"To foster a spirit of friendship and cooperation among men in the military department and to maintain a highly efficient drill company." This is the purpose of the Pershing Rifles, as propounded by its distinguished founder in the early eighteen nineties.
In 1891 General Pershing, then a second Lieutenant in the Sixth Cavalry, became Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Nebraska. He, wishing to improve the morale of the ROTC unit, formed a select company of men, thereafter known as Company A.
In 1892 this company won the maiden competition at the Omaha Competition. In 1893, the special drill company became a fraternal organization bearing the name of "Varsity Rifles." In 1894, the organization, in appreciation of the initiative and cooperation of Lt. Pershing, changed its name to "Pershing Rifles."
When Pershing left Nebraska, in 1895, he, at the request of a committee, gave the company a pair of his cavalry breeches. These breeches were cut into small pieces and were worn on the uniform as a sign of membership. These "ribbons" were the first service ribbons ever worn in the United States.
During the Spanish American War, thirty members of the, now powerful, Pershing Rifles enlisted in the 1st Nebraska Volunteers. W. H. Oury, Captain of the Pershing Rifles, now a full Colonel in the Regular Army, was placed in command. Another Pershing Rifleman by the name of Robbins was made the First Sergeant. He later achieved high position in the war department. Every one of the thirty distinguished himself in the ensuing battles.
From 1900 to 1911, Pershing Rifles reached the height of its existence prior to World War II. It was one of the most important features of Nebraska military and social life. Membership was a great military honor. Its influence in the Military department continued strong until 1911.
After 1911 the organization suddenly lost prestige and declined deplorably. Its activity suddenly seemed to cease. The organization became a mere shadow of itself. Its military influence plummeted and its social activities dropped.
In 1917, the conditions became so bad that the organization was disbanded and its records were burned. Thus in seven short years, this promising organization had passed from national renown to oblivion.
In 1920 Pershing Rifles was reborn. Out of the ashes of the organization which had died of its own weight in 1917, there sprang a corps with new life and activity. It was obvious the prestige of the early 1900's was missing.
As originally organized in 1920, Pershing Rifles was an organization for junior officers. It soon, however regained its status as a basic military society. The presence of Scabbard and Blade on the Nebraska campus probably prevented its growth as an officers organization.
The growth of Pershing Rifles after its reorganization is as remarkable as its former decline. It stepped back into its old niche and strove to grow big enough to fill it again. By 1924, it had regained some of its lost prestige. Special drill companies all over the country began to seek admittance into Pershing Rifles.
The present National Honorary Society of Pershing Rifles owes its existence to Ohio State University. In the fall of 1922, a group of advanced course men got together and formed "The President's Guard." It was so named in honor of William Oxely Thompson, President of Ohio State University. The "Guard" gave an exhibition drill on Military Field Day in the spring of 1923. After this exhibition the company disbanded. In the fall of the same year it was reorganized by the Captain of the local Scabbard and Blade chapter and basic men were admitted.
This new organization was too loosely organized and too closely allied to the regular drill for the company to stand alone. In the spring of 1925, it applied for affiliation with Pershing Rifles. The Nebraska organization refused. The Ohio State group, seeing the need for a national organization for basic men, threatened to nationalize the "President's Guard" and leave Nebraska out of it if the two organizations could not work together. Finally, after a negotiations lapse of over a year, the Nebraska organization approved the formal application of the Ohio State organization. This application was dated May 13, 1925. The chapter was installed on May 22, 1925 by John A. Picker, Colonel of Pershing Rifles.
Thus was inaugurated a new policy in Pershing Rifles.
In 1927 the University of Tennessee's crack drill unit was granted a charter by the National Headquarters. This group was designated Company C, and was established under the influence of Scabbard and Blade of that school. From this time until 1929, the Nebraska unit concentrated on the establishment of a strong long local unit rather than a weak national organization, figuring that if the local unit was made strong, a national organization could be easily organized. Due to this program, Pershing Rifles at Nebraska even surpassed its Spanish American War greatness.
In 1928 the National Headquarters was established at the University of Nebraska. All of this laid the foundation for a strong national unit. In the summer of this year, a number of circulars were sent to other universities, besides those already having PR units, inviting their crack units to apply for charters from the National Headquarters. Those who knew of the relative value of Pershing Rifles as an organization capable of promoting interest in drill work for basic drill students, heeded the circulars. Also during that summer, officers attached to the schools where there were Pershing Rifles chapters met with officers from other institutions and thus the organization received good publicity.