On September 6, 1917, Otho K. Farrell arrived at Camp Bowie with Company A of Amarillo, Texas. Captain Barton’s Company A, like most companies in the 7th Texas Infantry, was a rifle company. Its 160 enlisted men and three officers were volunteers from the Texas panhandle.
Shortly after arriving at Camp Bowie, on September 23, Company A merged with Company C of Childress, Texas. Together they formed the new Company G, 142nd Infantry Regiment. Captain Thomas Barton, former commander of Company A, was the new Company commander. Company G had 210 enlisted men and five officers upon consolidation.
Otho Farrell was left out of it.
Because of his work as a stenographer at the Santa Fe Railroad, O.K. Farrell was moved to Headquarters Company of the new 142nd Infantry Regiment. Col. Alfred Bloor was the commander. The headquarters company managed the fifteen companies in the regiment, divided into three battalions. It managed personnel matters and coordinated with the 71st Brigade and the 36th Division of which it was a part.
Private Otho Farrell’s new job was to work for the ranking NCO in the 142nd, the Regimental Sergeant Major. Farrell transcribed notes, typed up orders and kept records for the regiment. On October 15th, 1917, Otho Farrell was promoted to Private First Class.
The 245 enlisted men of Headquarters Company came from all over Oklahoma and northwest Texas. They were divided into five Platoons, each with a different job in the regiment.
-First Platoon: Headquarters Staff, Orderlies, Mounted Guard and the Regimental Band.
-Second Platoon: Signals; with staff at Regiment and all three Battalion Headquarters.
-Third Platoon was the Regiment’s Mortar section.
-Fourth Platoon: Engineers; who built and repaired defenses around headquarters.
-Fifth Platoon was the Regiment’s 37mm Gun section.
Headquarters Company also provided the Battalion Headquarters staff and couriers.
As a member of First Platoon, Otho Farrell served as part of a staff of fifteen privates who managed the office work of the regiment. They kept personnel records and daily health and duty rosters. They also prepared communications down to the Battalion level or up to Brigade or Division level. Most of all, Headquarters was responsible for making the regiment a weapon of war in a complex battlefield.
In the winter of 1917-1918 Otho Farrell got a 10-day furlough to visit home. He took the train from Fort Worth through north Texas and Oklahoma to Waynoka, north of Oklahoma City. His parents, Thomas and Nancy, and two sisters had lived in Waynoka since 1913.
The Seventh Texas Infantry gathered for the first time at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth Texas in September 1917. Up to that time the regiment existed as its individual parts: fifteen separate companies from communities in north Texas and the panhandle. When roughly 1,900 men of the Seventh Texas arrived in Fort Worth, they were organized like this:
7th Texas Infantry Regiment
Headquarters Company, Crowell
Company A, Amarillo
Company B, Clarendon
Company C, Childress
Company D, Quanah
Company E, Vernon
Company F, Wichita Falls
Company G, Wichita Falls
Company H, Decatur
Company I, Abilene
Machine Gun Company, Gainesville
Company K, Fort Worth
Company L, Cleburne
Company M, Denton
Supply Company, Lubbock
At Camp Bowie
The basic fighting unit of the American Army in World War I was the Infantry Regiment, and the Seventh Texas is an example. From the turn of the Twentieth Century US Army Infantry Regiments had twelve companies plus a Headquarters detachment of sixty or so men. By the beginning of World War I, a Machine Gun Company and a Supply Company had been added and the Headquarters enlarged. Infantry Regiments in the beginning of the war had fifteen companies and anywhere from 1,550 to 1,850 men and were commanded by a colonel.
The Seventh Texas Infantry arrived with seven other Infantry Regiments at Camp Bowie plus Artillery and Cavalry regiments, Engineers, Supply Train, Military Police, Headquarters, Ambulance, Hospital and Field Signal units. Overnight Camp Bowie became a city of over 41,000 soldiers.
Getting the whole place organized was a monumental task. Many of the soldiers arriving at Camp Bowie had no uniforms. Some companies had received uniforms while at home, but many arrived with few or none in uniform. Companies camped as a unit within their regiment in cylindrical canvas tents that were designed to house eight soldiers.
Soldiers were given their uniforms plus bedding and mess kits. Rifles would have to wait; although a shipment came in October. (It would be 1918 by the time every rifleman had his own rifle.) Each company had its own “street” in the regimental campsite, with a line of tents that led to a long, narrow mess hall and a separate kitchen.
