On July 2, 1918 the 36th Division received its orders for transport to the Port of Embarkation on the East Coast. The first group of soldiers left on July 4th. The division had practiced for this moment, and now it was here.

But how do you buy cross-country train tickets for 28,000 men?

To move the men and the raw materials of war where they needed to go, the U.S. Government took control of American railroads in December 1917. The U.S. Railroad Service was created by law early in 1918 to coordinate rail traffic for the next two years. Similarly the movement of troops across the country was the responsibility of the Inland Transportation Division and it had priority in scheduling rail travel.

All Aboard

July 1918 turned out to be the biggest effort by the Inland Transportation Division in the entire war. The United States had been transporting soldiers and marines to France for a year already, but now more men were trained and ready for deployment.

Units of the 36th Infantry began to leave Camp Bowie in Fort Worth in early July. The trip across the country took at least four days, although it depended on which route was taken. Some trains traveled east through Shreveport, Birmingham, Vicksburg, Atlanta, Raleigh, Richmond, Washington and Baltimore to Jersey City.

Other trains went north through Arkansas to St. Louis and then east through Cleveland, then Scranton to Jersey City. Some trains even traveled to Detroit and then by ferry into Canada, reentering the U.S. in Niagara Falls. In any event, much of the 36th Infantry Division was somewhere on the rails on July 13, when the Inland Transportation Division moved 41,000 men on 77 dedicated troop trains through the country. The busiest day on the rails of the war.

Getting this many men transported was a complex and delicate task. Unfortunately there were mishaps. Seventeen miles from Shreveport, four cars on a train carrying 36th Infantry soldiers derailed injuring several men and killing one.

Photo by George L. Beam. (Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Western History/Genealogy Dept.)
U.S. Troops entraining near Denver, CO

Seeing America

After months of training in Camp Bowie and enduring the daily grind of duties, the men of the 36th all seem to remember vividly their voyage across America. The first day covered familiar ground, the Great Plains. After that the scenery changed, and depending on what train one was on, a soldier saw vast cornfields and Midwestern cities or remote Southern hamlets between the bright cities of Birmingham and Atlanta. They saw factories and forges, tenements and some of the industrial wonders of the time.

What none of the men forgot was the welcome. Everywhere they went, if the train had a reason to stop, there was a crowd. Young women in American Red Cross uniforms gave out candy and postcards, and sometimes kisses. Mail was handed out of rail car windows, and it was posted. Bands played on station platforms. Men marched off to meals, to baths, or even a swim in Lake Erie. Addresses were exchanged and letters actually sent back and forth from France. People gathered and cheered in small towns, even if the trains didn’t stop.

America showed up; and it was seen from train windows by men going off to war.

Photo by George L. Beam. (Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Western History/Genealogy Dept.)
U.S. Troops near Denver, CO

Defend This

Whatever lay ahead for these men, the memory of their sendoff meant a great deal that summer of 1918. One private in the 61st Artillery Brigade, 36th Infantry Division remembered their encounter this way:

“The men felt grateful as well as pleased over the manner in which the American people along their route had greeted them, and many a man felt that he had really been appreciated for the first time in his life while on this trip, and since he was making a great sacrifice and had been torn by the emotions of leaving home and everything he considered dear, these manifestations had touched him more than they ordinarily would have done.”


With over 41,000 residents, Camp Bowie in Fort Worth was a city within a city. As with all cities, change was normal in Camp Bowie. After the consolidation of the eight infantry regiments into four big ones, the next big change was transfers.

While the original soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division were National Guard volunteers, that distinction soon changed. In November 1917, five thousand draftees were transferred to Camp Bowie from Camp Travis in San Antonio and Camp Dodge in Iowa.

By this time training was in earnest and officers and non-commissioned officers were sent off-base for training at special schools across the country. Camp Bowie also hosted a number of British and French officers and noncoms who helped train the men.

American Industry steps up

By 1918, weapons and equipment were beginning to arrive at Camp Bowie. The Division’s first six artillery pieces arrived in January and February. Rifles were more plentiful after the beginning of the year as well. But there were still shortages of weapons and ammunition. Two more cannon arrived in April, but the 61st Field Artillery Brigade was not fully equipped until June.

Officers of the 36th Infantry Division kept the men busy training while waiting for equipment to arrive. Soldiers could expect long hikes, simulated battles, and instruction in trench warfare. This included gas mask drills, cutting through barbed wire, and using Camp Bowie’s ten mile-long trench system.

