On the High Seas with the 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry

By 1st Lt. Jay Beck; Contributed by Wendie Thomas,  great-granddaughter of Cpl. William Schmoker, Co. L
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The following letter was written be First Lieutenant Jay W. Beck of the 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry during the trip across the Pacific Ocean on the steamer RIO DE JANEIRO. It is taken from a newspaper clipping (with the name of the newspaper not listed) found in the personal papers of Corporal William Schmoker of the 1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry Co. L. First Lieutenant Beck also served as adjutant. He was 23 years old, joining the regiment on April 26, 1898, and was discharged on October 5, 1899. Mustered in as a private in Company L, Beck worked his way up through the ranks, being appointed lance corporal, and then regimental sergeant major, before becoming a lieutenant.

J. P. Pruett, mentioned in the newpaper article, was the half-brother to William Schmoker.

The Letter:

"First South Dakota Infantry, U. S. V. , Heard From.

By the courtesy of J. P. Pruett we are enabled to give our readers the following extracts from a letter just received from J. W. Beck, who left this city upon the first call for volunteers and joined Co. L, First S. D. Infantry.  This letter is especially interesting because it is the first news from the boys since they left Honolulu.


Our long ocean voyage is nearly over and in five or six days we will be in Manila.  For twenty-one days we have been "at home" upon the water.  Leaving the sandy desert of Camp Merritt on Friday morning, July 22, we saw no land for eight days and when, on Sunday morning, July 31, we sighted the Hawaiian Islands it brought forth ringing cheers from the 900 boys aboard.  Nearly all the boys had a touch of sea sickness, but by the time we reached the islands the majority were in excellent health.

Of the little band that gathered at Spearfish - and to which you bade a hearty farewell and Godspeed as they began their journey- one has been taken from us.  Newel Jenks, a Spearfish boy, died at sea and his burial was one of the saddest and most heartrending scenes I have ever been called upon to witness.  It is a scene which my pen is unable to describe, and yet one which time can never erase from memory.   Our comrade sleeps beneath the deep, blue sea - another life sacrificed for our righteous cause of freedom and humanity.

You may think it strange, but I am doing three times the work now that I did at Camp Merritt.  I was appointed acting sergeant major for this trip-the sergeant major of the regiment being behind with the first battalion on the ST. PAUL.

Leaving Honolulu Aug. 3 we have been steadily journeying westward ever since and at noon today we were 5,410 miles out from San Francisco and about 1,800 miles from our destination.

What the war situation is at present I cannot say, as we have been dead to the world since leaving San Francisco.  If Manila has been taken our work will be comparatively easy, but if not then the First South Dakotas will lend a willing hand in helping Dewey to take the conceit out of the haughty Spaniards.

Our voyage has been a very pleasant one and the boys are all in excellent health.  I am feeling better now than ever I have-am even getting fat.

As ever your friend,
J. W. Beck
Co. L, 1st S.D. Inf., U. S. "


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota, Vol. I  (1904), Chapter LXXVI, Spanish-American War Roster - 1st Infantry Rgt., SD Volunteers, pages 426-454.

Thomas, Wendie,  great-granddaughter of Cpl. William Schmoker, Co. L., Found in the corporal's personal papers.

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