36th Division in World War I

Chapter I: The Call To Arms

The Texas and Oklahoma National Guardsmen were in August, 1917, part of a force of about 345,000 in the United States awaiting transfer to their respective training camps. If increasing the National Guard to war strength was accomplished in quick time, so also was the construction of the training facilities. Existing posts were sufficient to handle the Regulars, but camps for over three quarters of a million Guardsmen and draftees had to be provided during the summer of 1917. Plans were formulated for 32 training camps, 16 for the National Guard and 16 for the National Army, each capable of housing 40,000 men. Wooden cantonments were built for the National Army because it was anticipated that, owing to the "continued increments" of draftees over an extended period of time, they would be used longer than the largely tent camps planned for the Guard. Since the Guardsmen would sleep under canvas, it was decided to locate their camps in the South due to its mild climate.

The location of the 32 posts was assigned by Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to the commanders of the six territorial departments of the army. Army camps meant economic gain for those towns and cities lucky enough to have them located nearby and Baker was inundated by the pork-barrel pleas of local delegations. Finding Baker steadfast in his refusal to interfere with his departmental commanders, the locals turned their attention to them. Although the commanders may have not relished the pressure, their task was undoubtedly made easier by the information relating to the proposed sites furnished by the civilian delegations.

Among the Texas and Oklahoma municipalities that applied for a camp was the City of Fort Worth, population about 113,000. City and Chamber of Commerce officials had surveyed possible sites and urged a National Guard camp on one of them during the Mexican border disturbances. Upon learning in the second week [16] of May, 1917, that the War Department expected to build several camps in Texas, Ben E. Keith, the Chamber president, and a prominent citizen, L. J. Wortham, journeyed to Washington to see Secretary Baker only to be referred to Brigadier General James Parker, commander of the Southern Department, at Fort Sam Houston.

In San Antonio a few days later, Keith and Mayor W. D. Davis presented Fort Worth’s case for a camp before the departmental location board. Fort Worth possessed excellent rail facilities, was the main grain center in the Southwest, contained the two largest meat packeries south of St. Louis, boasted the best "horse and mule market" in Texas, and had room to spare. One judges from a Fort Worth Star-Telegram account of the meeting that the two men themselves did little talking because they knew the "busy" officers could tell from the maps and briefs they brought with them whether or not "we can take care of you."

Keith and Davis’s presentation was evidently impressive enough, for a three-man inspection team headed by Brigadier General Charles G. Morton soon arrived in Fort Worth to scrutinize "prospective" sites. A local committee composed of Davis, Keith, and others met the officers at the train and conducted them on an automobile tour of the proposed sites. One was located north of the Weatherford road and another was in the Lake Worth area.

But thanks to the urging of Dr. Holman Taylor, a veteran of National Guard service on the border, who had surveyed the site, the committee directed the particular attention of the officers to a large, sparsely developed suburban block of land overlooking the city about two and one-half miles west of downtown known as Arlington Heights. It was bounded roughly on the north by White Settlement Road, the south by Granbury Road, the east by Trinity Park, and the west by Lake Como. Intersecting the tract, though most of the acreage lay below it, was the southwest-northeast Arlington Heights Boulevard, which joined West 7th Street to provide easy access to the business district. That drainage was excellent owing to the high ground and to the presence of sub-surface gravel, the inspectors could see for themselves since it came a downpour during their visit.

Besides the Arlington Heights tract, the committee offered to provide, all without cost to the government, large acreages a short [17] distance to the west for a rifle range and a trench system, a railroad spur, a hard-surface road from downtown, and telephone and utility connections. Needless to say, the officers recommended the selection of the Arlington Heights site. It was, however, June 11 before the War Department announced that Fort Worth had been selected for a National Guard camp and yet another month before it authorized the city to begin its part of the work.

In keeping with its policy of naming the divisional training camps after past war heroes, the War Department assigned the name Camp Bowie to the Fort Worth installation in honor of James Bowie of Alamo fame. The selection of Fort Worth as the location for Camp Bowie was not fully appreciated by at least two of Fort Worth’s competitors. Dallas, it was reported, protested to Secretary Baker that sewer conditions in Fort Worth were unsatisfactory and an Oklahoma politician groused that "northers raged in Texas," especially around Fort Worth, while McAlester, Oklahoma, had only a few days of freezing temperatures. McAlester, Dallas, and other cities that applied for camps lost out, however, not only to Fort Worth, but also to Waco, Houston, and San Antonio, which were selected by the War Department as sites for the establishment of Camps MacArthur, Logan, and Travis. Of the four Texas camps, three were National Guard while Camp Travis was National Army.19

Selecting the sites was easier than building the posts. Construction was assigned to the semi-independent Cantonment Division of the Quartermaster Department headed by Colonel Isaac W. Littell. The War Department wanted all National Army cantonments ready for occupancy by September 1, 1917, and expected the National Guard camps, which required only minimum wooden construction, to be useable before that date.

