These are a series of letters written by local troops stationed near the Mexican border in 1916, as part of the Border Campaign.
With Our Soldier Boys In Texas
Interesting Letters From Privates L. W. Dugan and J. V. Stearns, Telling of Their Life On the Border of Texas.
(from the Andover News, August 11, 1916. Transcribed by Crist Middaugh.)
The first letter from Private L. W. Dugan, after he reached Pharr, Texas, with Co. K. From Hornell.
Pharr, Texas, July 21, 1916.
We arrived in camp at 1:30, yesterday, and it certainly was not. First of al I will tell you how glad I was to get your mail. I received a package and six letters yesterday. I enjoyed the trip very much although we had our hardships. We were eight days on the train and had our meals in a seat with two more fellows part of the time, so it was crowded, but we all enjoyed it. I was just getting used to it when we reached Pharr, Texas. We are under regular U. S. Army officers and believe me you have to carry yourself pretty straight. We have not yet received or pay but expect it about August 3rd or 4th.
We have had some bum meals so far but hope to get better son. I often think of home and wish I had some o mother’s good cooking.
The sand here is eight inches deep and there are lots of cactus. I will send you some cactus and a palm as soon as we get our pay. There was water piled her when we arrived that helped us a lot. A few minutes ago some fellows from Company L of Elmira, killed a snake five feet long. I heard some of the boys say they were going to send it to Elmira. I have seen two diamond rattlers since I have been here, one was about three feet long and the other about four and one half feet long, but I got right our of their way for I was on guard and was alone. Besides poisonous snakes here there are horned toads, poisonous spiders, lizards and red bugs. We sleep on the round and imagine those things crawling all around for it doesn’t make a fellow feel very much like going to sleep. We have a fine bunch of boys in our company. The third Regiment also has a find band.
The first thing we did yesterday was to pitch our tents which took about three house. The temperature was about 115. Some of the fellows fainted. I helped carry four to the hospital. For breakfast this morning we had one orange, four crackers and one cup of coffee; no milk or sugar.
The mosquitos are bothering me so I can hardly write and the sand flies are about as bad. About 6:00 o’clock last night we had a sand storm, after which it rained for about three hours. Some of the fellows took off part of their clothes and went out in the rain, but I could not as I was on guard. It certainly felt good to get wet. I did not put on any poncho so I got a good soaking. Everything was nice and dry this morning.
We are out three miles from the Mexican border. The town of Pharr has about 200 white people and 600 Mexicans, separate by railroad tracks. We are about 2000 strong with the 7th and 22nd Regiments with us. There are regiments along the line from Omulga, Oklohoma. Our dead line is the tracks and every man who goes across is supposed to go fully armed. When we are on guard we have orders to shoot to kill. Some of the boys get pretty lonesome as well as I do, but I am going to do my duty while I am here.
If you send anything in the line of eats please send some lemons. I wish you would send me a pipe and tobacco. We have not had any trouble so far. I wish you would find out if I can get my job back when I come home. I would rather have rooms beside yours. I did not have time to see Mr. Faisant before I left.
Well as there is not more news at present, I will close and write again tomorrow.
Aug. 4, 1916
Dear Folks at home: -
As I have been very busy fighting sand fleas, mosquitos and several other insects, I have not had much time to write, but will do the best I can at it now, as I have a little time.
We still have our routine of a soldier’s life, but have so many extra duties as it rains here every day and the land is so flat that the water lays on top of the ground until the sun comes and dries it off. It is rainy season here and the people say that they are having more rain than have had in several years. There is a very hard wind which blows with each storm and a person can always tell when a storm is coming as there is a regular storm of butterflies ahead of it. Sometimes they are so thick it looks like a snow storm in the air.
Today each man will be issued between 70 or 90 round of ammunition. A round is one bullet and they come in clips of five rounds which is one gun load. The Springfield rifle with the both action shoots five times before reloading.
We expect to go to the border soon for ten days patrol duty and then come back here to Pharr. Of course we do not know much about what is going on or find out anything. Everything is in rumors as to what we do. Some say we will be home for Thanksgiving. Others say it will be 1917, and all different rumors like the above.
The boys would be more contented if they would pay us. We have not received a cent of pay yet and prospects look slim. Still we are not suffering any for tobacco as Liggett & Myers come around and give the boys Velvet and chewing tobacco which keeps us going and is a good advertisement for them.
Each day after retreat we get our mail, and you ought to see the different facial expressions on the boys as they receive their mail and those who do not get any. That seems to be the most interesting time in the day as everyone comes around and want to know these questions: “Did you hear from home?” “How is everyone?” “Get any money or stamps?” And so on each day.