As 1918 wore on the Division received motor trucks, wagons and communications equipment. The men also trained to proficiency with their rifles, squad automatic rifles and machine guns. But it would not be until June when every rifleman in the division had his own rifle.

Division in review

By the spring of 1918 the 36th Infantry Division was approaching readiness. Ready, but not sent overseas. Other Divisions that trained in Texas, for example the 32nd Infantry (Camp MacArthur in Waco) and the 90th Infantry (Camp Travis in San Antonio), were already transferred to France. Some in and outside Camp Bowie wondered if they would ever get there.

In the meantime, Fort Worth got to see their Sammies on parade. On April 11th, about 25,000 of them, along with 1,200 vehicles and 5,000 horses passed in a miles-long review before the multitudes. In the proud column was Otho Farrell of Headquarters Company, 142nd Infantry, who had just been promoted Corporal on April 5th.

Otho wrote a letter to Gladys Loper, a friend of his sisters’ in Waynoka, OK around this time. She was about to graduate High School and was thinking about her future.


Men of the 36th Infantry Division could sense things were changing. Five thousand men, draftees from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, were added in May. That month, the War Department gave the division orders to be ready to move on short notice. In June, the men were drilling for immediate deployment, packing and moving to departure points. They knew it was the real thing when they were issued new dog tags that did not include their unit name.

At last, on July 2nd, the order to leave Camp Bowie was received. For ten months Fort Worth and Camp Bowie were home to the 36th Infantry Division. In late summer 1917, this was a largely untested mass of Guardsmen, volunteers all. They were practically the entire National Guard of both Texas and Oklahoma; just as diverse as the lands they represented.

Although they were volunteers and Guardsmen, they had been adequately prepared. Their morale was high and, despite all hazards of the previous year, had formed into a force they believed was equal to the fight. Texas and Oklahoma expected no less.


The Flag

In January 1918 Georgia O’Keeffe was still teaching art at West Texas State Normal College in Canyon, about 13 miles south of Amarillo. She had been chair of the art department there since fall 1916, but things were not going well. Since the entry of the United States into the war the previous April, Georgia O’Keeffe saw her community caught up in a wave of change that included her family.

Soon after she settled in her job at Canyon, O’Keeffe was joined by her younger sister Claudia, who was still in high school. Together they traveled through the Southwest, taking in the vast landscapes of Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. The stark expanse of light, sky and desert mountains mesmerized the O’Keeffes. It would be a life theme for Georgia’s art from the time she first moved to west Texas in 1912.

Georgia O’Keeffe

War comes to the O’Keeffes

Like many college towns across the country, Canyon, Texas was caught up in the enthusiasm of America’s entry into the war. Young men, students of O’Keeffe’s, wanted to enlist before graduating from West Texas State. Whether or not these men enlisted, many marched up main streets and participated in rallies nationwide. And townsfolk stood by and cheered. It was their way of supporting the war. But it was a low cost way.

Georgia O’Keeffe was brought up in Madison, Wisconsin in a large, close-knit family. Progressive and conscientious, the O’Keeffes were serious about their Christian faith and its commitment to nonviolence. So Georgia was very much troubled by the kind of patriotism she witnessed in her new home town of Canyon. She described the country being at war as “a state that exists and experiencing it in reality seems preferable to the way we are all being soaked with it second hand–it is everywhere…There is no-one here I can talk to–its all like a bad dream.”


Soon after America entered the war O’Keeffe’s younger brother Alexis enlisted. Georgia visited him while he was in officer’s training at Fort Sheridan, near Chicago. She respected her brother’s sense of duty, but feared what it all might amount to: “A sober–serious–willingness appalling–he has changed much–it makes me stand still and wonder–a sort of awe–He was the sort that used to seem like a large wind when he came into the house.”

Back in Canyon, Georgia O’Keeffe felt more and more isolated from her neighbors and their casual anti-German attitudes. Texas had a visible German population at the time, as did her home state of Wisconsin. She was able to visit Alexis again, now a Second Lieutenant in the 32nd Infantry Division, while he was training at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas. His unit was the sixth Infantry division shipped to France in the war and would see heavy fighting, which is what Alexis wanted.


Georgia’s sister Claudia left Canyon in December 1917 for her student teaching assignment in Spur, Texas, 150 miles away. On January 2nd, the 32nd Infantry Division left Waco for France. That same month, Georgia O’Keeffe became ill in the first wave of a disease that had spread across the world, the 1918 influenza epidemic. O’Keeffe was very ill and took months to recover. In February 1918 she received medical leave from West Texas State. She moved to Waring, Texas, 450 miles away, to recuperate at the home of her friend, Leah Harris.

