Young’s Scouts

This photo is on the cover of John Durand's book 'The Boys.' Henry Young is not in the photo as he was already deceased when it was taken.

There are some names which evoke images of adventure; one of those names is William Henry Young.  Known as just Henry to those acquainted to him, he lived a colorful life which eventually led him to the 1st North Dakota Volunteers.

Henry Young was a tall, muscular and confident man.  He had prospected for gold in the American west and served as an army scout in the Nez Perce war.  He then traveled to the far east where he prospected for gold, fought in the Korean civil war on the Chinese side, and finally made his way to the Philippines.  He was in Manila when the United States Army invaded.

In the 19th century, it was not uncommon for civilians to attach themselves to the army when on campaign.  Sometimes this was for business, scouting, translation, or simply to be part of the fight; initially Young was just part of the fight.  He seemed to spend most of his time with the 1st North Dakota but not with any particular Company.

Eventually, Young came to the attention of Gen. Lawton when Young saved one of his officers.  Gen. Lawton realized he needed a special group of soldiers to deal with new situations which had arisen as a result of fighting a guerilla-style insurgency.  This group would be made up of volunteers who were hand-picked by Henry Young.  He wanted men who were independent thinkers, who could shoot accurately and remain calm under fire.

 It seems Young wanted all the scouts to come from North Dakota, but Lawton didn’t want him to limit his options.  Ultimately, 26 of the 35 scouts would come from the 1st North Dakota.  The only record we have of the scouts are the diaries of the soldiers themselves, most notably that of Pvt John Kinne, Company G (Fargo) and Pvt Tom Stafne, Company I (Wahpeton).  This new group of soldiers would be known as Young’s Scouts.

Youngs Scouts would perform reconnaissance missions, search and destroy, as wells a search and capture.  They would usually only carry their Krag rifles, 200 rounds of ammunition, canteens and one day’s rations; they were the forerunners of what we call today the special forces.  Young himself wouldn’t live to see most of his namesake’s exploits.  Wounded at the battle of San Miguel de Mayumo, he would die after his wound became infected.

The most famous battle the scouts were engaged in was the Battle of Tarbon Bridge, also known as the Battle of the Burning Bridge.  Six of the nine Congressional Medals of Honor awarded to the 1st North Dakota during the Philippine war came from actions at Tarbon Bridge; one of those Medal of Honor recipients was Pvt Otto Boehler, Company I (Wahpeton).  

North Dakota soldiers have always distinguished themselves when serving their country.  They would continue this during World War II, Korea and right up to today with our current conflicts.  The 1st North Dakota heritage was alive and well when the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion was mobilized in 2003-2005 for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Attached to Task Force Trailblazer, they developed the tactics and techniques for clearing roadside bombs while fighting an insurgency.

John Durand wrote the book, “The Boys (1st North Dakota Volunteers in the Philippines)”.  He also wrote a second book titled “Young’s Scouts: A Complete History”.  The soldiers of North Dakota certainly impressed Henry Young and I think now we know why.

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