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Faint images of history

Echo of History by Axel C. F. Holm

When I stand at the northern edge of the Hilltop Gallery and gaze down along Western Avenue, I swear I can hear a bugle-calling reveille. Though faint images of Nogales history, more than vestiges of the U.S. Army’s Camp Stephen D. Little (1910-1932) remain along Western Avenue and Anza Drive. Non-commissioned officers lived in small bungalows which, though greatly altered, remain on Western Avenue. Also altered, but standing, are the officer’s quarters on Anza Drive loop. At the center of Camp Little, now Villa Coronado, the U.S. Army headquarters, auditorium, barracks and other structures are gone. Camp Little extended west from Grand Avenue along Western Avenue beyond Carondolet Hospital down Target Range Road, which leads, predictably, to the U.S. Army target range site north of Mariposa Road in use by the U.S. Border Patrol. Picture it. It’s the fall of 1916. You are at the intersection of Western and Grand Avenues. A little to the south on the west side of Grand is the impressive stone entrance, the U.S. Army’s facility with a metal sign on each side, “Camp Little, Est. 1912.” The headquarters for Camp Little lie just beyond the entrance. On the east side of Grand and Western, you see the large Camp Little laundry. Driving from Grand west on Western, you look left and see a two story big building, which is the soldier’s movie theater, the Ali-Baba Theater featuring the latest silent films. Behind the Ali Baba are rows of barracks and other buildings. Past the cemetery and to your right on the hill are the identical, individual officer’s quarters. To the far left and above, near the Hilltop Gallery along Sage St, named for Col William H. Sage, 12th Infantry, stand a few more army residences. Further on Western Avenue, and to your left, is the parade ground, where the A.J. Mitchell School will be built in the 1950s. Soldiers scurry for formation as bugles sound. Someday children will play there. A little further are the camp warehouses followed by the stables and corrals for cavalry horses. To the right are rows of NCO (non-commissioned officers) homes. To the left is a street named after the camp commander, Col. McNab, which leads uphill to the hospital area connected by Walnut and Curtis Streets. Along McNab Drive stands the officer’s club, where only the “O” club stone chimney which will remain as a residence, to belong to Judge Gordon Farley. Four army residences sit on the north side of McNab at the intersection of the future Anthony Drive where, among others, the Edmunson family will live including son Travis who will become an internationally renown singer in the folk duo known as Bud and Travis. Atop Anthony Drive is the reservoir, which supplies water to the camp. Most of McNab Drive and down Curtis Street stands the medical facilities and hospitals of Camp Little where many babies will be born, including one named Charlie Mingus. On both sides of the intersection of Western and McNab are stables for the cavalry horses. Across the street near a future Circle K, rows of army trucks comprising the motor pool are maintained. More stables are atop Pajarito Street, known as Cavalry Hill. Situated on the corner of Highland and Pajarito is an artillery unit. Another artillery unit is maintained from Bankard Street north along Hohokam Drive. Except for a little more than one square of mile of Nogales, most of the area contains military units. That is the picture of Nogales in 1916. When the great military expansion of 1916 took place in military camps along the U.S. -Mexican border, National Guard units crowded around Camp Little. These national guard units from California, Utah, Alabama, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Idaho and other states stretched north to the current County Complex and along the Patagonia Road beyond the Lourdes Academy. The footprint of Camp Little was larger than Nogales and military outnumbered civilians 2 to 1. Troop numbers began in 1910 with a few dozen, and grew by a few hundred then exploded in 1916 to 10,000. The Nogales economy in those days was not mercantile nor produce or commerce, it was a military. But why an army camp in Nogales for 22 years? An ill wind swept Mexico in November of 1910. An Englishwoman, Mrs. Rose King, owner of a tearoom and hotel in Cuernavaca described the gathering storm in her autobiography, Tempest Over Mexico. Mrs. King, friend of Nogalian and Crawford Street resident, Mrs. Katherine Taylor, felt the tension and anger of the Mexican people at the excesses of their dictator, Porfirio Diaz. According to Mrs. King, matters came to head in the Mexican centennial celebration on September 16, 1910, the day after Porfirio Diaz’s birthday which provided the dictator two reasons for a super-grand celebration, one to share with hacendados but not with the peones. Diaz was “re-elected” on October 4, 1910, but in less than 60 days, Francisco Madero overthrew Diaz, dispatched him from Mexico on the ship Ypiranga and seized control of the government. Concerned for American property and people along the U.S. – Mexican border, the War Department dispatched troops to Nogales and elsewhere along the border. The U.S. Army Command Army Posts record (Group 38) states: Following the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution, the army camp at Nogales, Arizona was established by 1st Lt. William F. Robinson, Jr., on November 26, 1910 and was first garrisoned by a detachment of Co. B, 18th U.S. Infantry….” For the first 5 years, this Army post was ordered to enforce the Neutrality Laws of the United States with a few officers and less than one hundred men. By 1915 after the outbreak of World War I, German subversive agents in Mexico increased border tensions. By the time General Pershing arrived for an inspection on November 5th, the Nogales post consisted