It was well for Georgia O’Keeffe to get out of Canyon. Her ambivalence about the war and dislike of jingoist descriptions of the enemy fed the rumor mill. Townsfolk began to view her as not patriotic enough.

It was a scene that was repeated across the country. In June, 1917 Congress passed the Espionage Act which criminalized any attempt to hinder enlistment or the draft. In May 1918, the Sedition Act also outlawed criticism of the government, the Constitution, the flag and the conduct of the war. The law was aimed in part against attempts from hostile nations to influence American public opinion. But the law also made free debate of the war among Americans illegal, even in private.

Georgia O’Keeffe, The Flag, 1918

The Flag

It was in this environment that Georgia O’Keeffe painted her most political work. The Flag is a deeply emotional and personal view of her crisis: True blue absorbing into a dark blue sky that blots out the stars, leaving a streak of red. The flag battered in the storm.

Later in 1918 O’Keeffe would find out her brother was gravely injured in a gas attack while serving in France.  Alexis O’Keeffe made it home alive, but in poor health. The Flag was never shown publicly during the war; doing so would risk breaking the Sedition Act.

The Sedition Act expired at the end of the war and was never renewed.

Alexis O’Keeffe died of his war injuries in January, 1930 at age 37.

Training for War

To win the European war, AEF General John J. Pershing and his staff wanted thirty infantry divisions in France by 1919. By the beginning of 1918, there were four complete divisions and part of a fifth already in France. Over one million men had been training stateside since September 1917 in camps across the country.

What was keeping them there was the shortage of ships and equipment. Ships available to the United States were in short supply throughout the war. Several were sunk by German U-boats. A great number of American troops crossed the Atlantic in British ships as a result. But there were always more men to transport than spaces for them on transport ships.

American Industry catches up

The other issue was the supply of arms and equipment. The War Department performed a massive manpower effort in 1917 recruiting and drafting an army for General Pershing. It would do so again in two 1918 drafts as well. Now that the men were in training, they needed weapons and equipment.

American troops went to war with some of the best weapons of any army including the M1903 Springfield rifle and the Browning Automatic Rifle, versions of which are in use today. As with blankets and overcoats, the military’s problem was getting arms into the hands of recruits for training.

To address the issue of retooling the economy for war, President Wilson created the War Industries Board to direct production and allocate resources for American industry. In December 1917 Wilson also nationalized America’s railroads. The U. S. Railroad Administration coordinated the movement of men and materiel across the continent until March, 1920.

The effort to send the whole economy to war produced far-reaching results, including high employment and better real wages for American workers while the war lasted. But the costs would define the country’s economy up through the Great Depression. Sending the AEF to Europe cost the American economy between $20 and $31.2 billion 1917 US Dollars ($375 to $614.2 billion 2018 US dollars. See here for more about the wartime economy).

Camp Bowie prepares for war

While there were thousands of rifles at Camp Bowie in 1917, most were used for instruction and big training exercises. There were not enough rifles for each rifleman until June, 1918. The 36th Infantry Division had only a half-dozen cannon well into 1918.  So Camp Bowie built rifle ranges and a trench system while it waited. The trench system was ten miles long and had mortar pits, machine gun ports and bomb shelters. It was big enough to train one regiment against another in simulated combat.

While it was waiting for its artillery pieces, Camp Bowie also built an artillery range for its 131st, 132nd and 133rd Field Artillery Regiments. It was located near Weatherford, Texas just west of Camp Bowie. In April the 36th Infantry Division received more artillery, plus motor trucks, machine guns, mortars and ammunition.


During a live-fire demonstration in front of the Division Commander, tragedy struck. Mortar teams of the 141st and 142nd Infantry Regiments were practicing on May 8, 1918, when a round exploded while firing. Eleven men were killed and six wounded. The cause was never determined, although the two mortar teams had been practicing for hours that day.

Many of the casualties were from Headquarters Company, 142nd Infantry Regiment. Four of the dead, including First Lieutenant Allen McDavid, and three of the wounded were all from Taylor County’s Company I. Lt. McDavid had personally recruited many of the men in the old Company I.

As funerals were held for the dead in Abilene and elsewhere in Texas, communities were reminded that for some the sacrifice to country would be in the extreme.