A Piece of History: ‘Dog Tags’ from the Great War

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

One of the smallest objects in the museum’s collection  consists of two small  aluminum discs on a cotton string. The object may be small, but  tell a big story.

Not used officially in the U.S. until December 1906, the Identification Tag, or ‘dog-tag’ was a small aluminum disc worn around a soldier’s neck and included name rank and “USA.” Initially, only one disc was worn, but in July 1916, a second disc was added. The purpose of the tags were to aid in identifying the dead after battle.

These small discs are very personal objects that soldiers wore at all times –  relaxing with friends or in the heat of battle.  The Identification Tags might also be the last connection a family would have with their loved one.

We have several ‘dog-tags’ from Harvey County men who were in France during the Great War.  Walter H. Deschner was one man.

Walter H. Deschner tags

Dog Tag with serial number.

Walter “Dash” H. Deschner was born January 9, 1895, the son of Charles and Orpha Fenter Deschner. He graduated from Newton High School May 21, 1916.  Deschner was working as a clerk when he enlisted on May 9, 1917 and went to Doniphan, Fort Sill, OK where he was with Co K 139th U.S. Infantry.

Before he left, his mother, Orpha, wrote on the front fly leaf of his Bible; “mother’s prayers will be often and many for you.

Walter H. Deschner, 1918

April 24, 1918  he left the US  on the Adriatic and roughly 40 days later arrived at Mellville, France. August 5, was his “first under fire”  experience in “No-Man’s Land in Vosgues Mountains.” On October 26 he was involved in the Argonne Drive.

Sad News

Evening Kansan Republican often reprinted “soldier mail” and in the October 21 issue the editor noted “there were many smiling faces that were soon overshadowed as word was noised about that three of the Newton boys . . . had fallen.

Frank Sheets wrote that he had been involved in the “big battle which had been raging for five days, and seeing Roy Barker *** lying dead beside the road.” 

Sheets went on to describe the conditions he experienced, noting “he was five days and nights without time to change his clothing and said that a cold rain fell much of the time.”

A Soldier’s Memories

These pages are from a Memory Book that Walter Deschner filled out highlighting his experiences while a part of the US Infantry.


 Friends and Places

On the Front

The same issue of the Evening Kansan Republican that had a letter from Sheets included one from Deschner.  He wrote that “he was back from the front safe and sound. . . . Leo Burgener was injured, but not seriously, but  Arthur Whitesell and Loren Finnell were both killed within 15 yards of him.” ***

Other battles he was involved in included Meuse-Argonne, and Verdun. He also noted the deathes of Whitesell and Finnell.


Return to Harvey County

Deschner returned home to Harvey County  May 8,  1919 and resumed his work as a clerk for the Santa Fe Railroad.  He worked for the Santa Fe for more than 25 years.

 He married twice. On December 24, 1920, he married Erma Marie Ragsdale.  Sadly, she died due to complications in child birth on  March 23, 1939. The infant girl also died. He remarried March 5, 1945 to Emma Billau. Deschner died August 28, 1948 survived by wife, Emma, brother, George, and a niece.

***The report of Roy Barker’s death  turned out to be false, however both Arthur Whitesell and Loren Finnell were killed during the Meuse-Argonne drive. Both were from Harvey County.
  • Walter H. Deschner Collection, HCHM Archives 98.1
    • “My Soldier” Scrapbook Walter H. Deschner Collection, HCHM Archives 98.1.9.
    • The Jayhawker in France: the Unofficial Organ of the 137th Infantry Sampigny, France  5 February 1919, Vol. 1 No.2.
    • “Pictorial Supplement Overseas Edition Camp Dodger” Published by 88th Division.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 25 July 1917, 9 August 1917, 17 July 1918, 24 September 1918, 21 October 1918, 26 October 1918, 20 September 1920, 24 October 1921, 23 March 1939, 28 August 1948, 1 September 1948.
  • Greenwood Cemetery, “Deschner” at http://newton.harvey.ks.govern.com/cmquery.php?a=query&m=p&s2108479621=mlkflrefebslm1rt1iecken4v7
  • “Identifying the Dead:  a Short Study of the Identification Tags of 1914-1918” at  http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/the-great-war/great-war-on-land/weapons-equipment-uniform/1033-identifying-dead-short-study-identification-tags-1914-1918.html#sthash.bl6XUO0P.dpbs

Stuff We Love: Volunteering at the Canteen

This week’s post is based on memories shared by Vere English, HCHM Board Member, for the exhibit, Stuff We Love. Vere picked a photograph of the ladies that served at the Red Cross Canteen during WWII.  This was just one of several groups of women that would meet the trains and provide snacks for the troops as they came through Newton.

