The Wreck in Texas, part 2

On May 17, 1917, T.A. Hickey made his way to the Post Office in Brandenburg, a tiny settlement about halfway between Fort Worth and Lubbock, Texas. Hickey, a radical socialist, was editor of the Socialist Party of Texas’ official newspaper, The Rebel. He had sixty pages to send to the paper, which was published in Hallettsville in southeast Texas. Each edition of The Rebel carried the slogan, “The great appear great to us only because we are on our knees. Let us arise.”

As Hickey approached the Post Office in Brandenburg (now called Old Glory), he was approached by four men who motioned toward a waiting car. According to Hickey, leading them was a Texas Ranger named John Montgomery, distinguishable by his one arm. Montgomery took Hickey’s writings and told him to “climb in”. He asked Montgomery to show a warrant but was told a warrant wasn’t needed. As Hickey would later put it: “Under the persuasion of the guns I got into the automobile and was conveyed at the rate of thirty-two miles an hour to Anson.”

Labor organizer

Thomas A. Hickey was born in Dublin, Ireland. In 1892 he emigrated to the United States, aged twenty-three. He stayed Brooklyn and joined the Knights of Labor, leading a strike there. Ten years later finds Hickey organizing lumberjacks in the Pacific Northwest. After that, he moved to Arizona where he was an organizer for the Western Federation of Miners. He was also the editor of The Globe (Arizona) Miner.

Socialist Party Mass Meeting

By the time Hickey made his way to Texas in 1905, he had been personal secretary to Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs and was a party organizer. He was also co-founder of what eventually became the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World).

Editor of The Rebel, Socialist Party Weekly

Hickey had organized industrial workers, lumberjacks and miners. In Texas he took up the plight of the farmer. Texas farmers were increasingly farming land they didn’t own. By 1910, over half (53.3%) were tenant farmers working for absentee landowners. Tenants usually were kept on the farm by debt to the owner. In their desperate situation, Hickey’s message was music to their ears.

By 1911 Hickey edited The Rebel, the Socialist Party weekly. His rhetorical flair on the page was matched with fire in stump speeches for the cause. The Rebel boasted a circulation of 40,000 at its height. Its success briefly fostered other socialist papers in Texas.

No topic was taboo to Hickey. He took on everything from Texas landowners to the Romanovs of Russia. He criticized President Wilson as the nation moved closer to war with Germany. As a socialist, Hickey viewed the European war as a conspiracy of plutocrats. He viewed the draft, in America and in his native Ireland, as another form of alienated labor and called on politicians and industrialists to pick up a rifle and serve first. Hickey reported on the annual meeting of the Farmers’ and Laborers’ Protective Association in nearby Cisco just before his arrest.

The Rebel

Following his arrest, Hickey was driven 37 miles to Anson, Texas where he was placed in custody of the Jones County sheriff. After an hour and a half, he was driven to nearby Abilene, where he was placed in Federal custody.  When he secured legal counsel, Hickey was released on $1,000 bail nearly three days after his arrest with a summons to appear before a federal grand jury in Abilene on October 1, 1917. He never got back his documents.

Espionage Act

In Washington, Congress had been working since early 1916 on a law to counter espionage and other activities against the war by foreign agents in America. A year later, the Espionage Act was ready for  President Wilson’s signature. The Espionage Act also made it a crime to distribute in print items deemed by the United States to be false or detrimental to the war effort.

Just before the Espionage Act was to take effect, Postmaster of the United States Albert S. Burleson denied distribution of The Rebel through the mail. This effectively killed the paper. Reasons for censorship were not given, but The Rebel consistently encouraged its readers not to buy War Bonds and reported on efforts to resist the draft. The Rebel was the first publication suppressed under the Espionage Act of 1917. More would follow.

Thomas A. Hickey would keep his date with a federal grand jury in Abilene and, according to him, seven more grand jury appearances. He was never prosecuted. Apparently his involvement with the farmers’ rights group Renter’s Union was confused by the authorities with the FLPA. The Rebel never reappeared (you can read more about T.A. Hickey here).