We have killed several tarantulas, scorpions and other insects in our tents and have some pickled in alcohol to bring home. A company just a few streets ahead of us killed a black diamond back rattler 5 (Not sure) feet 8 inches long, this afternoon, and he is some snake. There are several small ones hanging around the camps and most every kind of animal you can think of.
Well, as it is mess time I will close, hoping and wishing everyone at home the best of luck and that the “Andover Chautauqua” will be the finest in the country.
J. V. Stearns,
Co. K. 3rd Inf.
Victor Stearns Favors News With Another Interesting Letter From Pharr. Hard work But Having Good Time.
(from the Andover News, August 25, 1916. Transcribed by Crist Middaugh.)
Aug. 11, 1916
Well as the time rolls along and we stay here I wonder how every one in Old Andover is and if they are enjoying themselves any better than we boys on the border. Today the heat is only 100 degrees, so it is cool, and the breeze from the gulf is fine. We have had our usual gift of rain to lay the sand and make mud.
This morning we arose at 5:45 a.m. and had revile, setting-up exercises, rolled our blankets, shelter half and took our belts, picks, shovel, bowie knife, pliers, bayonet, haversack, mess kit, canteen, first-aid pack, and 70 rounds of ammunition and hiked about five miles out and back for exercise, and then had inspection. Of course one man does no carry all of that, but each one carries everything as follows in a squad. No. 1 carries a pick, No. 2, 3, and 4, shovels; No. 5 and 6 carry pliers and bowie. No. 7 is the high private and takes the corporal’s place if anything happens to him, so does not carry anything but his usual equipment, same as a corporal. In all one man’s load is about 65 pounds in heavy marching order, so you see he has some load on his back and shoulders.
We hear now, instead of going to the border that we are to take a ten day’s hike which means about miles miles a day and believe me that is enough for any of us. We will no doubt entrain for some where in our home vicinity! (means a rumor.) We have an Army and Navy Y.M.C.A. here and, as I was talking to one of the secretaries, he said that they would move the 28th of this month.
We have had our issue of hard tack, and believe me, it is hard but no trouble to eat it whatever.
At night the 3rd Regiment Band gives concerts for three regiments, and the boys try to dance on the sand. I have had the pleasure of trying it, and it was not just like a floor. We have a canteen or the 3rd has a store, or commissary store and issue books with one dollar’s worth of tickets, so we can get tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, National Biscuit Company’s box cookies and ice cream, so we are not fareing so bad now.
I have not been able to get any pictures yet, but maybe those liking pictures could get them by writing or calling on William Penoyer, on Broad Street, in Hornell, as he has developed nearly all the films taken in camp and here.
Well, I will close wishing every one good luck, and maybe the next time you hear from me it will be in person.
Co. K. #rd N.Y. Inft.
Taylor has some more pictures I just heard one of the boys say.
An Interesting Letter From Robert Ingraham, Who is With the National Guards in Pharr, Texas.
(from the Andover News, August 18, 1916.)
Dear Father, Mother and Sister:
Just a few words in reply to your kind letter. I usually do not get a chance to write letters through the week, but the sun has been so hot today we could not drill much so have a little leisure.
In order to give you a little idea as to how we spend our time I will tell you what a soldier’s routine is. We are awakened by a bugle call at 5:15. We get out and do gymnastic workout and have roll call ‘till quarter of 6:00. Then we go to the mess, or breakfast as you would say, after which we go and wash our mess kit. Then the bugle calls and all men, who are sick, report for the hospital. The remainder go back and police the street and tents, by that I mean that every match, cigarette butt and piece of paper or rubbish must be picked up and disposed of, and our beds made and tents furled up if the weather is clear.
At 7:45 we go out to drill until 11:00, when we come in and wash and get ready for mess, and after we have washed our dishes from the noon mess the men are sent out in details to do the work around camp such as digging ditches, going for wood, peeling potatoes for the cook, drawing supplies for the horses and mules and laying water lines. If a man is lucky enough to escape deal he usually has a washing to do or button to sew on or a shave to get, and at 5:30 we have another roll call. At 6:00 o’clock we have mess again and at 7:25 we go out to drill until 8:15. At 9:30 we must be in our tent, and at 10:00 all lights must be out and taps sounded. So you see we don’t have much time to write.
We see many funny sights, a door-yard with oranges, bananas and grape-fruit growing, and lemons, figs, and palms are common; Mexicans driving a horse and a burro side by side, cowboys and $5,000 touring cars side by side and everybody talking so funny.
I am feeling fine. I guess hot weather must agree with me. It is 121 at noon today in the shade of a tent, but it always gets cooler in the afternoon as the trade winds commence to blow in from the Gulf of Mexico, and the nights are just right to sleep. Just imagine, there is not a hill here as far as the eye can see. I have not seen a stone since I have been here. The ground is covered with thorns and cactus and a sort of sage brush. Where they can get irrigation water it will raise anything and is worth $300 an acre. I never saw so many snakes, bugs and flys in my life. The fleas are the worst. I cannot describe them to you.
