Arkansas in the Great War Part I: Mobilizing the State for War

Arkansas State Archives

Welcome to the Arkansas State Archives' exhibit exploring the role of Arkansas in the First World War.  This exhibit will present rare photographs and documents from the collection of the ASA to present a unique visual experience that will tell the story of Arkansans in the war.  In this first part of a three-part series, we will examine Arkansas on the eve of war and how Arkansans pulled together to prepare themselves for the challenge ahead.

Arkansas on the Eve of War
In the years leading up to the United States entering the First World War, Arkansas was an agrarian state slowly modernizing. The early twentieth century found the state on the precipice of progress and industrialization. Cities and towns were growing, businesses were being established and the state could see the promise of a bright future on the horizon. Nothing symbolized the state's rising economic power more than the new capitol building under construction in the center of Little Rock.  In 1910, a photographer snapped this image showing the skeleton of what would be the most recognizable part of the building. 

Tenant Farmers pick cotton on W.F. Tate's farm near Camden, Arkansas, 1912.
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Farming continued to be Arkansas's main source of wealth, however. In 1908, there were 232,604 farms in the state. Almost half of those were worked by tenant farmers, who would lease a farm and work it in exchange for a share of the crop. Here, tenant farmers pick cotton on W.F. Tate's cotton farm near Camden, Arkansas.

Log train for G.F. Bethel sawmill, 1903.
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Economically, Arkansas was on the rise. The coming of the railroad allowed for the development of new industries in the state. Improved transportation increased the chances of success for those industries. The timber industry was just one of the businesses in Arkansas that greatly benefited from the establishment of better transportation. The expansion of railroads made it easier to transport timber to sawmills.

Little Rock, Arkansas, 1915.
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While agriculture remained Arkansas's main source of revenue, manufacturing increased over the first decade of the twentieth century. The 1910 census recorded Arkansas manufactured products valued at $39,888,000 in 1899. The year before, manufactured goods in Arkansas soared in value to $74,916,000. Most manufacturing took place in the timber industry as lumber mills churned out furniture and building materials. Of Arkansas's 2,925 manufacturing establishments in 1909, 1,607 were involved in the timber industry. As the second decade of the twentieth century opened, Arkansas had emerged as a strong New South state: Progressive, Democratic, and with rapid economic growth.

Governor Charles Hillman Brough, 1918.
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On the eve of war, Arkansas's economic prosperity was echoed by support for progressive policies. Among these policies was the drive to provide compulsory education for juveniles, improvement in the public health system, and women's suffrage. The state was led by a former college professor, Governor Charles Hillman Brough. Brough embraced these causes during his time as governor.

President Wilson's War Address to Congress and Proclamation, 1917.
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In August 1914, long simmering conflicts among Europe's great powers erupted into a world-wide war. The United States initially avoided being dragged into the struggle, but attacks by German U-boats on ships in the Atlantic brought a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Germany. On April 6, 1917, the United States joined the alliance with Britain and France and declared war on Germany.

Building Camp Pike
After the U.S. declared war, army officials began the arduous task of establishing military training camps across the country. Within a few months, the decision was made to build an army training camp in Pulaski County, Arkansas.  Dubbed Camp Pike after the explorer Zebulon Pike, the camp was designed to hold a division of soldiers, or approximately 38,000 men. 

Army Post Development Company $25 share certificate, 1917.
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Little Rock's Board of Commerce was influential in Camp Pike's establishment. They met in May 1917 to discuss ways to attract an army post to central Arkansas. Their main concern was having enough money to purchase land and equipment for a proposed camp. Board members established the Army Post Development Company, which issued $25 shares to investors. Within weeks, the company had raised $233,000.

John R. Fordyce, circa 1917.
PHC7086

John R. Fordyce (1869-1939), a native Arkansan with prior construction experience in building bathhouses in Hot Springs, enlisted as a major in the Engineers' Reserve Corps and assumed command of Camp Pike's construction in the spring of 1917.

Map of Arkansas, circa 1917.
Map 1995

The Army Post Development Company purchased a portion of land in Pulaski County for the training ground. The camp was close enough to railroad lines to make it an attractive site. On June 11, 1917, the United States government approved the camp and construction began within days.

Camp Pike, July 1, 1917.
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Building the camp required a sizeable labor force, which meant recruiting workers not just from around the state but also from other parts of the country, as well. In June, workers began to arrive at Camp Pike. The labor force in the camp peaked at 9,734 workers. The largest challenge presented to those overseeing construction was the frequent labor turnover in the camp due to men being drafted into the army or choosing to return home to work their farms.

List of buildings at Camp Pike, 1917.
John Fordyce Papers

Preliminary plans for the camp proposed 1,653 separate buildings, including a 77-building hospital complex. Work began the week of June 18, 1917. Construction crews began feverishly building at a breakneck pace. They completed the first building, an officer's quarters, on June 29, 1917.

