Van Tassell Legion Post One of First Four in the United States

Niobrara County Library staff photo
Niobrara County Library staff photo

Last updated: September 18, 2018

The Lusk Herald
August 17, 1961

Ferdinand Branstetter Post No. 1 of Van Tassell has not only the distinction of being the first American Legion Post organized in Wyoming but this little post was the first to be organized in the United States. Van Tassell, Denver, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. were the first Posts organized and their Charters were signed the same day.

This first meeting of the Post was held June 28, 1919 and was called to order by State Chairman Alfred H. Beach. The Charter members of this first post were: Mitchell Ammons, Floyd Deuel, Edward C. Calhoun, Albert Chapman, Carl Dallam, Harry Heckert, Harrison Kellogg, Forest Porter, Don. C. Taylor, George Ringsby, Nels Nelson, Harry Housh, Warren Jones, Joseph Wright, Ernest Hennebeck, Thomas Ammons, Oscar Miller, Hill Z. Boyles, Tula G. Winey, Otis M. Deeder, Andrew Garretson, Warren Waranock, Otto Hanaka, Stanley Peters, Clarence Kuttner, Ward B. Hill, Carl Hayes, Earl Alderman, Ivor Parker, John Zulinski, Haskell Best and O.B. Peterson. The first officers elected to lead the new post were E.C. Calhoun, commander; Floyd Deuel, vice commander; Warren Jones, secretary; Carl A. Dallam, treasurer.

The motion was made and carried that he post be named in honor of Ferdinand Branstetter. He came to Wyoming from Nebraska about 1914 and filed on a homestead south of Van Tassell. Inducted into the service he was one of the first to go across and was the first to fall in action from the Van Tassell area.

At the October 4, 1919 meeting the main order of business was the election of Edward Calhoun, Floyd Deuel and Warren Jones as delegates to the first State Convention of the Legion which was held in Douglas. The Commander E. C. Calhoun was also sent as a delegate to the first National Convention of the American Legion which was held at Minneapolis, Minn.

The minute book contains the following item November 1, 1919, “The existing situation in the state created by the coal strike was outlined by the commander and all present signified their willingness to respond to the call of the Governor should conditions arise making such a call advisable.”

Besides discussing serious matter the minute book discloses that entertainment for the Van Tassell community was also on the minds of the members. The first meeting’s minutes say, “Motion made and carried to give a dance for the purpose of raising funds. The commander appointed the following committee: Albert Chapman, Otis Deeder and Harry Housh. Moved and carried that the committee appointed to arrange for the dance be authorized to make necessary expenditures.” At the next meeting a standing entertainment committee was appointed and through the years the legion has been responsible for much of the entertainment in the Van Tassell community. The entire community has always been invited to the dances and the admission price has always been kept low.

Another function assumed by the early entertainment committee was a Legion sponsored party for each member of the Post when they were married. To these affairs all the friends of the bride and groom were invited. This custom started when the Post was new and was continued through the years and saw many couples entertained to their benefit and to the benefit of the whole community as each party included the entire community.

In 1920 a silk flag for the Post was purchased with $45 raised by an industrious campaign to get $1 donations. One of the best solicitors was Mrs. Roamy Cunningham.

Because of the Posts desire to provide entertainment for the community through their dances there came a time when a piano was badly needed. Funds were low but the problem was solved by Warren Jones and Andrew McMaster. At that time H.E, Zerbe had a hardware store in Van Tassell and one of his promotions was to give points for the purchase of some of the slower selling items. A phonograph was then given to the person who had accumulated the most points. Jones and McMaster pooled their resources and by buying only those items with the most points to make the phonograph theirs. They then auctioned the phonograph and with the proceeds made the down payment on a piano.

This same piano found its way into many of the minutes. August 10, 1923, “D.P. Davis offered to rent the piano at $1.50 per month and pay fire insurance premium for use of same. The promotion was approved by the meeting.” February 20, 1925, the minutes read, “Motion made by E. S. Hennebeck that the Athletic Club be offered the use of the piano in exchange for two nights a week use of the hall.”

