36th Division in World War I

Chapter III:
Camp Bowie

Perhaps no "amusement structure" was patronized more after its opening on March 31 than the Liberty Theater. It was located in front of divisional headquarters and west of the library facility; had a seating capacity of 2,000; offered concerts, vaudeville acts, lectures, and movies; and was one of 42 established in the training camps by the Commission. The entertainment was free to servicemen, thanks to the money raised through the local sales of "Smileage" coupon books to civilians. One famous performer at the Camp Bowie theater was Margaret Wilson, the President’s daughter, who sang to overflow audiences there and at other places on April 3-4. Other noted singers at Camp Bowie were Enid Watkins, Freda Starr, and Daisy Polk. The classics, traditional ballads, hymns, and patriotic songs were always well-received by the men.

Private, fraternal, and civic groups contributed nearly as much as the welfare organizations toward making the 36th’s training period tolerable. Fort Worth was so enraptured by the 36th that one wonders if the city alone might not have provided adequately for the men’s social well-being had there been no Commission or national welfare organizations. The exclusive Fort Worth and Glen Garden Country Clubs made their facilities available and the elite River Crest Country Club north of camp offered special memberships. The last-mentioned club, with its fine golf links, tennis courts, polo grounds, smoking and ball rooms, and plentiful social activities, which included a dinner-dance every Saturday night, was the most popular. Needless to say, these swank clubs were patronized mainly by officers.

A variety of entertainment was offered by the Chamber of Commerce, the Elks Club, the Ad Club, and other such groups. The Elks Club handed over its excellent ballroom for "special dances" every Wednesday night and the Ad Club and Chamber sponsored countless social and athletic events. The Federation of Women’s Clubs operated a recreational canteen at the Soldiers Club on Monroe Street where the men could read, snack, listen to music, talk to girls, and dance. Girls for duty at the canteen, and for numerous other occasions as well, were recruited and supervised by the church and club ladies of Fort Worth.

[77] The city opened all parks to the soldiers and gave Trinity Park to them for the duration. Lake Worth was a favorite boating, fishing, and swimming spot. Local movie houses were opened on Sunday and despite church opposition remained open because the Sammies demanded it and Greble believed movies were the "best and most beneficial" means of entertaining the troops on Sunday. The men were admitted free to horse shows at the Fort Worth Coliseum and many were invited guests in the homes of private citizens. Every entertainment scheduled by the various organizations and groups was listed in a separate column of the Sunday issue of the Star-Telegram. Camp news was dispensed not only by the daily Star-Telegram, but also by three less-frequently published papers devoted to military news, the Texahoma Bugler, known at first as the Camp Bowie News; the Pass In Review; and the Reconnaissance.

While some Protestant denominations objected to Sunday movies and public dances, the sixteen Fort Worth churches did their share to make the boys feel at home. The First Baptist Church allowed restricted use of its swimming pool, the First Presbyterian Church held regular social hours, and the First Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran Churches were known for their hot biscuit suppers. Several churches built tabernacles and houses on the post. The doors of all churches were open to soldiers for Sunday worship. A careful count in March, 1918, showed 10,075 men in attendance at the regular services and 4,385 present at 65 church functions. The 36th contained its quota of chaplains, but there was no money for chapels. Although the chaplains presumably conducted services in the welfare halls, their main duty was seemingly to provide religious counseling.12

The 36th soldiers contributed much of their own entertainment through the formation of bands, singing groups, and athletic teams. The Commission encouraged these activities mainly because they kept the boys "good" while the military favored them because they were morale boosters and, in the case of athletics, a means of conditioning the troops.

Carl Venth and Sam Losh, local band and song masters, respectively, were appointed by the Commission as leaders of the 36th bandsmen and singers. It is not too much to say that the regimental and separate-unit bands performed almost constantly in camp and in the city. They played for nearly every ceremony, [78] celebration, party, dance, social, and sports event on the schedule and gave countless concerts. The greatest concerts of them all were held on the Sunday afternoons of April 28 and May 12, 1918, by the consolidated military bands and a 36th singing group before huge audiences at the Fort Worth Coliseum.