Life the Army Way
Even without the rifles, soldiers at Camp Bowie had plenty to keep them occupied. First was securing their tents and bedding. Then the men had to draw their uniforms and equipment. This was harder because, well, it was the Army, and sometimes uniforms were sent to the wrong unit. While each company had a cook, the men all rotated through duty as the kitchen staff, or K.P.
But what the men remembered most about their time at Camp Bowie was the constant drilling; practicing military formation and movement. Most days included seven or eight hours of drilling. As time went on drill became more involved in simulated combat such as grenade throwing, bayonet practice and digging in; lots of digging.
Soldiers at Camp Bowie were also learning about the kind of war going on in Europe: digging and fighting from trenches, working with barbed wire. They learned how to work in larger formations using signal flags and field telephones. Then they practiced cutting through wire entanglements and raiding trenches. Of course they practiced on the rifle range and did a lot of marching.
Within a few weeks after arriving at Camp Bowie, the men got their physicals. For most it meant getting vaccinations, but for some it was a ticket out of the Army. The exams were more stringent perhaps than what was carried out back home, and every company lost some men to a SCD (Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability, or failed physical).
The loss of some men for medical or other reasons (some recruits turned out to be just too young to be in the Army) dimmed the feeling of cohesion achieved during the summer of ’17. A bigger surprise lay ahead. Toward the end of September most of the units in Camp Bowie learned they would merge with another unit to reach war strength.
For the Seventh Texas, it meant merging with the only infantry regiment from out of state, the First Oklahoma. The First Oklahoma Infantry was founded a generation earlier, during the Spanish American War. It served in San Benito and Donna, Texas for nine months during the crisis with Mexico and many of the men were experienced.
The reason for the mergers was that General Pershing’s headquarters in France wanted bigger divisions: divisions that would be able to sustain themselves in combat without waiting for reinforcements. Pershing’s new divisions were designed to be more self-sufficient, with artillery and transport troops to project force in battle.
But it wasn’t just about superior firepower and mobility; war in the trenches of Europe was costly and fighting units would have to be larger to absorb the losses on the battlefield.
A new regiment
Infantry regiments in the US Army at the beginning of the war had about 1,550 men in fifteen companies. The new organization more than doubled that, to 3,720 men. As a result, companies were enlarged from about 150 men to 256 men. An ambulance unit was also added, as well as other services.
News of consolidation came as shock to both sides of the merger. As it turned out, the Oklahoma soldiers felt they were losing more of their state identity in this sea of Texans. Both units felt they had the right to complain, as they enlisted as Guardsmen in state organizations only recently federalized.
But as members of the Army, the men came to understand that an order is an order. The 142nd Infantry Regiment, created in August, really came into being on September 23, 1917. In time the unit would benefit from the differences the two units brought to the merger. The new regiment was organized like this:
142nd Infantry Regiment
Headquarters Co. 142nd
Co. I, Abilene, Texas
Headquarters Co. Crowell, Texas
Headquarters Co. Oklahoma City
In the first weeks of America’s involvement in World War I, the Army decided it needed to raise a force of at least one million men. While that number was soon found to be much too small, the effort to recruit, house and train so many men turned out to be one of the war’s great achievements.
In May 1917 the Army planned to raise sixteen divisions of draftees and sixteen divisions from an enlarged Army National Guard. Thirty-two new camps for these divisions needed to be built from scratch. In addition other camps for Artillery, Coastal Defense, Quartermaster Corps, Engineers, Transport, Signal Corps and an Infantry School needed to be built in the same time frame.
The schedule itself was punishing: Soldiers would appear on the doorstep of their new camps beginning on September 5, 1917. If all the camp sites were selected, contractors found, money and materials freed up, it still would have been an organizational miracle to see all these small cities built in three months.
But in most cases the Army had to do it in a month and a half.
Nineteen National Guard training camps were to be built, and the Army decided to create tent cities for the Guard. The idea was, since the camps were to train one division and then close, resources would be diverted into the more permanent camps. Most of the Nineteen National Guard camps were built in the Southern or the Western department of the Army’s command.