In 1921 the Van Tassell Post held Memorial Day Services and through the years many impressive ceremonies were conducted by the members of the Post. Post No. 1 assumed the caretaker responsibility for the Van Tassell cemetery for many years. The membership established the custom of gathering at the cemetery each year shortly before Memorial Day to clean and fix up the cemetery. From the minutes many of these work days were discussed and in 1926 the minute book says, “Motion made by Dallam that we consider means to erect a windmill and reservoir to the Van Tassell Cemetery to water trees which are planted there and also to put out a new setting of trees.”

The Post through the years although small in number has been responsible for many improvements in the Van Tassell area. In 1936 a safety sign was erected in Van Tassell. In 1947 the Post made and installed roadside signs which gave the direction and distance to Van Tassell, to Prairie Center School, and to each of the nearby ranches. During the war years the Post gave small gifts to the young men as they enlisted or were inducted into the service, helped with community war bond drives and scrap drives.

WOULDN’T GIVE UP
The Van Tassell Legion Post has a commendable history and one that has taken perseverance on the part of a few to maintain. As the population of Van Tassell declined so did the membership of Post No. 1. At one time the Post dwindled to only four active members and at least one meeting the possibility of giving up the Charter was discussed. In December, 1923, the minutes state, “Meeting called to order by Commander A.B. Peterson to see if continuance of Post No. 1 was desired by the members. It was decided that we continue the Post and do all we can to perpetuate the cause of the Legion.”

The desire to maintain the small Post was aided with the return and membership of the World War II veterans. The honor of belonging to the first Post in the country had kept many names on the roll through the years of members who now reside in other communities but the efforts of the few active members has enabled Van Tassell to retain its No. 1 Post designation.

At a meeting of Post No. 1 January 31, 1920 it was voted to apply for a Charter for an Auxiliary to the Post. The Charter was issued and signed March 19, 1920. No record can e found of the members who applied for this charter nor any minutes of meetings held but the Charter is on file. Later in 1922 a Charter was applied for under the National Auxiliary organization. This Charter is dated August 1, 1922 and lists the following Charter members: Mrs. D. E. Billman,, Mrs. Jennie Bass, Mrs. Bertha Bancroft, Mrs. Mamie Deuel, Mrs. Louise Dallam, Mrs. Clara Doolittle, Mrs. M. E. Dallam, Mrs. E.L. Fenner, Mrs. Eva Heckert, Mrs. E.E. Hennebeck, Miss Marie Heckert, Mrs. Marguerite Parker, Miss Mary Patricia Parker (6 months old), Mrs. Anna Rice, Mrs. Genevieve McMaster.

The first meeting was held at the McCabe Drug Store February 18, 1922 with the following officers elected: president Mrs. Genevieve McMaster, vice president, Mrs. Bertha Bancroft, treasurer Mrs. Mamie Deuel, secretary, Mrs. Clara Doolittle, chaplain, Mrs. Louise Dallam, sergeant-at-arms, Mrs. Anna Rice.

Mrs. McMaster was sent as a delegate to the Casper Caucus which was called to form a permanent state organization.

Through the years the Auxiliary has continued to function, performing their obligations as Auxiliary members and assisting the Legion Post with its activities. Many of the meetings were held jointly with the members of the Legion Post with dinner being served or social hours following the meetings.

The Auxiliary has continued through the years to “acknowledge irrevocable jurisdiction and in all things, subject to the Constitution of the American Legion Auxiliary and the Department of Wyoming” as originally pledged.

Editor's note: Very little is known about Ferdinand Brandstetter (Branstetter) the young man for whom the Legion Post is named. Information obtained from AncestryLibrary, and available through GoWYLD.net, reveals that he was born April 23, 1890 in West Point, Nebraska. On October 3, 1916 he filed on a homestead in northern Goshen County Wyoming. According to his draft registration card dated January 5, 1917 also filed in Goshen County, he stated his age as 27, and that he was a single, self-employed farmer. Private Brandstetter boarded the S.S. Dante Alighieri, a troop transport ship on May 10, 1918 and departed from Jersey City, New Jersey en route to France as part of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, U. S. Army. He was killed in action on June 13, 1918 and is interred at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Plot A Row 2 Grave 29 in Belleau, France. Several variations of the spelling of his last name appear in multiple sources, including the article above. The correct spelling is BRANDSTETTER, based on his actual signature on the original copy of his draft registration card.





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