|SPOTTED PIGS AND RUN-AWAY KIDS
I am a re-enactor. There! I said it, and I'm glad! It's nothing to ashamed of. It happens in the best of families. I make this confession only because it was while trying to find a Spanish American War unit to re-enact that I stumbled across Dallas' first Boys of Summer, the summer of 1898, Company K, 2nd Texas volunteer Infantry, The Dallas Guard Zouaves.
I don't blame you if you don't know much about Americas' war with Spain. It is hardly mentioned in history classes any more. There may be some passing reference to Teddy Roosevelt (who ever he was) charging up some hill somewhere, but that's about all. So why would anybody want to re-enact this? Let us just say that Civil War re-enacting has been done.
My goal was to find an authentic local unit to represent. A check of the Dallas historical and heritage societies provided some information. The Dallas Morning News' microfilm collection produced a little more. Finally, with the help of the Texas State Archives in Austin, a story began to unfold: not just a story of some obscure infantry company, but a picture of the summer of 1898. Of a time when Dallas bragged of having the only cable cars south of St. Louis and that most of her streets were lighted by electricity, a very familiar picture of growth, prosperity, and of being more than just a little arrogant. I began to feel very comfortable with that summer one hundred and ten years ago.
It was the custom in the late nineteenth century for any self-respecting town to have at least one militia. The Bull of the Trinity, as folks liked to call Dallas, had several. They were little more than heavily armed social clubs, manned by the sons of the city's elite. They wore gaudy uniforms and paraded on the Fourth of July. On one occasion, the Dallas Light Artillery, did break up a railroad strike in Fort Worth, but they were never meant to go to war. Dallas even had an all Black militia, but unfortunately I can find no more information about it other than it did exist
But when the battleship USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor on February 15th, 1898, these small town militias began stepping all over each other for the privilege of going to war. REMEMBER THE MAINE AND TO HELL WITH SPAIN! and íCUBA LIBRE! (free Cuba!) could be heard at every street corner from New York to San Francisco. Newspapers and politicians made much hay by fanning the flames of war! Cowboys, ploughboys, and schoolboys from all over North Texas poured into Dallas, trying to join one of the newly formed Texas volunteer regiments, to go with heroes like Colonel Louis M. Openheimer, to take liberty, justice and the American way to Cuba, and to free the oppressed people of the Philippines. In reality, it looked like a lot of fun to a bunch of bored North Texas kids. And at $13 a month, who could resist? It had been so long since America had fought a real war that we had forgotten just what that meant. As one old wag said, "Two months ago the typical American didn't know if the Philippines was an island or canned goods, but now they're ready to go to war over the place."
As the 2nd Texas Volunteer Regiment grew, the city was compelled to find food and lodging for it. Soldiers were housed all over downtown. The Dallas Zouaves were quartered in stores near the southwest corner of Elm and Hawkins. The barracks of the Trezevant rifles was situated at the corner of Main and Harwood. Newspaper reports of the day tell how the good folks of Dallas enjoyed watching the regiment drill in the streets of downtown.
The old West Dallas brickyard was turned into a cavalry post for a time. It was here that Troop C, of the 1st Texas Volunteer regiment trained. If you got bored watching the infantry do bayonet drill, you could just hop over to the west side and watch a practice saber charge. Now that's entertainment.
Dallasites could not do enough for their soldier boys. Stores offered discounts to soldiers. The MK&T Railroad assured any of its employees, who might wish to leave and join the army or navy, that they would find their jobs waiting for them upon honorable discharge. Groups of patriotic young ladies visited the various companies and helped keep moral high by singing popular songs. No one could say that Dallas didn't know how to treat its brave, young soldiers. There was only one problem: The regiment had no money. By May there were hundreds of young, bored, and unemployed men hanging around downtown and folks were beginning to wonder just when they were going to leave.
Finally orders came to move the troops to Camp Mabry near Austin. To get the regiment on its way a special train was put together. It is hard to say whether or not the town was glad to see them go, but the paper talks about how quickly the train was put together. This began what may have been the most uncolorful military campaign Texas has ever seen. And I am proud to say that it began in my hometown.
Just before Troop C left for the war, the ladies of Dallas presented them with a proper Texas flag to carry into battle. Remember, in those days we were Texans first and Americans second. I wonder what happened to that flag? It is not the kind of thing one would lose.
Their stay in Austin was short, just long enough to be issued ill-fitting clothing and obsolete weapons. Not being national troops, they were issued the old single-shot 45/70 rifles, a deadly accurate weapon, but which puffed out a cloud of smoke roughly the size of a cow. They were told that this was a good thing because they could hide behind the smoke. I don't see how that would have been much help rushing Spanish machine guns.
Their time at Camp Mabry was also spent waiting for other units to arrive and flesh out the regiments. They came from all over the state. Groups like the Fort Worth Fencibles and the Mexia Minute Men. All with the same boyish innocence as to what they were about to get into. But on May 13, 1898 the regiments were sworn into the service of the United States of America and on May 20th the regiments were put onto another special train and sent to Florida, which was to be the jumping off point to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and any place the war might take them. Unfortunately, by the time the soldiers got to Miami, the government felt that it had sent enough troops to the war. Our noble lads spent several weeks camped out in a swamp, fighting mosquitoes. One Dallas soldier described Florida as "the foulest place on earth." Of course this was long before Walt Disney World.
In July they were moved north to Jacksonville, which was only marginally better. They were grouped with other state troops, who were also not going to war, at a place called Camp Cuba Libre. What the regiment had missed in Spanish bullets was made up for with yellow jack (yellow fever), malaria, and dysentery. It was here that the regiment sustained its casualties. Clarence Riley died of chloroform poising during surgery, and George Proctor died of dysentery.
Camp Cuba Libre must not have been all bad. I have seen a few photographs from the place. One is of a group of men holding a small spotted pig. I have no idea what was meant by that, but everyone seemed to be happy.
To be continued...