This meant that the relevant Departmental commander would choose where each small city of over 40,000 inhabitants would be built. A number of Texas cities as well as McAlester, Oklahoma were in the running for camps. Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce President Ben E. Keith and L. J. Wortham, President and Editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram led the charge for Cowtown.
Keith and Mayor W. D. Davis made the case for Fort Worth at Southern Department Headquarters in San Antonio in May and a delegation led by a Brigadier General made the trip to tour proposed sites. They were most impressed with the Arlington Heights district just west of downtown. Fort Worth was selected as the site for the Texas and Oklahoma National Guard camp on June 11th. It was to be named after Col. Jim Bowie, hero of the Alamo.
Rush to construction
It was now Fort Worth’s turn to make good on its promises. Roads, utilities and a rail spur to camp were built by the city. Land, nearly 1,500 acres of it, was purchased by or donated to the city for Camp Bowie (Uncle Sam got the land free of charge). Buildings had to be relocated or demolished, water and sewer lines dug, cattle moved.
Most of all, building materials had to be found. With so many construction projects underway, the government had to organize these resources. The War Department created a Cantonment Division which would organize base construction during the war. It was a massive organization, with over 16,000 enlisted soldiers nationwide. Over 200,000 tradesmen and laborers would work on at least one site owned by the Cantonment Division during the war.
The Dallas construction firm of J. W. Thompson was contracted to build Camp Bowie. The contractor was chosen for his ability to take on such a project as well as his ability to get credit; short term costs were steep. The Army managed the payroll of all laborers as well as reimbursing the cost of materials.
Building Camp Bowie
On July 18, 1917 officers from the Cantonment Division reported in Fort Worth for duty and the contract with the builder was signed. Construction on Camp Bowie was about to begin. On July 23 the Quartermaster’s Office was established and on July 25 the timekeeper’s office was built.
3,500 craftsmen and laborers joined to build a city that would house over 41,000 soldiers. They built roads, strung electric wire and put up hundreds of buildings. Most of the soldiers would sleep in tents, but there were bathhouses, mess halls, laundry shacks and 300 kitchens.
A spur of the Texas & Pacific Railroad went by the Quartermaster’s. There were stables and barns for horses of Texas’ 1st Cavalry Regiment, who would make their home in Camp Bowie. The Northern Texas Traction Company spent $125,000 (in 1917 dollars) to extend the Fort Worth Streetcar line through camp, adding or improving twelve stops.
Forty miles of roads were built in the hot summer sun. Water tanks were built and pipes were laid. Refrigeration units for food were installed. By August 21, 900 wooden buildings were constructed. A telephone exchange was built. A stockade was built near the Military Police barracks.
Will it ever be done?
On September 6th, Amarillo’s Company A, 7th Texas Infantry had arrived in Fort Worth on the same train as Company B of Clarendon and Company C of Childress. By September 11, 1917 all of the Seventh Texas infantry Regiment was at Camp Bowie. The Seventh Texas was one of many Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, Engineer, Ambulance, Transportation and Signal units gathered at Camp Bowie. Most of them would form the 36th Infantry Division.
Camp Bowie was far from finished. Water pipes and electrical wires had just been introduced to the camp. The hospital, which would include 300 buildings, was only begun on August 27. The rifle range had just been started. No hurry; rifles had not yet arrived at Camp Bowie. The artillery range was still in the planning stage.
Like most cities, Camp Bowie was constantly changing in size and appearance. The staff of the Cantonment Division left in November 1917. Engineers in the 36th Division declared the camp substantially finished on December 2nd, with the Camp Hospital still under construction. By July 1918, Camp Bowie had grown to 3,000 buildings and had cost the Army $3.4 million.
The Seventh Texas Infantry Regiment was a unit of volunteers in the National Guard. It was mustered into state service in early July, 1917. By the end of July the Seventh Texas was fully recruited and ready to begin basic training. The problem was that their training camp, Camp Bowie in Fort Worth, hadn’t been built yet.
Company A of the Seventh Texas, Captain Thomas D. Barton commanding, was located in Amarillo. In August 1917 Amarillo was a city on its way to a population of 15,000. It was a rail transportation center served by the Santa Fe Railroad, the Fort Worth & Denver City Railroad and the Rock Island Line. Live cattle, and meat from Amarillo’s packing industry were sent north to Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago on the rails.
