Friday, August 18, 2017

A Zest for Life

He traveled through the Oklahoma/Indian Territories, Texas, Kansas, and South Dakota as a cowboy and a stonecutter; he farmed; he served with the U.S. Army when the United States was having problems with Pancho Villa; he fought in World War I; he was a county sheriff; he volunteered, at the age of 61, for the U.S. Army during World War II; and he served as a city alderman. He was Elmer J. Dent. 

Did Elmer have wanderlust or was he an adventurer? According to the Urban Dictionary, wanderlust is “a very strong or irresistible impulse to travel” and an adventurer is “a very brave person who is willing to put his life in danger for the right thing.” Elmer Dent certainly fits these definitions. What is undisputed, he had a zest for life.

As one of seven children, Elmer was born to James S. Dent (1831-1906) and Lemyra Jane Oliver Dent [1] (1845-1929) on January 5, 1876, in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, and died on March 24, 1965, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Today, Menomonee Falls and Waukesha are part of the greater metropolitan area of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

The Dent family moved from Menomonee Falls to Waukesha when Elmer was 10 years old. He
Stonecutter's Tools
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attended the local schools through 8th grade; he then became an apprentice at the Oscar Knie Stone Company to become a stonecutter. A stonecutter is one who cuts stone from quarries and shapes and carves the stone for use in buildings.  After his apprenticeship, Elmer continued to work for the stone company, cutting stone and helping to build the county courthouse, the city library, the YMCA, and some churches in Waukesha. Dent is quoted as saying, “I worked 10 hours a day for 50 cents a day, to start with. And, after the first year, I got $1.50 a day.” [2] 

When Elmer was 23, his wanderlust kicked in, and he went “west” seeking adventure. He shows up in the 1900 U.S. census as a stonecutter in Line Creek, Iowa (southeast of Waterloo, Iowa). Then, his adventures took him through many states and Indian Territory plying his skill as a stonecutter. In 1905, he landed in South Dakota where he worked on a ranch that had 2,000 head of cattle and 200 horses. Ranch work kept him busy, especially in the fall with round-ups and in the winter with breaking captured horses. [3] 
Pancho Villa

After his father’s death in 1906, Elmer found his way home, and the 1910 U.S. census shows him farming with his brother Willis in New Berlin Township, Wisconsin. Now back in Wisconsin, Elmer ran for county sheriff as a Republican and served for one term, 1911-1912. In 1913, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard. In 1916, the National Guard was called up, and as a member of the First Wisconsin infantry, he participated in the Texas-Mexico border expedition against Pancho Villa. 

In 1918, now 42 years old, Dent found himself in the U.S. Army’s 32nd Infantry Division (Red
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Arrow) which was formed by the Army National Guard units from Wisconsin and Michigan. They fought in major offensives - fighting on five fronts, losing over 14,000 soldiers, capturing over 2,000 prisoners, and never yielding ground to the enemy. [4] 

During their combat in France, the 32nd Infantry acquired the nickname Les Terribles, referring to its ability to cover ground and move forward where others units could not. They were the first to go through the defensive Hindenburg Line: Historically, this is considered the defining moment that became their now common shoulder patch: a line shot through with a red arrow. This design signifies the 32nd's tenacity in piercing enemy lines. Today it is known as the Red Arrow Division. [5] 

After World War I, Elmer returned to his work as a stonecutter in the Lannon Stone Quarry in Sussex, Wisconsin; and then, ever the wanderer and adventurer, went on to work in Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle, and New Orleans. 

Not yet done with his need for adventure, Elmer tried to enlist for the U.S. Army during World War II: He was in his 60s. He was turned down. When he was 71, he was elected as an alderman for Waukesha, an office he held for eight years. 

Elmer J. Dent is my husband’s (Jim Oliver) 1st cousin two times removed.

[1] Jim Oliver's 2nd great-aunt.
[2] Rickert, T. (1956, Jan). "Former Alderman Dent Celebrates 80th Birthday; Recalls Experiences." Waukesha Daily Freeman
[3] Ibid.
[4] Nolan, Jenny (13 Sep 1997). "The Red Arrow Division: Fierce Fighters of the First World War." The Detroit News. Retrieved 17 Aug 2017.
[5] Hubbuch, Chris (11 Nov 2008). "Remembering Wisconsin's Citizen Soldiers." Las Crosse Tribune. Retrieved 17 Aug 2017.

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