Photograph of Red Cross Canteen No. 9 1942

Red Cross Canteen No. 9, 1942

Red Cross Canteen No. 9, 1942 Regina Starr is on the far right, by the mixer.

As a boy, Vere remembers traveling to his grandmother’s house about once a week to visit. His aunt, Regina Starr (also a teacher at McKinley), would tell stories of her volunteer work at the Canteen in Newton during World War II. She would mention the piano that the soldiers signed, but even more importantly, the music that they would play on it. According to her, some were “quite good and entertaining.”

Interior of USO Canteen, Newton, Ks, ca. 1945.

Interior of USO Canteen, Newton, Ks, ca. 1945.

Sometimes a soldier might stay a little too long in the lounge eating cookies and playing the piano. They would have to run after the departing train and jump on. Some lost their hats in the process. For shorter stops, the women from the Canteen would walk along the trains with huge wicker baskets full of cookies and the soldiers would reach out of the windows to grab a few.

Canteen Food Cart, American Red Cross Canteen, Newton, ks, 1945.

Canteen Food Cart, American Red Cross Canteen, Newton, ks, 1945.

Vere also remembered coming to Newton on Saturday nights with his family. They would park the car near the tracks and watch the trains go past. For a 10 year old boy, it was fascinating to watch the train cars loaded with war machinery and troops go by. Vere recalled that the trains ran 24 hours, both ways.

Do you have memories of the canteen?


A “start towards fame:” Isaac N. Lewis’ Harvey County Connections

The Archives is full of fun tidbits of information including this clipping discovered by Archivist Jane Jones highlighting a little known fact.

Clipping, n.d. Found in"Early Settlers" file, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks

Clipping, ca. November 1931,  found in”Early Settlers” file, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks

The 1931 newspaper clipping explains that the death of Col. Isaac Lewis

is of interest to Harvey county people as he is a former resident and received his start towards fame from here and thru a local man.”

Isaac N. Lewis was born in New Salem, PA, 12 October 1858.  Although most of his life was spent in the eastern part of the U.S., for a time Lewis lived in Kansas.  The 1880 census lists Lewis, age 21, living in the household of his sister and brother-in-law, Hiram and Sarah Hackney, in Highland Township, Harvey County, Kansas.  His occupation is school teacher, probably at  one room school No. 64, known as Highland School.  The Highland School was located in Section 12, Highland Township on ground owned by H.H. Hackney, Lewis’ brother-in-law.

A second Harvey County connection was noted in the article.  Lewis received his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy from Samuel R. Peters Kansas congressman and Newton lawyer.

Lewis entered the U.S. Military Academy in June 1880 as a cadet from Kansas. He graduated from the Academy in 1884. Shortly after graduation, he married Mary Wheatley and they had four children.

While at the Academy, his skill with inventing was noted. Following his graduation he was able to put these skills to work. Lewis, a Second Lieutenant of Artillery,  was at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas from 1888-1890. During this time, he developed “the first successful artillery range and position finder” used by the War Department. Over the years, he continued to create improved models of the range and position finder.  He also was the inventor of numerous other instruments related to artillery.

Lewis Machine Gun

He is most famous for his “automatic air-cooled machine gun”  developed in 1911-1912. The first machine gun to be successfully fired with accuracy for an airplane.  A demonstration of the gun was given in June 1912 at College Park, in Maryland.  Although the United States failed, at first, to realize the potential, the British government was “quick to utilize Colonel Lewis’ s machine gun.”  More than 100,000 of the guns were used by the Allied armies during the Great War.  As result, Lewis received millions of dollars in royalties from the British government. The Lewis Machine Gun was used from 1914 until 1953.

He retired due to a physical disability with the rank of Colonel in 1913. He made his home in Montclair, New Jersey.

Isaac N. Lewis

Isaac N. Lewis

Lewis died suddenly from a massive heart attack on November 9, 1931 while waiting in the Hoboken, New Jersey train terminal. He was 73 years old.

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator



  • “Inventor of Lewis Machine Gun Dead: Former Harvey County Man Passed Away Very Suddenly,” Newspaper Clipping, ca. November 1931, found in “Early Settlers” File HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks
  • U.S. Census, 1880
  • Historical Map of Harvey County, Philadelphia, J.P. Edwards, 1882.
  • http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/mgun_lewis.htm
  • http://www.oldmagazinearticles.com/pdf/LEWIS-GUN,-P.-A.PDF
  • http://www.allworldwars.com/Lewis-Automatic-Machine-Gun-1916.html
  • http://replicaplans.com/LewisGun.html