The men of Company A were gathered from Amarillo and the surrounding counties in the Texas panhandle. They worked on ranches, farms and railroads. Some of them were skilled workers at factories and railroad workshops. Others were clerical workers from the city. A few were fresh out of school.
Company A gathered frequently in Amarillo during July to practice military drill. They had no uniforms or weapons. There were three officers. They had no barracks, and attendance at drill was not yet mandatory. Building an American army in 1917 was a matter of hurry up and wait. In Fort Worth, Camp Bowie was being built at a furious pace by 3,500 laborers and builders. The recruits of Company A would have to start their training at home.
In fact, all fifteen companies of the Seventh Texas trained at home during July-August of 1917. They stayed at fairgrounds, schools, warehouses, garages and homes. Amarillo’s Company A had a slightly better deal. The Lowrey-Phillips School north of the city was a military high school for boys when it closed after spring term in 1917. Newly vacant, Captain Barton and Company A moved right in. They renamed it Camp Bloor after the Seventh Texas’ commanding officer, Col. Alfred Bloor.
Life in Camp
Once in camp, life for the boys of Company A became more disciplined. Morning drill came before breakfast. The company became used to running and long marches. One day in August, Captain Barton led the men to Canyon, Texas, nineteen miles south, for lunch. When they were not busy at drill, the men attended lectures on “sanitation, personal hygiene and military courtesy”.
The Amarillo community got into the act. Amarilloans and people in the surrounding communities sent books, sports equipment and toiletries to Camp Bloor. Local homes sponsored soldiers after church services for Sunday afternoon dinner that summer of 1917.
In other communities across the Texas panhandle local companies were part of town square dances and baseball games. Every community pitched in to support their local soldiers. In early August the Seventh Texas Infantry was drafted into Federal service along with the rest of the Texas National Guard. They were surely fighting for Uncle Sam now and, for the first time, getting paid.
Close to the end of their stay in Amarillo, Captain Barton marched the men of Company A down Polk Street where they stopped in front of the theater for inspection. Then the whole company went to the movies for free. Soon thousands of men from towns and small cities across Texas would make their way to Camp Bowie to be formed as a larger unit. However during that summer, local companies had to make do with the unit they had. Historian George Ball commented about that summer:
“Indeed, for the Seventh Texas, the brief period in August 1917 while they waited to move was really the only time the regiment was what is was recruited to be: a Texas National Guard unit filled with Texas soldiers and commanded by Texas officers, all of whom were from the same or nearby communities.”
You can read about Company I, Seventh Texas Infantry, during a similar stay in Abilene here.
In 1915 half of all Americans lived in rural areas. When World War I broke out in 1914, the United States was in recession. The war in Europe eventually boosted the American economy, but the life of a farmer was a tough one for a lot of reasons. This was at a time when over 30% of American workers were in agriculture. Today, it is less than one percent.
1915 was a fateful year for many in northwest Texas and in Oklahoma. As in other places in the American South and West, poverty on the farm was a fact of life. In Oklahoma as in Texas, over half the farmers worked land they didn’t own. What they earned from selling crops was quickly eaten away by the owner’s share; by rent and by debt. Tenant farmers were kept on the farm by revolving debt at rates that started at around ten percent and could go as high as 100% for some loans.
The war in Europe closed overseas markets and sent prices down, especially for cotton. Land prices also fell, resulting in foreclosures and higher rents. Tenant farmers learned to beware the landowner, the lender and the buyer in town and to stay in their good graces.
In 1915, the solution for many in these dire straits was radical socialism. The most radical organization, International Workers of the World, did not admit farmers as they were nominally self-employed. That year the Working Class Union came to Oklahoma. The WCU was like the IWW in many respects, and they admitted farmers. It was active in western Louisiana, Arkansas and east Texas, but the lion’s share of its membership lived in southeast Oklahoma.
The Working Class Union, like the FLPA in Texas, functioned as a mutual aid society for tenant farmers. Activist lawyers in the union brought farmers relief from illegally high bank rates and saved some from eviction. But the WCU also advocated for abolishing “rent, interest and profit-taking” and members were not above using some muscle to get their point across.
Participation in the WCU dropped in Oklahoma from a reported 20,000 members after cotton prices rebounded in 1916. But interest in the union grew as it became clear there would be war with Germany in 1917. Activity increased in all the radical groups, and membership in the Working Class Union apparently doubled in the months leading up to August 1917.
