Nels A. Tornquist papers

Identity elements

Reference code

US US kmk P1984.18

Level of description



Nels A. Tornquist papers


  • 1888-1950 (Creation)


1.00 Linear Feet, 2.00 Boxes

Name of creator


Biographical history

Nels A. Tornquist served as a U.S. Cavalry soldier, seeing action in several conflicts, and was known for his rapid promotion to command a black company during World War 1. Tornquist’s family moved to Kansas from Sweden when he was eight years old and homesteaded south of Salina, Kansas. Tornquist first joined the U.S. military in 1896 and from 1899 to 1902, he was part of the 22nd Field Artillery Battery as a corporal, serving in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. After the war, he served with various regiments before serving with the 1st Squadron 13th Cavalry as a sergeant from 1916 to 1917 in the campaign against Pancho Villa. In 1918, Tornquist was made Captain QMC of a black company, 344th Labor Battalion Company B, which saw action in France during World War I. After the war, Tornquist was assigned to the ROTC in 1921 at the University of Washington in Seattle with a rank of sergeant before retiring from active duty in 1922. In 1932, an act of Congress promoted him to the retired rank of captain. Tornquist died in Pasadena, California, in 1950 at the age of 77.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

This manuscript collection, consisting of approximately 450 items housed in one box. The material spans the years 1888-1950. Series 1, Military Papers (1898-1950), is the largest series and it is divided into the following sub-series: Spanish-American War, 1898; Cavalry Units, 1906-1915; Punitive Expedition Diary, ca. 1916; Letters of Recommendation, 1914-1919; Stateside Mobilization Camps, 1917-1918; Embarkation to France, 1918; Company Command in France, 1918-1919; 344th Labor Battalion Company Funds and Payroll; General A.E.F. Orders and Memoranda, 1919; Demobilization in France, 1919; Demobilization Camp in U.S., 1919; and, Retirement, ROTC and IRS, 1919-1950. Enroute to Namiquipa - U.S. Soldiers bathing, ca 1916 A Spanish-American War Roster and a roster of the 344th Labor Battalion (WWI) are interesting for their notations of names and addresses of the men who participated in these wars. The papers reveal the rapid promotion Nels A. Tornquist received after he was selected to command a black service company The certificates show that he was promoted from sergeant to first lieutenant in July of 1918 and then to captain the following month, just in time to take his new command to France during WWI. Among the activities documented in the papers during the time Capt. Tornquist commanded the black service company is a serious incident concerning large quantities of unexpended ammunition that the men in his company were expected to work around at their own risk. There are two folders in the collection that deal with the 344th Labor Battalion. One rare find in the collection is a war diary of the Punitive Expedition into Mexico after Pancho Villa, ca. 1916-1917. The comments on forage problems, climate and travel are noteworthy. Series 2, Personal Correspondence, is divided between that of Nels A. and Nels F. Tornquist. The father, Nels F., received all of his letters from his native Sweden so they are written in that language. The son's letters, fortunately for the Army censors during WWI, are written in English and are addressed to his step-mother Carrie. There are also many envelopes without the enclosures but they are useful for showing Tornquist's change of address as he moved from one unit to another throughout his career. Tornquist astride an Indian, U.S. Mobilization Camp, 1918 Series 3, Legal Papers, contains an original Kansas homestead deed for Salina, Kansas in 1888 and deeds for property in Washington state. Series 4, Certificates, indicate the official notification of each rank that Nels A. Tornquist achieved. A so included are notifications of retirement after 24 years of honorable service with the pre-WWI rank of sergeant; the notification in 1934 that he advanced to the retired rank of captain; and an undated memorial on behalf of the United States, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Series 5, Printed Material, includes many souvenirs, train passes and army pamphlets from WWI. Of particular interest are War Information series pamphlets entitled, The War Message and the Facts Behind It, printed in June, 1917 and Treaty of Peace with Germany, printed in June, 1919. The remainder of the printed material is a mixture of wedding announcements, veterans organization membership cards, and incidental items. Series 6, is comprised of maps showing the progress of WWI and WWII. There is an excellent period map of Verdun, France which Capt. Tornquist personally annotated to show where he spent time prior to and after the armistice of November 11, 1918. 344th Labor Battalion, World War I, ca 1918 344th Labor Battalion, World War I, ca 1918 Approximately 61 photographs from the Spanish-American War, the Mexican border during 1916-1917 and WWI were filed in the KSU photograph collection, and several three-dimensional items were stored with the artifacts collection. A number of WWI and WWII maps were transferred to the Documents Department in the library. Of related interest is an oral history interview between Carl Rehfeld, the uncle of Nels Tornquist, and Evan Williams of Farrell Library. The tape and transcript are in the University Archives Oral History Collection.

System of arrangement

The collection is arranged in six series: 1) Military Papers, 1898-1950; 2) Personal Correspondence, 1891-1938; 3) Legal Papers, 1888-1924; 4) Certificates, 1901-ca. 1964; 5) Printed Material, 1914-1950; and 6) Maps, WWI and WWII.

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

No access restriction:  All materials are open for research.

Physical access

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

The researcher assumes full responsibility for observing all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

  • Latin

Language and script notes

Acquisition and appraisal elements

Custodial history

The Tornquist papers, consisting of approximately 450 pieces, are contained in one box. The papers are organized in the following series: Military Papers, Personal Correspondence, Legal Papers, Certificates, Printed Material and Maps. Other items received with the collection included photographs, maps, books and artifacts. They were transferred to appropriate locations within the University Archives and Farrell Library. The collection was processed by Cynthia L. Hayden, a graduate student in the history department, who served as an intern in the University Archives during the fall of 1984. The collection's accession number is PC 26, and later revised to number, PC 1984.18 (P1984.18).

Immediate source of acquisition

Acqusition Source: Carl Rehfeld, nephew of Nels Tornquist.
Acqusition Method: Donation
Acqusition Date: 19820101

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information

The manuscript collection of Nels A. Tornquist begins with Tornquist's service in the Spanish-American War of 1898 where he served with a field artillery unit in the Philippines. The papers denote the progression of this soldier's career from a private in various cavalry units, to a captain in the Quartermaster Corps in World War I. of approximately 450 pieces, are contained in one box. The papers are organized in the following series: Military Papers, Personal Correspondence, Legal Papers, Certificates, Printed Material and Maps.


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Specialized notes

  • Citation: [Item title], [item date], Nels A. Tornquist Papers, Box [number], Folder [number or title], Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries.

Alternative identifier(s)

Archon Collection ID


Description control element

Rules or conventions

Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Sources used

Archivist's note

Finding Aid Author: Cynthia L. Hayden Graduate Student Intern
Processing Info: The collection was processed by Cynthia L. Hayden, a graduate student in the history department, who served as an intern in the University Archives during the fall of 19884.
Archon processing by Edward Nagurny, graduate research assistant, June 2015.
Publication Date: 2015-06-25

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