The Espionage Act of 1917 is still very much in effect.

Be a “went” instead of a “sent”

The effort to build a national army of volunteers and draftees was the consuming passion of the War Department, but it was not the only one. This army had to be housed, fed, trained and equipped. It also had to be led by officers. Plans for creating this new army were underway even before war was declared in April 1917. From the start, enlarging the National Guard, and bringing it into federal service, was part of the plan. And the plan included the Texas National Guard.

Texas’ National Guard was about to triple in size. Three infantry regiments, a squadron (battalion) of cavalry, along with other units already served Texas along the Mexican border in 1916-1917. Four more infantry regiments would now be recruited, plus artillery, signal, engineer, supply and medical units. As a result, Texas was about to have a force of a size not seen since the Confederacy.

Recruiting the Guard

Recruiting this force along with the Army, Navy and Marines was going to be a monumental task. The federal draft, for which eligible men registered beginning June 5th, was about to draw its first names in July. By that time, nearly one million Texans had registered. Draftees who passed their physical would normally be inducted into the Army.

Northwest Texas and the Panhandle was the home of one of the new infantry regiments, the Seventh Texas. The part of Texas that was home to the Seventh can be seen below, roughly in sections 2 and 3 on the map. It included Amarillo, Lubbock, Abilene, Fort Worth, Wichita Falls and the surrounding areas.

Texas Map

Like the other three new regiments, the Seventh had to recruit fifteen companies of 150 enlisted men each. The job of recruiting was given to the prospective commanders of the fifteen companies. The companies would each draw from one of the larger county seats in this area of Texas. Most commanders recruited in his hometown. Because of this, they would have to use their connections, their wits, and not a little of their own money to reach one hundred and fifty men.

Advantages to volunteers

Getting men to volunteer for the Texas National Guard, while the branches of the federal Armed Services were also recruiting required organization, persuasion and skill. Also recruiters were not permitted to disparage the other services nor hide the fact that Guardsmen probably would fight overseas. Even so, men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five could consider the advantages of volunteering for the Guard.

First of all, the pay in the Guard was the same as in the Army: $30 a month for privates when serving overseas. Just as persuasive was the fact that Guardsmen shared a place and a sense of community. A Cleburne newspaper editorial exhorted young men to “soldier with the boys you know”. And the leaders they knew: officers were also local businessmen, lawyers and educators.

Another advantage was the support a company would get from its home community. Each of the communities that was home to a National Guard unit drew great pride from the example of their fighting men. In addition, the men of the Seventh would have to rely on their hospitality in the early days.

Draft Poster for Texas National Guard and other Guard Units

Spreading the word in north Texas

Texas National Guard officers were busy recruiting for the Seventh Infantry soon after registration opened for the draft. Captain Thomas Barton had opened a recruiting office in Amarillo by June 16th, telling a reporter, “we will go and return as an Amarillo Company”. Other offices opened in Childress, Cleburne, Gainesville, Denton, Wichita Falls, Decatur, Abilene, Lubbock, Vernon, Crowell, Quanah, Clarendon and two offices in Fort Worth.

Local newspapers, Chambers of Commerce and mayors helped the cause. Another parade was held in Amarillo. Denton had a recruiting rally, as did Gainesville, Cleburne and Vernon. In late June, three thousand reportedly attended a rally in Abilene. Decatur’s rally lasted three days.

Recruiting officers and civic leaders were working under pressure. Draftees would be called up for their physicals beginning on July 20th. Initially they believed that recruitment for the National Guard would stop on that date. To them it was a matter of pride for local men, with local officers, to represent Texas in the World War. Consequently, Judge J.M. Wagstaff exhorted the three thousand gathered in Abilene in June, “If you haven’t enlisted, why? Are you less patriotic than the men of 1861? Why can’t the boys of Abilene and Taylor county serve their country?”

Draft poster