Imagine the Fort Worth of a century ago. Imagine what the Star-Telegram at the time described as “a wind-swept, untrampled tract of a prairie” on the western edge of town (today’s Casa Manana would be at that edge). Now imagine that in just three months that wind-swept, untrampled tract of prairie would become decidedly trampled, would become transformed, would become a city of thirty thousand people—the population of Cleburne or Waxahachie or Farmers Branch.
But this instant city would be different. It would have a rifle range, an artillery range, battlefield trenches. And its population of thirty thousand would be mostly male. This was the Army’s Camp Bowie in the summer of 1917, and in terms of America’s response to our declaration of war against Germany in World War I, Camp Bowie was Camp Quick.
Think of it: The United States declared war on April 6. In late May Fort Worth city officials proposed that the Army build one of its planned mobilization camps just west of town.
On June 11 the War Department announced that Fort Worth had indeed been selected for a National Guard mobilization camp.
Camp Bowie would be “operated like a separate city, with the best of water, gas, electric, telephone and street car service.” Northern Texas Traction Company said the route of its Arlington Heights line would be changed to accommodate the camp. Part of the line would also be double-tracked.
Construction of Camp Bowie began on July 18, 1917 as the Army’s 36th Infantry Division was organized from Texas and Oklahoma National Guard troops. Camp commander was Edwin St. John Greble (he not only graduated from West Point but also was born at West Point). (Photo from How It Happened and Other Poems.)
On July 23 the Star-Telegram announced that as many as thirty-five thousand soldiers might train at the new camp.
Almost 3,500 construction workers swarmed over the site of the camp, working in Texas summer heat. By August 21 they had used millions of board-feet of lumber to build nine hundred structures, including mess halls, warehouses, and supply depots.
The city, local utilities, and the Army acted with speed that today seems amazing. On August 9 the Star-Telegram announced arrival of the first troops at the camp. Even in the heat of August the Army had to anticipate winter at the camp: Sixty thousand cords of wood had been ordered. By August 9 the camp was declared 65 percent finished—just twenty-four days after construction began. On August 24 Camp Bowie was opened officially.
Things continued to happen fast at Camp Quick. By October the camp had thirty thousand troops. (Fort Worth’s civilian population at the time was about ninety-five thousand.) (Photo from The Capsule, a publication of the camp hospital.)
The camp was bisected by Arlington Heights Boulevard (today’s Camp Bowie Boulevard) and a streetcar line and was bounded roughly on the north by White Settlement Road, the south by Vickery Boulevard, the east by University Drive, and the west by Lake Como. The divisional headquarters was just north of the intersection of Camp Bowie Boulevard and Crestline Road. The base hospital was just south of the intersection of Camp Bowie Boulevard and Byers Avenue. And if in 1918 you stood where Arlington Heights High School is today, you’d be learning the basics of bayonets with the men of the 71st Infantry Brigade. (Photo from the National Archives.)
Map of Camp Bowie from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”
Men of Battery D, 133rd Field Artillery, and their mascot. (Photo from Paula Tanner Thomas.)
Even as the camp began turning sons into Sammies (as in “Uncle Sam”), it continued to grow. Within weeks the camp would spread over 2,200 acres, contain nearly 3,000 buildings, twenty miles of “good graveled streets,” a hospital, a theater, an indoor pool, several YMCA facilities, a railroad spur, and a jazz band. The Sammies slept in tents, not barracks. The Star-Telegram said the camp had ten thousand horses and mules.
A city needs a newspaper, and Camp Bowie had three. Much of the front page of The Reconnaissance in December 1917 was devoted to the quarantine during the Spanish influenza pandemic.
Camp Bowie’s Texahoma Bugler in November 1917 reported that the population of the camp was twenty-seven thousand.
Pass in Review was written for both Camp Bowie and Camp Taliaferro.
On September 27, 1917 the Star-Telegram reported the first birth at Camp Bowie: a boy named “Sammie Bowie.”
Local businesses welcomed the influx of Sammies. More on Fort Worth’s response to the war here. Clip is from the July 22 Star-Telegram.
“Soldier boys” were invited to ride the interurban lines to Dallas and to Cleburne and to enjoy Lake Erie trolley park. (Photo from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
Three months after the camp had opened, the war dominated the news.
Truth is the first casualty of war. Among the front page stories on December 1 was a Star-Telegram report detailing the “they say” false rumors that circulated about the camp: “They say” soldiers were deserting, spies and even civilians were being executed, spies were poisoning food and water supplies and infecting soldiers with meningitis germs. One victim of such rumors was camp nurse Ella Behrens. (Ananias was a member of the early church in Jerusalem who was guilty of deceit.)
For Fort Worth the silver lining in the dark cloud of war was the boost to the local economy provided by Camp Bowie. On December 16, 1917 a Star-Telegram writer pointed out the effect of Camp Bowie and Camp Taliaferro (three local airfields training fliers) on the local economy. (Multiply the dollar amounts by 18 for today’s equivalent.)
Camp Bowie on that “wind-swept, untrampled tract of a prairie” in 1918. (Image from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
In April 1918 the 36th Division paraded through downtown. (Image from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
By July 1918 the 36th Division was fighting in France.
Shortly after the armistice on November 11, 1918, Camp Bowie’s raison d’etre executed an about-face: The mobilization center became a demobilization center, turning Sammies back into sons.
Camp Bowie in March 1919. (Map from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
Troops began arriving at the camp for demobilization in June. Clip is from the May 31, 1919 Star-Telegram.
In late 1919 the Star-Telegram reported that Camp Bowie “is rapidly being torn down” and that “a city of modern homes” was rising in its place.
In January 1920 General Engineering Company was selling the buildings near the camp hospital. Note the Lamar phone exchange.
Most of the buildings of Camp Bowie were torn down or moved, their role in history forgotten. But now and then, . . . (Thanks to Sharon for the tip.)
The troops demobilized, the buildings dismantled, on April 6, 1920, three years after the declaration of war, the Star-Telegram announced that Camp Quick, built in a hurry on “a wind-swept, untrampled tract of a prairie,” was Camp Closed.