To Camp Pike Workmen broadside, 1917.
SMC.139.14

Building the camp was serious business and speed was a necessary component. Early in the planning, Major Fordyce arranged for lumber shipments from Louisiana. After deciding that might set back construction, Fordyce arranged with an Arkansas lumber company, the Arkansas Soft Pine Bureau, to furnish lumber instead.

Wooden building at Camp Pike, 1918.
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Since the supply was local, lumber was easily and quickly obtained. The camp averaged eighty to one hundred lumber cars a day. On some days, as much as one million feet of lumber flowed into camp.

Training an Army
When the first Arkansans began arriving at Camp Pike for training, mothers across the state worried about their sons.  To soothe the worries, the editor of the Harrison Times wrote, "You mothers who have sent your sons to Camp Pike need have no fear for the welfare of your loved one.  He is coming back to you a masterpiece wrought out of the rather queer pieces of humanity you sent to be done over by master workmen, headed by Major General Samuel D. Sturgis."  Sturgis' command had a lot of work on its hands.  Over the two years that Camp Pike operated as a training ground, 22,291 soldiers passed through its gates.  The Times editor wrote that within a month those young warriors "are a magnificent bit of a fighting machine that will carry Old Glory to its victory for democracy."

Governor's Proclamation, June 1917.
Charles Hillman Brough Scrapbook

At the beginning of 1917, there were only approximately 121,000 soldiers in the entire United States Army. In order to build up the armed forces, the United States Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917, which allowed for a draft of all men aged 21 to 30. Officials set June 5 as the official draft registration day, encouraging all draft eligible men to register on that day. Framing the coming conflict as a struggle "for the defense of our country and of the rights of mankind," Governor Brough issued a proclamation making registration day a state holiday.

Recruits in line for draft registration, June 5, 1917.
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On June 5, 1917, recruits lined up throughout the state to register for the draft. By the end of the day, 149,097 young men between the age of 21 and 30 had put their names on the draft rolls.

Tom Atkisson and Two Sons Held, Arkansas Gazette, September 11, 1917.

While most draftees complied with the law, there were pockets of resistance throughout Arkansas. One resistant group was the Jehovah's Witnesses, pacifists who dissented from the war. In September 1917, a group of Jehovah's Witnesses led by the Atkisson family in Cleburne County got into a shootout with Cleburne County deputies who had arrived at the Atkisson home to arrest the draft evaders. One deputy was killed and the Atkissons escaped into the woods. They eventually surrendered and were jailed.

New recruits at Camp Pike, circa 1918.
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Many young draftees had never left their small towns before. Life at Camp Pike away from family and friends was a first for so many. Governor Brough, during a visit to Camp Pike to greet arriving soldiers, addressed the audience, "You have left homes of love and affection, where, for years, you have been enshrined in the father's devotion and wrapped in a mother's tenderness; you have left fields of cotton and waving grain, vocal with the praises of the happy husbandman and replete with the gladness of the re-warded toiler; many of you have sacrificed lucrative positions in marts of trade to endure the hardships of camp life and the dangers of the far flung battle line - all for the honor of your country and the glory of your flag."

Inspection of Sleeping Quarters postcard, 1918.
Ogden Scrapbook

For some recruits, barracks life was a surprise. Benjamin Franklin Clark, a schoolteacher from Enders, Arkansas, wrote to his friend, Flora Hamilton, and described a typical day at Camp Pike, saying, "We have to get up at 6:00 a.m. get in full uniform and line up for "Reveille" (roll call) at 6:18. And we have to hustle around for we have so much lacing to do. We have breakfast at 6:30, dinner at 12:30 and supper at 5:20. We stand for retreat at 6:00 p.m. after which we can do as we please. Our lights in the barracks go out at 9:00 but we may be out until eleven."

Rug toss at Camp Pike, 1918.
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The National Council of Defense urged local councils to develop "wholesome activities" for soldiers at camp in order to keep them away from "the moral hazards which have too often been connected with camp life." As a result, towns in central Arkansas shut down pool halls, which were considered dens of iniquity. They also cracked down on prostitution. Nefarious distractions were replaced with free concerts, movies, and sports as a means of safeguarding soldiers' morals.

Gunnery plane at Eberts Field, 1918.
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As soldiers began training at Camp Pike, the army established a separate training site for pilots in Arkansas, choosing land near the town of Lonoke. The field was christened Eberts Field for Melchior Eberts, an officer who had died in a plane crash just months before in California. Construction began on the site in December 1917. The pilots trained on JF-4D airplanes. Because the airfield was next to a cemetery, the planes were grimly nicknamed "Flying Coffins."

Eberts Field, 1918.
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The full training course for cadets was sixty days. Training began with preliminary course work in airplane mechanics, followed by a course in the science of flight. The final part of their training was, as the Arkansas Gazette
reported, to be "convert[ed] into the war eagles soon to be released from the battlefronts of France for the undoing of the Huns."

The Arkansas State Archives
Credits: Story


This exhibit was funded in part by a grant from the Arkansas Community Foundation.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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