All the boy are well except the bugler and they have sent him to a bigger hospital. I am afraid his mother is going to draw a pension, he has consumption.
Give my regards to those who enquire. I will try to send you some pictures later. I must close as it is time for retreat roll call; the bugle is blowing now.
Your loving son and brother.
Third Inft., N.G., N.Y.
A Description of a Hike and a Texas Storm…Camping on a Big Ranch, Once a Mexican Town.
(From the Andover News, September 15, 1916. Transcribed by Crist Middaugh.)
Pharr, Texas, Aug. 29
The Andover News:
After a twelve days hike we are back at Pharr and outside of a few blistered feet and sore musel are all fine. I have just received my mail and with eagerness look for the Andover News and am always figuring what day it will come. I generally get it on Tuesday or Wednesday and then it circulates camp among the Andover boys.
Our hike took us thru the following territory, we started from Pharr at 7:30 a.m. and hiked 5 miles to McAllen arrived there at 10-o’clock and made camp which consisted of our shelter half and cook shack. Each man carries on shelter half and sets his tent with the an ahead or behind him in ranks. From McAllen to Mission we were hit by a Texas Northern and most of us got wet and our provisions also, but the next day the sun came out and we were all dryed out once more. The distance from McAllen to Mission is about 6 or 8 miles, after an interesting time drying everything we had an inspection to find out if anything was lost but nothing of value was lost. We rested it being Saturday. Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m. we were p for mess and rolled our equipment and were on our way at 6 for Alton which is about 10 or 12 miles, and set camp never we were at Sterling Ranch which (words missing) Bros. do not how much land they own but by guess. Some say it is 40,000 or 50,000 acres of land and others say 30,000. So you can see it was a large Ranch. We went from Sterling Ranch to La Gloria. This place was once a Mexican town but was cleaned out by the ranger and now is deserted, they were supposed to be cattle rustlers. We had to cook our own dinner there and then reseted about 3 hours and then went back to the ranch. The distance was about 12 miles from the ranch we went to Lagoona Saca, across the desert about 14 miles and had only a canteen of water, which tasted salty and the more we drank the more we wanted, so you might say we suffered for water. We then hiked to Youngs ranch and had a regimental inspection of arms, to see if our guns and bayonets were being taken care of.
Next morning at 6 o’clock we started back toward Pharr, via Lagoon Saca, Stertling Ranch and a different route to Edinburg which is the county seat of Hildalgo county. This county is as big in area as the state in which we live and all we saw was Mesquite Cactus and turkey Buzzards, the roughest county I ever had the pleasure of enjoying. It was all very level and sand about half way up to your shoe tops and just like sugar snow to walk in. From Edinburg we came to Pharr. The band meet us about one mile from here and led us in our return, and when the band met us we all experienced a feeling which was one like I never had before. It was near like returning home as we had not had a chance to wash our clothes and only our hands and face about once a day. Of course it would have been nice for some of Andover’s early morning hiker who would have seen what a real hike was like and how a soldier easts on a hike. Breakfast was a light meal. Dinner was hard tack, coffee, onions, and canned beef. Supper was generally cooked. Taps always at 9:30 and every one was ready for bed.
We sleep on our porch and blankets with lots of fresh air and mosquitoes. The nights here are fine, a large moon and stars shine. Some nights a person could write letters by the moonlight.
Today Major General O’Ryan inspects us to see if our clothes, guns, bayonets and equipment has been cleaned and washed. We had yesterday to wash, scrub and clean our outfits and every one was glad enough to clean up and no guard was used in our company.
The Third Regiment came in off our hike 26 hours ahead of schedule and is considered by most of the people here one of the best hiking regiments from the Empire State on the border and was the only one that stuck it out so far and finished on schedule.
We are now back on our regular routine of duty and looking with eager eyes for pay day, and think it will be soon as some N.Y. Regiments have been paid their state pay which is about 12 dollar. The government owes us the balance.
Some of the boys think this is a very hard life, but as every one knows, a soldiers life is just what you make it. If you are pleasant and willing to work you are alright, but be sulky and lazy and you get the dirty work, which is extra duty, besides drills and personal duties.
The hospital here now is fixed up very nice and is as comfortable as it is possible to make it in this country.
Most of our company are very well except our musician, who has consumption and has gone home I hear.
I must close now for mess and will be glad to hear from any one who is interested enough to write me and will try and answer them.
Our coming home now is uncertain, but we hope it will be soon.
Yours J.V. Stearns
Co. K 3rd N.Y.