The majority of Sammies did not, of course, play instruments however well they liked band music, but all could sing. Greble instructed his commanders to encourage the men to sing on marches and Losh assembled whole regiments at a time to drill them "in songs for the hike." Losh also took the best singers from the companies, taught them as a group, and sent them back to their organizations to teach the others. Parodies were reported as "paramount in the camp" and one favorite was The Sour Apple Tree.13

The physical education program of the 36th was conducted under the general supervision of a camp athletic director. Although one of the two or three successive directors enjoyed a reputation for putting entire units through calisthenics at one time, much of the physical conditioning was accomplished through sports activities, not the least of which was boxing.

Early in November, 1917, an athletic "carnival" was held at the Chamber of Commerce Auditorium to raise money for sports equipment. Boxing was seemingly the main attraction and in the best match, Kid Gurinsky of the 131st Field Artillery knocked out Billy Jacks of the 144th Infantry. Gurinsky was later defeated twice in bouts for the camp lightweight title at the Business Men’s Athletic Club by a sensational product of the boxing program named Albert Atlas of the 132nd Machine Gun Battalion. Atlas’s last fight was on the Western Front where he was killed in action.

Boxing received added impetus in January, 1918, with the arrival of welterweight Johnny Griffiths, one of several professionals secured by the War Department to teach the manly art of self-defense in the training camps. Griffiths worked with Captain Houghton who conducted two "pep" schools, one of which graduated 700 men to teach boxing in the lower echelons. Griffiths himself fought several fights in Fort Worth. Suffice it to say that the 36th soldiers and local civilians were treated to many good boxing matches in 1917-1918.14

The greatest spectator sport at Camp Bowie was football. The training camps of 1917 teemed with former high school and [79] college stars eager to don the pads once again. It was expected that the 141st squad would sweep the opposition clean at Camp Bowie since it was formed in considerable part from the 2nd Texas Infantry whose team, because of its lopsided victories on the border, was acclaimed as "one of the greatest ... in the history of the game." Unfortunately for the 141st, however, a number of the 2nd Texas stars, including K. L. Berry, future Adjutant General of Texas, left the Guard after their border service to attend officer training camp.

For a time, until the mergers of October, 1917, the 2nd Texas and other Guard units fielded teams just as before. The 2nd Texas and later the 141st, led by quarterback Grady (Rat) Watson, made a fine showing, but there was no doubt after the 141st barely won over Texas Christian University that hard times were ahead. During November the 141st was defeated by the Camp MacArthur (32nd Michigan-Wisconsin) divisional squad in Waco and by the 111th Engineers, which, like the other Camp Bowie teams, was loaded with college talent. Rank was not observed and therefore the football rosters contained the names of both officers and enlisted men.

By early December, only two teams remained undefeated; these were the 111th Engineers and the 142nd Infantry. The latter eleven, sparked by two Oklahoma Indians named Harold C. Mahseet and Tex Richards, who had played for Oklahoma A&M and the Haskell Indian School, respectively, was on Sunday afternoon, December 16, edged by the 111th Engineers 7 to 6 for the camp championship at Panther Park before some 4,000 exuberant fans. The crowd, a relatively light one due to the cold weather, would have been smaller had Greble not lifted the quarantine discussed above for the occasion.

Pride in the new divisional units created in October was greatly stimulated by the several football teams. Pride in the 36th received a boost by Camp MacArthur’s claim to the Southern Department championship on the grounds it had defeated Camps Logan, Travis, and Bowie. The Waco squad had, of course, won only over a regimental team from Camp Bowie. The unhappiness over the claim produced a plan for a divisional team to be coached by J. E. Pixlee, the camp athletic director, and a game was actually scheduled with the University of Oklahoma, but owing to the lateness of the season and the departure of so many players for [80] home during the Christmas holidays, the project was scrapped.15

