and harness all painted yellow. The crowds forced them to their knees and expected them to kiss the flag in a sign of their changed attitudes. Some did not want the flag soiled and demanded they kiss the soil beneath the flag. Only then were the Bingenheimers shoved into their buggy and allowed to proceed to the bank, where they were heckled all the way.

An article by the Lyndon People’s Herald declared that the men had been punished sufficiently and declared that considering the “abominable deeds of the reconstruction days following the Civil War [of the Ku Klux Klan] and the abhorrent taking of life and burning of property and persons without trial … How glad are we all here that there was no vindictive, pronounced, malevolent leader on the above occasion to incite bodily harm?” The Klan nationally had just made its reappearance in 1915 and was at this time flourishing in the West and Midwest.

In response to the reprimands of both Turner and Bingenheimer, the Osage County Chronicle claimed that its neighbors “seem to be more peppery tho perhaps no more patriotic” than the paper’s home of Burlingame.

Burlingame had shown its patriotism like other towns in the county when the war had ended by hosting a “peace celebration”. Burlingame’s celebration consisted of anvils being fired and bells rung throughout the day. A bonfire was lit in the evening followed by a wild chase of “Kaiser Bill” by Uncle Sam. The chase ended with the hanging and burning the German leader in effigy at the bonfire, which burned merrily for several minutes until a bomb that had been placed inside the dummy exploded.

Bingenheimer, unlike Ben Tucker, was not intimidated from his experience and brought a $40,000 civil suit against several individuals who had caused him harm in the November incident. This included a preacher and one woman. Because of the high emotion surrounding the case, it was first removed to Lyon County where it was dismissed.

The case was then brought to Franklin County, where the jury heard about the mental anguish the Bingenheimers had suffered on account of the coercion of the “visitation committee” along with the angry crowd. Defendants argued the supposition that the force against the Bingenheimers was carried out by “over enthusiastic school children”. The final result of the trial was a hung jury with a verdict for the plantiff in the amount of $1 and court costs to be paid by the defendants.

While the Great War ended globally on Nov. 11, 1918, the battle between patriotism and mob justice raged on in Osage County and across the nation.

Liberty Bond graphic from Wikipedia.

wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She has lived in Osage County for 18 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.

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