The sentiment among many in rural Oklahoma, and in many parts of rural America, was anti-war. Part of this was motivated by the ideology of a “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight”. Part of it was a lack of interest in war and absence of malice against Germans. Finally, many were motivated by fear of an overseas war that was claiming millions of lives each year.
What happened next has been a subject of debate for a century. Young men who registered for the draft were ordered to report for their physical beginning on July 20, 1917. Men who hoped to dodge the draft (“slackers” was the contemporary term) were congregating in groups in rural areas; and they had help. Radical socialists, including members of the Working Class Union, harbored draft dodgers and those who had a change of heart since registration day.
WCU organizers had circulated through southeastern Oklahoma, calling for resistance to the draft and to the war. Now they were making the case that the time had come for resistance by force. On August 2nd, when the Seminole county sheriff and his deputies rode into the country to arrest draft dodgers, they were fired upon. One deputy was wounded.
Bands of armed radicals gathered in four counties in southeastern Oklahoma that day. A number of them met at the farm of John Spears, who’d raised the red flag of revolution on his farm in Sasakwa in Seminole county. The crowd at Spears’ Bluff and others nearby spread out that night, burning railroad bridges, climbing poles and cutting wires.
In the moment, these rioting bands of farmers, mechanics and laborers believed they could do more. They had heard rumors of a more general uprising. To hear it told after the fact, these radicals resolved to march on Washington D.C. to stop the draft and end the war.
In the meantime, news of the violence had mobilized posses who turned out in force. There were confrontations; gunfire was exchanged. But the rebellion broke and most men put down their arms instead of firing on their neighbors. Others fled in small groups. Four men were shot dead. About four hundred fifty were arrested in the chaos. Local Native Americans had just celebrated their New Year, the Ceremony of the Green Corn. The incident now had a name.
Whether the Green Corn Rebellion was resistance to the draft or the aborted overthrow of the United States government is still debated. The fact is that it was the bloodiest antiwar riot of the era, but not the only one. 184 of the rioters were brought to trial and one hundred fifty received prison sentences. The Working Class Union, and other Socialist organizations not involved in the incident, were forced to close up shop (more on the Green Corn Rebellion here).
In the Great War the United States Army was actually two armies. The Regular Army represented the permanent U.S. Army. In the 48 states, the largest part of it was the Coastal Artillery Corps. Another large part of the Regular Army was the Cavalry. Many of the seventeen U. S. Cavalry regiments were used to protect the border with Mexico.
The Regular Army also had infantrymen. Through the first half of 1916, there were thirty-one infantry regiments. A regiment at that time had about 1,550 men. The thirty-one regiments served in the four military departments in the United States plus overseas in Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal Zone. In January 1917, the United States purchased St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix in the Virgin Islands and had to defend those as well.
The National Defense Act of 1916 added seven more infantry regiments to the Regular Army. When war with Germany was declared in April 1917 the U.S. Army had about 213,000 men in active service, including 66,594 National Guardsmen on the border with Mexico. That month twenty-seven more infantry regiments were planned for the Regular Army, bringing the number to sixty-five.
A New Kind of War
When it fought, the U.S. Army was fighting insurgents who operated in smaller numbers. A unit the size of the divisions manning the trenches of Europe had not been known in the U.S. military since the Civil War. When it studied the problem beginning in April 1917, the Army concluded that it would also need infantry divisions over there. Lots of them.
This is when the U.S. Army became two armies. The Regular Army was a professional army made of volunteers. Joining them would be a National Army of draftees. Men who had registered for the draft in the spring began to be inducted into service during the summer of 1917. These men would be the core of a new but temporary citizen army whose job was to defeat Germany and then go home.
This new National Army would add sixteen new divisions. They would come from all parts of the United States. The sixteen divisions each began with a distinctive part of the country as its home base. For example one division, the 90th (National Army), drew its men from Texas and Oklahoma.
The National Guard
Somewhere in between the Regular Army and the National Army was the National Guard. Eighteen new Guard divisions were also created at the same time as the National Army. Guardsmen were not professional soldiers, as they enlisted for the duration of the war with Germany. However they were volunteers; and some of them had previous experience in the military. Many of the Guardsmen had been in Federal service guarding the border with Mexico, but most were brand new recruits. The vast majority of these were young and single.