Basketball and baseball teams also abounded at Camp Bowie. Unit basketball squads during the winter engaged city all-star teams as well as each other. The best five was the "fast" 142nd Infantry composed of Indians led by Tex Richards. The best baseball team was the 111th Sanitary Train which won consistently against 36th, Fort Worth, and Dallas nines and late in June, 1918, defeated the 142nd 8 to I at Panther Park for the camp title. Several Indians adorned the 142nd lineup while former minor leaguers, one of them pitcher Jimmy Zinn, graced the 111th roster. The 111th was handled by Major Thomas J. McCammant, who had managed a professional team at El Paso. In July the Camp Bowie titleholder lost the army camp championship of the Southwest to a Fort Sam Houston team. Baseball was not only a popular spectator sport, it was also played at the lowest levels by the troops who formed teams for both organized and spontaneous games.16

The 36th Sammies were also entertained and exercised by military drills, stunts, exhibitions, and horse shows at various functions in Fort Worth. Many participated in a benefit horse show sponsored by the War Camp Community Service board in September, 1917, and in the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show the following March. The men were also kept in shape through field and track competition. And athletic contests of all kinds were engaged in on several afternoon "half holidays" during the spring.

That the men had plenty to do both on and off duty seems obvious enough. Although 25 percent or more were allowed to go into town during their leisure hours and stay until 10 P.M., or later on certain occasions, it appears that most preferred on work days to rest and relax in camp. On paydays there was "some but not much" gambling of "all types." The greatest number of troops in Fort Worth was generally on Saturday night and the largest crowd of civilians in camp was usually on Sunday when relatives and friends came to visit and sightseers to gape. During the early weeks of Camp Bowie "Kodakers" shot up the post, but a War Department order put an end to civilian picture-taking except by permission. Numerous military photos were made in 1917-1918 and commercial photographer Roy Jernigan of Fort Worth captured every organization and many activities on film for profit and posterity.

[81] For those boys homesick for the farm, there was work to be done in the several "war gardens" which were planted about camp with the encouragement of the War Department to help supply the messes with vegetables. The produce reduced government expenses and contributed to the general food supply. Farming was essential to the war effort and during the spring, the 36th furloughed hundreds of farm boys in order that they might go home and labor in the fields.17

If the 36th’s record as of March 1, 1918, of 13 desertions, the fewest of any camp in the country, is any indication, the Texans and Oklahomans were generally a contented lot. The only real trouble the command experienced along this line, according to Colonel Williams, was the holiday AWOLs who left camp on a lark and soon returned. Nevertheless, the individualistic Southwesterners did not take readily to military discipline, which they regarded as strict. Major Wren in July reported 301 general court martials, 6,071 summary court offenses, and 473 special court cases as having terminated in guilty verdicts and subsequently reviewed for the nine months beginning in September, 1917. Many trials, the former county judge observed, had ended in acquittal. One of those that resulted in a conviction was that of a private in Company D, 111th Ammunition Train, who "cussed out" the army in the presence of his company commander. In another instance, a private in Company B, 133rd Machine Gun Battalion, pleaded guilty to striking his sergeant on the head with a tent pole. Nearly everybody "ached," to use the word of Private White, and there were probably many men like Ralph A. Beegle of Alva, Oklahoma, who could hardly wait to "get away from Bowie," but the vast majority of complaints were typical of any large assemblage of soldiers.18

Williams attributed the low desertion rate to Greble’s having developed "a fighting, military spirit" among the men. Greble does not deserve all the credit because much of what was done to maintain morale was dictated from above. Moreover, the Guardsmen arrived at Camp Bowie anxious to go "right into the trenches." Nevertheless, the general deserves much credit for his diligent execution of policy.

