Young Alice Stratton Feared and Then Made Fun of “Kaiser Bill”

W. Paul Reeve
History Blazer, August 1995

In the summer of 1914 the flaming pistol of a Serb patriot triggered a series of events that held far-reaching implications—even for Utah. The well-aimed bullet killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and almost overnight exploded most of Europe into war. Across Utah citizens turned a worried eye toward international events.

In the southern part of the state Alice Stratton’s grandma digested these tumultuous world happenings in the Deseret News each evening and reported her findings the following day at meal time. Stratton recalls hearing about “Old Kaiser Bill” and the Germans—they were “the bad guys”—as well as England and its team of “good guys.” For young Alice her grandma’s reports were awful. They told of trenches, machine guns, poison gas, liquid fires, and death. These images notwithstanding, Stratton’s youthful mind managed to translate the war into something enjoyable. The two mounds of dried manure that had been pitched out the windows of the family stable became France and Germany. Stratton, with her friends, ran back and forth between them chanting, “Kaiser Bill went up the hill to kill the King of France, Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his pants.”

Unfortunately, despite President Woodrow Wilson’s pledge otherwise, the war did not remain strictly a European affair. Several threatening events finally culminated in a Congressional declaration of war on April 6, 1917. Utah was affected almost immediately. Parts of Brigham Young University became a training center for infantrymen bound for France, Fort Douglas served as an officers’ training camp and internment center for German nationals, and all across the state Utahns began enlisting in the military.

The small town of Hurricane in southern Utah held a celebration in honor of its newly registered servicemen. At sunrise cannons announced the event with loud booms followed by a flag ceremony. At 4 o’clock that afternoon the registrants paraded through the streets and then marched into the town hall where they were pinned with a badge and served delicious cake and ice cream. In all, nearly 25,000 men and women from the Beehive state entered military units during the war. Some 665 Utahns died in the service; most of them died from disease and accidents, while the rest were killed in action.

Those who stayed home also did their part for the war effort. Women knitted socks, mittens, and sweaters and made wool scraps into quilts to send overseas. Different civic and religious groups gave dances and bazaars for the Red Cross, and the state actively promoted planting liberty gardens and subscribing to Liberty Bonds. In fact, under the leadership of Governor Simon Bamberger and Heber J. Grant the state’s Liberty Bond drive raised subscriptions far exceeding Utah’s quota.

Eventually, on November 11, 1918, Germany surrendered and the whole world celebrated. Jubilant Utahns rushed into the streets to rejoice. Flag-waving residents overcome with excitement jammed into downtown Salt Lake City. In smaller Utah towns church bells rang for hours, car owners honked their horns, and fireworks announced the good news: Kaiser Bill had had enough.

Sources: Dean L. May, Utah: A People’s History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987); Alice Isom Gubler Stratton, “Look to the Stars,” typescript in possession of Alice Stratton, La Verkin, Utah; Washington County News, June 14, October 4, 1917, November 21, 1918.