News of a Texas National Guard division had been circulating since early April 1917. By June, the Texas Adjutant General was ordered by Washington to recruit to war strength three existing and four new infantry regiments. In July President Woodrow Wilson signed an order drafting all of the National Guard into Federal service for the duration of the war. That order would take effect on August 5, 1917. The sixteen new National Guard divisions would be numbered, instead of named after their home states.
The Texas National Guard became the 36th Infantry Division on August 5, 1917.
Seventeen new National Army and eighteen new National Guard divisions would need thirty-five new training camps. The camps for the National Guard divisions were nearly all located in the Southern and Western departments of the Army. The idea was that these locations would have a milder winter to allow for faster training. Locating the training camps was in the power of the commander of the relevant department.
Realizing the potential for development that a military city could provide, Fort Worth Mayor W.D. Davis and some leading men in the city wrote a proposal for the Army. Fort Worth was an important rail transportation hub in 1917 with a population of about 95,000. Fort Worth also was in the beef business with stockyards and massive meat packing facilities. Horses and mules were also transported from Fort Worth to the world. France and Britain were customers. The climate had already brought the Royal Flying Corps to settle in Fort Worth to train pilots.
Through the ministrations of the city government, business leaders and a little southern charm, Fort Worth made the case for hosting a major training facility. Each training camp would be a small city in its own right; over 40,000 inhabitants all on the payroll of Uncle Sam. Fort Worth’s proposal was convincing, and the city’s Arlington Heights neighborhood was selected as one of thirty-five new training camps for the Army on June 11th, 1917. The facility was named after Col. Jim Bowie, Texas pioneer and hero of The Alamo.
The effort to fill the ranks of the National Guard in Texas was in full swing by July 1917. Recruiting had begun in earnest by early June. Texas had to raise four new infantry regiments and other units such as artillery, medical and engineers from across the Lone Star State. In addition, Texas already had three infantry regiments plus many other units to maintain at full enlistment. It was a tall order for Texas. The National Guard would need twelve thousand new volunteers.
By the end of June, 1917, they had less than three thousand.
The Navy, Marines and the regular Army had been recruiting aggressively since before war was declared in April. And Texans had responded. News of the local National Guard units was made public just as men were preparing to register for a national draft on June 5th. Since then there had been rallies and parades and speeches. Recruiting offices opened in cities and large towns across the state. Prospective commanders were working overtime to persuade men to “avoid the draft” by enlisting in the Texas National Guard.
In northwest Texas and the Panhandle, there were fifteen recruiting offices for a new unit, the Seventh Texas Infantry regiment. The response to the recruiting drive had been very positive in some cities, but there was concern in Abilene, Decatur, Gainesville and Fort Worth.
Something had to be done. The governor announced that the week of July 4th would be Texas Enlistment Week and exhorted patriotic organizations and community leaders to, once again, make the case for serving in a Texas outfit with neighbors.
Members of the Adjutant General’s staff in Austin were getting nervous. Washington had decided to cap the number of National Guardsmen soon in anticipation of a nationwide draft. Drafting a new army to fight in Europe was less disruptive of the kind of greater war effort that Washington was planning. If Texas was going to have a distinct force to fight in the Great War, now was its chance.
As the drawing of America’s first draft numbers since the Civil War approached, the National Guard got a reprieve: states would be able to recruit their National Guard units until at least early August. For some recruiters, it would go right down to the wire.
By early August, 1917, 14,057 men had been added to the Texas National Guard.
Otho K. Farrell had been busy. Since moving back to Amarillo from Waynoka, Oklahoma in the fall of 1914 he had been going to school in his spare time at Draughon’s Business College. The rest of his time went to the Santa Fe Railroad. Now that Otho was learning stenography, bookkeeping and typing in school, he was also moving up at the Amarillo headquarters. By 1917 Otho was a stenographer in the Superintendent’s Office.
It’s hard to know what O.K. Farrell thought of the war in Europe. He was still keeping in touch with his sister’s classmate back home, Gladys Loper. And by the summer of ’17 he had been in Amarillo for two and a half years. Otho did not seem to be an adventurer or a crusader. So one can imagine his parents’ surprise when he wrote to them in Waynoka with news that he had enlisted in the Texas National Guard and was going to be a soldier.
O.K. Farrell was still twenty years old. He wasn’t yet old enough to register for the draft.