of 32 officers and 874 men. Within days, a major incident occurred when Carranza forces led by General Alvaro Obregon arrived in Nogales, Sonora to drive the forces of Pancho Villa from Nogales. On the morning of November 26, 1915 at 11:00AM, firings from rebel Villa forces on U.S. troops took place until 12:40 PM when Obregon’s forces arrived, seized control, and U.S. forces withdrew to the camp, with one casualty, Pvt Stephen D. Little, Co. L, 12th Infantry of Fairmount, North Carolina. In honor of this first casualty, the War Department on December 14, 1915 issued and ordered the post named Camp Stephen Little, Nogales, Arizona. Little’s remains were dispatched from downtown Nogales with full military honors. The next major event occurred on March 9, 1916 when Pancho Villa raided Columbus, NM, bringing border matters and the Mexican revolution to national attention. This serious event was less significant for Mexico’s revolution and more significant for the war in Europe. World War 1 erupted in Europe on July 28, 1914. The RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine on May 7, 1915, causing the loss of 1,265 lives including 128 Americans. The U.S. was being drawn closer to war, while President Wilson assured he would keep the U.S. out, surely knowing that possibility was diminishing. Further, he faced an election in November 1916. To begin training troops for war in Europe would have been decidedly unpopular. But the Villa incident at the border provided the opportunity to marshal and train U.S. forces. Responding to the outcry in the U.S. against Villa’s raid, Wilson ordered more troops and federalized guard units sent to the border. In the summer months of 1916, Camp Little expanded from 1,500 to 10,000 troops. Germany plotted to keep the U.S. out of the European war by stirring up trouble on the U.S-Mexican border. With the interception by Britain of the Zimmerman telegram, January 17, 1917, from the German Foreign Minister, Zimmerman to the Foreign Ministry of Mexico, matters changed dramatically. Germany offered Mexico the return of the lands purchased by the U.S. from Mexico after the Mexican War of 1846 which included Texas, the southwest and California, if Mexico would side with Germany in the war against the U.S. With contents of the telegram revealed to the public on February 24, 1917, the American attitude towards war changed completely. The Congress of the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Troops in Nogales had been training for the war in Europe for a year by the time of the declaration. In the summer of 1917, troops in Nogales realized they would fight the war in France. Pvt Frank Merrill, a mounted orderly in Camp Little of the 35th Infantry from Alma Corners, Wisconsin, wrote his family on June 2, 1917: Dear Folks: Well I am still here, but can’t tell you how long it will be before I have to leave for some other place. Some of the older ones have gone, and from what I can learn they will be in France before long. I don’t suppose that we know any more about where the troops are going than you do at home, but there is no doubt in my mind but that I will see France before long (reprinted by permission Robert Martin Collection). The 35th Infantry began leaving Nogales on August 27, 1918 in company units, which had been well publicized. It seems no coincidence that on afternoon of August 27th, a battle took place in Nogales beginning with a Mexican customs official shooting a U.S. soldier at the Morley gate followed by shooting along the border from Sonora mobilizing the 35th to the border. By days end, about a dozen Americans, including the U.S Consul in Nogales, Sonora, and about 130 Mexicans were dead. The 35th Infantry left on schedule and was replaced mid-battle by the 25th Infantry of buffalo soldiers newly arrived from the Philippines. The history of this incident has many interpretations, but a strong German presence in Mexico, including Nogales is well documented. The “Battle of Nogales” marked the last significant incident in Nogales. Carranza led Mexico from revolution into a new period of development. The Mexican constitution of 1917 helped to form a new nation, which would reach stability in the 1930s. Camp Stephen D. Little, formed to protect American neutrality while guarding American citizens and property at Nogales, fulfilled its’ purpose by 1930. When the revolution disrupted international commerce at the Nogales, the presence of the U.S. Army helped sustain the Nogales economy, but the decision to close Camp Little in 1932, bode ill for Nogalians, who, along with the Arizona congressional delegation, petitioned the War Department not close Camp Little. But the army presence set the course for revived Nogales economy. Hyman Capin, tailor for the U.S. Army, established a large mercantile business. Charles Bracker purchased the Army Store in Nogales in 1924, which became the venerable Bracker’s department store. Many soldiers married local girls and many returned to retire to Nogales. One soldier of the California National Guard came to Nogales in 1916, fell in love with our border community and returned to buy El Potrero, Pete Kitchen’s historic ranch. Many, like General Lowell Rooks ascended to high positions in the U.S. Army. Others, like 1932 West Point Graduate Robert Landry whose first military post assignment was Camp Little formed their careers in Nogales. Landry became Major General Landry, USAF, President Truman’s air aide. The story of Camp Little remains largely untold, as does the inspiring stories of the thousands of men who served here. The story of Camp Little deserves to be thoroughly researched and written that Nogalians may recognize that our history and the history of the U.S. Army are inextricably intertwined. Go to the Hilltop Gallery, gaze along Western Avenue and listen. You may here a bugle-calling reveille.

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