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100 years ago: Loose talk lands watchman in jail on charges of espionage

In separate incidents, a woman and a man were detained and charged with sedition for making intemperate remarks. (Spokesman-Review archives)
In separate incidents, a woman and a man were detained and charged with sedition for making intemperate remarks. (Spokesman-Review archives)

A railroad night watchman in Colfax learned the hard way that a bit of seemingly harmless loose talk could land a person in jail on espionage charges.

He was overheard to say, “This government had no business getting into the war. The government was a (expletive deleted) of a graft, anyway.”

The sheriff’s office was notified and the watchman was taken into custody. A conductor and brakeman provided affidavits saying they overheard the remarks.

The watchman said he was just joking. Yet he still was charged with violating the espionage act and held in jail.

From the sedition beat: Over in Kalispell, a woman learned a similar lesson. During a sewing club meeting, she was alleged to have said, “I hope they (the Germans) get every American that goes over there … Germany is going to win the war.”

When another woman protested that she had brothers in the Army, the woman supposedly replied, “I don’t care a damn about your brothers. There are other people fighting besides your brothers.”

The woman denied making any of these remarks and professed her loyalty to the U.S. She said she was simply indignant at the “gossip” of the other women, who were insinuating that her husband, a Bohemian, was disloyal. She said her husband came to the U.S. to avoid service in the Austrian army.

However, the woman was found guilty of sedition by a Kalispell jury. She awaited sentencing.

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