Early on July 9th, 1917, San Francisco Bay was rocked when a barge loaded with four million pounds of gunpowder exploded at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The explosion was so large a concussion wave knocked people down miles away. Six people were killed. The similarity of the disaster to the Black Tom explosion in New York Harbor just a year before caused many to speculate about a ring of saboteurs.
(Learn more about the Mare Island explosion here.)
On June 13th, 1917, the cross-channel ferry entered the harbor of Boulonge-sur-Mer from England. On shore a young boy waved his arms, shouting “Vive l’Amérique” toward the incoming steamer. Though it was June, the tall, sturdily-erect man at the rail of the ship raised a gloved hand and waved to the boy, returning his greeting. The welcomes had just begun. Major General John J. Pershing was in France.
General “Black Jack” Pershing had been given command of American forces in Europe on May 10th. He had led men in combat in Cuba, the Philippines and Mexico; one of a few Americans of flag rank to do so. He was in France to build an American army that would match the French and British armies in size and professionalism, if not in experience. With him on the steamer were his military staff of about 40 officers, some civilian employees of the federal government, about one hundred enlisted soldiers and his adjutant, Captain George S. Patton.
The first American wave into France totaled about 190 men.
The welcome of the French was out of proportion to the size of the American advance guard. France had been in the war for nearly three years and had been bled white by the costly offensives and attrition of the Great War. French line units were deeply demoralized by the spring of 1917 and some of them had mutinied. Dozens of mutineers had been court martialed and shot. The Americans’ arrival at this crucial time restored the spirits of all France.
Pershing’s small staff had their work cut out for them. The American Expeditionary Force, as they were now known, were planning to bring an army of one million men across the Atlantic to fight. To accomplish this, they would have to build infrastructure: docks, roads and railroads. Incoming soldiers would need training camps, supply depots and field hospitals. They would need tons of food, fuel and clothing. As this was the early Twentieth Century, they would need horses and fodder to feed them. And weapons; no one at AEF Headquarters was sure what weapons the American Doughboy was going to use in combat.
The key to this and all other problems lay in transport. The United States had limited transatlantic shipping capacity and too many men, animals and materiel stateside. French and British generals were insistent that America send troops, but Napoleon’s rule that an army marches on its stomach had to be followed.
The vast Atlantic
Bringing the American military in force to Europe in time to defeat Germany would require the Allies had mastery of the seas. They didn’t. German submarines had resumed unrestricted attacks around the British Isles in February and Britain was fearful that losses on land and sea may end the war in Germany’s favor before the United States could fully enter it.
In the early evening of April 24th, six U.S. Navy destroyers cleared Boston harbor steaming east. Their mission would become clear only when they were fifty miles east of Provincetown. Once out to sea, the orders read that they were to cross the Atlantic and make contact with a British warship outside Queenstown, Ireland. The U.S. Navy was going to war.
The six ships of Destroyer Division Eight arrived in Ireland on May 4th, 1917. Their home base was Queenstown (now Cobh), on the south coast. They began patrolling the Western Approaches of the British Isles almost immediately and were joined by another six American destroyers on May 17.
Antisubmarine patrol from Queenstown was not glamorous. The coastline was unfamiliar; filled with dangerous rocks and ledges. The weather was notoriously bad year round. German submarines were laying mines and stalking ships. American destroyermen had to learn how to track submarines from the men of the Royal Navy, who’d been at it for over two years.
The Return of the Mayflower, 4th May, 1917 by Bernard Emmanuel Finnigan Gribble
A debt repaid
Slowly, the number of American soldiers in France grew. By the end of June, about half of the U.S. First Division, the Big Red One, had landed in St. Nazaire. There was also a battalion of U.S. Marines. American soldiers and marines were enthusiastically greeted everywhere they went.
Pershing knew they were not yet ready for action. They would need to train for the relentless trench warfare of the Western Front. They would need to train with new and unfamiliar weapons and tactics. Most of all, more men were needed in France.
July 4th, 1917 saw a parade in Paris. For five miles through the old city the 2nd Battalion of the 16th U.S. Infantry Regiment marched until they reached the gravesite of Gilbert du Motier, the sixth Marquis de Lafayette. With General John Pershing at the head, the Americans saluted their Revolutionary War comrade. A voice called out “Nous voilà, Lafayette!”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”