Mobilized

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.

Mobilized

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.

 

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.

“Accident!”

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.

Home Leave

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.

Otho Farrell (third from left) at Camp Bowie

At Headquarters

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.

Otho K. Farrell near his 21st birthday

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.

American Red Cross soldiers’ canteen at Waynoka, OK train station, 1918

Home Leave

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.

O.K. Farrell in Waynoka, OK 1918

Fierce Northers

During the summer of 1917 the U.S. Army built nineteen training camps for its National Guard divisions. It was an enormous task: More camps were being built at the same time across the country to build a military essentially from scratch.

Because most of the National Guard camps were built in the South and West, and because the training was anticipated to be brief, soldiers were housed in canvas tents intended for eight men.

That was the plan, anyway.

If you have ever spent a winter on the Plains, you know about wind. The cold winds that barrel south from Canada are called Northers, and in Texas they are serious business. A Norther can rapidly drop temperatures even on warm sunny days. The sky turns dark blue, the wind begins to howl, and then you– one observer was inspired to quote Milton–

“…feel by turns the bitter change

Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,

From beds of raging fire to starve in ice.”

John Milton; Paradise Lost, Book II, Lines 598-600

 

Cold Weather Arrives

Military planners did not expect the weather would deteriorate in the early fall of 1917; but Camp Bowie saw its first Blue Norther on September 26th. Soldiers had just recently arrived there from all parts of the Southwest, including posts on the Mexican border. The base was completely unprepared and, to make matters worse, lack of shelter meant that soldiers were living up to twelve to a tent.

Efforts were made to better prepare the men, but so far their standard issue was cotton summer uniforms and two wool blankets per man. The canvas tents had no walls, no heat and earth for a floor.

The second cold wind blew through camp on October 8th and found the camp little prepared. Construction on the base hospital had begun late in the game, opening its doors on September 24. It would not be complete until 1918. Some tents were issued small wood-burning stoves, others not.

The result of this was that the men started to get sick. Lack of warm clothing and heat plus overcrowding in the tents led to the spread of disease. Plainsmen who grew up without exposure to chicken pox, mumps and measles were now exposed. Soldiers from south Texas were not physically ready for the cold weather.

The unfinished base hospital was filling up. Normal occupancy for the hospital was set at 800 patients, with a maximum of 1,000. Soldiers were coming down with meningitis, measles, tuberculosis and pneumonia. It was not uncommon for a soldier admitted with measles to get sick with pneumonia after a few days. Men were starting to die.

Camp Bowie Hospital Complex is to the right

Camp Under Siege

Sickness raged through Camp Bowie in October and November of 1917. By early November the hospital held 1,867 men, over twice the normal capacity. In November forty-one men died from pneumonia alone. Thousands were admitted to the hospital during the epidemic. Training for the war was halted because of it.

Response to the crisis was piecemeal. Winter clothing arrived in October and November, but wool overcoats and extra blankets did not arrive until early December. Small stoves for the tents were provided, with wood to burn. More tents were erected, easing overcrowding. Soldiers began to install wooden walls and floors to their tents to protect themselves from the weather.

A quarantine at Camp Bowie was necessary. Passes were revoked and soldiers were kept in camp to prevent the spread of disease. Soldiers newly transferred to Camp Bowie were kept in a separate observation camp for two weeks before entry into the base. Doctors and hospital staff were increased, and hospital construction was accelerated.

By December over 3,300 soldiers had been admitted to the base hospital with measles and pneumonia. On average, eight men died each day. Companies could not function for all the men on the sick list. When the Surgeon General of the Army inspected Camp Bowie in early December, he remarked that the situation there was worse than in any of the other training camps he had seen. Twenty-five men died during the General’s brief visit.

Camp Bowie fights back

On December 10 more blankets and wool overcoats arrived. The Army hastened to add plumbing and facilities to the hospital complex under construction. 2,300 tents arrived as well as 1,200 stoves. Donations from the Red Cross and towns all over Texas and Oklahoma began to arrive. Every man had at least four blankets.

A week later, the hospital still had 1,427 patients, well above maximum capacity. The cold weather continued into January 1918 with temperatures near zero and blizzard conditions on the 10th. January 22nd set a record low at 6 degrees with more snow. Camp Bowie experienced an outbreak of mumps that month. At the hospital, there were still deaths every day.

But the sick rate was declining. While the weather at Camp Bowie was nothing like the Army imagined when Fort Worth was chosen, men were adapting. Better accommodation (well, the men were still sleeping under canvas in winter) and warm clothing made it easier to avoid disease. Watching new arrivals in a separate camp also helped. Probably the best action was the decision by commanders to furlough nearly the whole camp for Christmas.

Camp Bowie’s hospital was finally completed by February, 1918. That’s when the last of the plumbing was installed in the over fifty buildings that made the hospital complex. By mid-April, the hospital census had returned to normal.

234 men died at Camp Bowie of pneumonia in 1917 alone.

 

Consolidation

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).

 

Consolidation

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

New Name Drawn from
Headquarters Co. 142nd Co. I, Abilene, Texas
Headquarters Co. Crowell, Texas
Headquarters Co. Oklahoma City
Machine Gun Co. 142nd Machine Gun Co. Gainesville, Texas
Supply Co., 142nd Supply Co. Wewoka, Oklahoma
Supply Co. Lubbock, Texas
Medical Detachment, 142nd Medical Detachment, 1st Oklahoma
Medical Detachment, 7th Texas
Company A 142nd Company A, Clinton, Oklahoma
Company K, Enid, Oklahoma
Company B 142nd Company B, Chandler, Oklahoma
Company D, Newkirk, Oklahoma
Company C 142nd Company C, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Company E, Pawnee, Oklahoma
Company D 142nd Company F, Muskogee, Oklahoma
Company I, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Company E 142nd Company H, Durant, Oklahoma
Company L, Antlers, Oklahoma
Company F 142nd Company G, Wewoka, Oklahoma
Company M, Oklahoma City
Company G 142nd Company A, Amarillo, Texas
Company C, Childress, Texas
Company H 142nd Company B, Clarendon, Texas
Company D, Quanah, Texas
Company I 142nd Company E, Vernon, Texas
and surplus of the regiment
Company K 142nd Company F, Wichita Falls, Texas
Company G, Wichita Falls, Texas
Company L 142nd Company H, Decatur, Texas
Company L, Cleburne, Texas
Company M 142nd Company K, Fort Worth, Texas
Company M, Denton, Texas

Camp Bowie

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.

Camp Bowie

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.

Men of the 111th Engineer Regiment at Camp Bowie

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 in 1917 dollars.