The problems involved in building the 32 military "cities" so quickly were staggering. To save time the War Department let contracts to reputable construction firms on a cost-plus-a-fixed-profit basis without taking bids. It made an agreement on wages, hours, and working conditions with the labor union leader Sam Gompers. And the Cantonment Division scrounged for raw materials in competition with other military bureaus charged with constructing airfields, hospitals, munition plants, and the like. The posts were still incomplete by September; nevertheless, they were far enough along to begin bringing in troops. Secretary [18] Baker subsequently boasted that the completion of "the housing enterprise" almost on schedule was "one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the war."

No doubt without the cooperation of the interested localities, the rapid raising of the posts would not have been possible. Surely no other city cooperated more eagerly than Fort Worth in the erection of Camp Bowie. By early July Fort Worth had secured the use of Arlington Heights without charge from the landowners and had "made all plans and specifications, estimated costs, procured materials and men" and was "ready to begin laying mains for water and sewerage the very hour that the word ‘go’ is given."

Presently the War Department ordered construction to begin and Fort Worth and the Cantonment Division went to work. The arrivals of Captains James H. Proctor, R. A. Pellinger, Horace S. Baker, Marion M. Lee, and L. M. Purcell; the signing of a construction contract with the Thompson Construction Company of Dallas on July 18; the establishment of a quartermaster headquarters on July 23; and the erection of a timekeeper office on July 25 signaled the beginning of construction. Lumber, gravel, cement, and other raw materials plus the trucks with which to haul them from the railroad yards were soon arriving almost daily and almost 3,500 laborers were toiling in the hot Texas sun. By early August the camp was literally alive "with pedestrians, automobiles, wagons, and auto trucks carrying supplies" and "scores of workmen" were "busy with hammer, saw and pick." The dust kicked up by the heavy traffic was so "thick" that it was necessary to sprinkle the roads with water until they could be oiled and in some instances graveled.

The work had seemingly just begun when Captain Baker announced on August 7 that the camp was "half completed." The Stove Foundry Road had been improved, 40 miles of streets had been laid out, sites for the various military units had been located, and 150 buildings had been put up. By August 21, 900 structures, including mess halls, warehouses, bathhouses, and latrines, dotted the landscape. Simultaneously with the quartermaster construction, the city was digging trenches and laying water pipes, the Texas and Pacific and Frisco Railroads were completing a spur to the warehouses, the telephone company was installing its [19] first exchange, and tents, cots, blankets, chewing tobacco, uniforms, and other items for the troops were arriving by "carload lots." In response to pressure from Colonel Littell, Captain Baker designated August 24 as the date Camp Bowie would be ready for occupancy.

Although Camp Bowie was completed enough by late August to receive the troops, much work remained to be done. Construction on the base hospital did not begin until August 27 and it was not completed until October 22; it was months later before the wiring and especially the plumbing were installed. The big rifle range just west of the camp was not opened until November 26 though it was used before that time by instructors to train other instructors. Also finished in November were tent floors and walls, the guard house, the gas instruction chamber, and the remount station.

The Cantonment Division closed shop at Camp Bowie in November, 1917, leaving the remainder of the construction to be done under the direction of the post quartermaster. Buildings were added until, in July, 1918, there were nearly 3,000. The task of laying out and digging the great Benbrook trench system near the rifle range and completing and keeping repaired the camp road network fell largely upon the 36th Division engineers.

As finally established Camp Bowie proper consisted of 1,410.5 acres, the rifle range encompassed 756 acres, and the Benbrook trench system embraced 125 acres. Besides the tracts secured by Fort Worth, the 36th leased large acreages west of Benbrook and near Weatherford for the use of the field artillery. The total cost of the entire Camp Bowie facility to the government was $3,400,000.20

The same city and civic leaders who obtained Camp Bowie also succeeded in having an airfield located at Fort Worth. It consisted of three wings at Hicks, Everman and Benbrook and was known as Taliaferro Field. The three aviation camps were used to train American and British pilots and played a role in the training of the 36th Division. In mid-November, 1917, 75 planes were on the flight line at the Benbrook field just southwest of Camp Bowie. Many soldiers and civilians saw their first airplane at Fort Worth during World War I.21

That the location of the two military bases at Fort Worth was worth the trouble and monetary outlay to the city was apparent [20] even before they were completed. According to the Star-Telegram in October, 1917, the Thompson Construction Company had spent over $1,100,000 for materials and labor mostly in Fort Worth. What promised greater financial reward to the city was the large military payroll, particularly at Camp Bowie, which in its first month of occupancy alone amounted to half a million dollars. The servicemen themselves not only patronized the local commercial establishments, but the army also purchased supplies in this city. Much of the moneys spent in acquiring the two bases stayed in Fort Worth. The Northern Texas Traction Company was out $125,000 in extending street car service, Tarrant County disbursed $65,000 for improvement of a road leading to Camp Bowie; and the city itself expended $50,000 for the laying of water mains. There may have been unforeseen problems such as the strain placed on the police force owing to the increased traffic and large crowds and on the public schools as the result of military families moving in during the 36th’s training period, but on the whole Fort Worth’s economy boomed during the war.22

In some five months time the National Guard was called up and the National Army was created and 32 training camps were established for their use. The Texas and Oklahoma National Guards were enlarged and brought to war strength by the organization of new units and the addition of some 16,000 officers and men. And Camp Bowie to which they were assigned for training was located and built in Fort Worth.

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