The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 136
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
women in Colorado County, Boswell has given us a richer understanding of the
lives of southern women.
San Marcos ERIKA MURR
Will's War. By Janice Woods Windle. (Atlanta: Longstreet Press, Inc., 2002. Pp.
273. Prologue, epilogue, afterword, acknowledgments. ISBN 1-56352-639-5.
Soon after Congress declared war on Germany in 1917 it passed the Espionage
Act, which punished disloyalty, aiding the enemy, and insubordination with high
fines and imprisonment. With it and the 1918 Sedition Act, more than fifteen
hundredAmericans were arrested. In a form of twisted patriotism, people spied
on one another. Innocent German Americans suffered the most. They were for-
bidden to even speak German at home. Much responsibility for these acts lies
with two Texans in President Woodrow Wilson's cabinet: Thomas Watt Gregory,
the attorney general who crafted the legislation, and Albert Sidney Burleson,
postmaster general, who withheld treasonable mail-such as newspapers.
A month before passage of the Espionage Act in June 1917 and the new legal
authority to do so, the government was already making examples of German
Texans by spying on them, drawing up lists of German American suspects, and
making arrests on false charges. Will's War tells the story of these losses of individ-
ual freedoms-and the subsequent federal trial of fifty-two men-as experienced
by one family in that frightening era. The story unfolds as a train stopped in
Weinert and eighteen Federal officers and Texas Rangers exploded into the
home of Will and Virginia Bergfeld and their daughters. They took Will without a
warrant. Virginia's father, Henry King of Seguin, hired William Hawley Atwell,
who became lead attorney for Will and the other men (mostly low-income farm-
ers) in the Abilene trial. Will, a rural mailman, was accused of treason, conspiracy
to overthrow the government, and threatening to kill the president. What had he
done? He had worked with the Farmers' and Laborers' Protective Association to
help workers and protect farmers' water rights. He hated injustice, not America.
Will, who "sometimes accompanied the sunset" (p. 91) on his grandmother's
Guarneri violin, suffered for the same reasons his family had left Germany.
The federal government was blatantly violating citizens' civil rights. It kept a
secret list of people of German descent. "Subjects of the Teutonic Order" were
investigated as German agents-Will among them. Louise Bergfeld Tewes, Will's
sister, knew he was innocent. She was a college-educated, modern woman, and
an opera singer. In her custom-made red roadster, she made a heroic trip in a
dreadful storm and returned before the trial ended with valuable information,
which proved that the government's star witness, Ned Earl Calhoun, lied under
oath during the trial. He was in fact jailed in Lometa the day he said Will told
him (while in Cisco) that he had committed almost every act in the indictment.
Will is Janice Woods Windle's grandfather. Her mother played on the court-
room floor. Trial details came from the three thousand-page typed transcript
found, against all odds, in a Fort Worth warehouse. With the partnership of her
husband Wayne Windle, a trial lawyer, the author makes this trial absorbing read-
ing. The federal judge, George Jack of Louisiana, leaned toward the prosecution.
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/164/: accessed May 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.