One device employed by Greble to promote spirit and pride, which was by no means uncommon in the training camps, was to authorize the adoption of a divisional sobriquet. In January, [82] 1918, Major Wren announced to visiting members of the Women’s Patriotic League of Waco and McLennan County, who presented Greble with a "silken, starry battle flag" for the division to take to France, that the 36th would thenceforth be known as the "Panther Division" in honor of Fort Worth, the Panther City. "We’ll do it in spite of hell" and The Panthers Are Coming, an adaptation of The Campbells Are Coming, were selected as the divisional motto and song, respectively. The motto in Latin and a fighting panther were featured on a red, white, and blue crest, which was displayed on military vehicles and engraved on jewelry for purchase by the troops. The unofficial insignia together with a new divisional flag containing the letters "thirty-six" stamped thereon were exhibited at a ball in Greble’s honor at the River Crest Country Club on Wednesday night, January 30.19

Perhaps nothing was more inspirational to soldiers and civilians alike than the several reviews held to practice the officers and men in mass movement and/or to provide patriotic entertainment to the public. On August 3, 1917, Major Golding’s 1st Texas Cavalry troopers passed in review at the burgeoning site of Camp Bowie to the cheers of 4,000 appreciative spectators. After two practice sessions near Lake Como, General Hutchings’s 71st Brigade paraded before Governors Hobby and Robert L. Williams and lesser politicians at the ceremonial opening of the Benbrook rifle range on November 21. As the troops marched smartly by the bands struck up Goodbye Broadway, Hello France, a half-dozen planes droned overhead, and about 10,000 Texans and Oklahomans who jammed the roads in "miles and miles" of cars shouted their approval.

Late in February, 1918, Greble reviewed the entire division south of Lake Como. The bands played, a movie camera operator took motion pictures for the War Department, and a flight of planes flew so low over the marchers that the mules pulling the vehicles threatened to bolt. The review, which was supposed to be secret, was witnessed by some 3,000 people who came out in about 1,000 autos.

The greatest review of them all was held in Fort Worth on Thursday, April 11, as a "parting gift to the people of Texas and Oklahoma" and as "a farewell" to Greble who had recently been declared physically unfit to lead the Panthers to Europe. Ten miles of noisy crowds, estimated to number 150,000 persons in the [83] Dallas Morning News and 225,000 in the Star-Telegram, watched the 25,000 or more Panthers, 5,000 draft animals, and 1,200 vehicles file past for nearly three hours. From airplanes circling high in the sky "the military column ... resembled ... a long brown serpentine shape that crawled from street to street." As the units passed before Greble, Governors Hobby and Williams, and other dignitaries in the principal reviewing stand at Sixth and Main, the bands burst forth with The Panthers Are Coming, the soldiers raised their heads "a little higher and grew more erect," and "the cheering became louder." Other divisional reviews were subsequently held at Camp Bowie, but none matched the grand spectacle of April 11 for color and excitement.20

As winter turned to spring and spring to summer there was increasing speculation as to when the 36th would leave for Europe. Both 36th and visiting officers who observed the progress of training thought the division was ready and it would indeed appear, in light of later events, that the training it received after about April, 1918, however instructive it may have been, could have been lopped off the schedule without appreciable consequences. The average division of the 42 that went to France was organized eight months before it sailed. The delay in the 36th’s departure led to a joke among the men to the effect that the War Department had forgotten them.

The Panther Division had not, however, been lost in War Department paperwork. Many other divisions were ready at about the same time and all could not be transported overseas at once. On May 16 Greble received "warning orders" that the 36th would soon be leaving Camp Bowie. That the 36th’s turn to ship out was near was evident to the men in June when Greble put the entire division through a "practice packing" and new "dog tags" containing only individual serial numbers were issued. Identification tags distributed the previous February had given each man’s organization and might have provided information beneficial to the enemy. At long last, on July 2, the order to move out was received.21

Although the 36th was in July, 1918, no better trained than the majority of other National Guard divisions, it was prepared as well as it could be, given the problems with which it had to deal and the resources with which it had to work. From the standpoint of morale, the 36th rated superior thanks in large measure to General Greble, the Commission on Training Camp Activities, the social welfare organizations, and the citizenry and City of Fort Worth. The Panthers now had a long way to travel; the front, however, was already looming on the horizon.

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Panthers to Arrowheads: The 36th (Texas-Oklahoma) Division In World War I
by Lonnie J. White
Copyright 1984 1998 by Military History Associates, Inc.
All Rights Reserved - Reprinted by Permission
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