Lake Texoma

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WW I in Texomaland


Do you ever wonder what life was like in Texomaland during World War One (WW I)? WW I brought on the first U.S. federal military draft since the Civil War with the institution of the National Defense Act of 1916 and the Selective Service Act of 1917. However, Winston Churchill called Europe’s Seven Years War and its North American phase, the French and Indian War, the real first world war. The first shots of that war were fired by troops commanded by twenty-two-year-old George Washington in 1754. French troops claimed the Ohio Valley and America wanted Ohio. The formal dates of that war are 1756-1763. The issues surrounding WW I, a.k.a. The Great War, were not completely resolved from the last European conflict as Churchill saw it.

American men were called to war again in 1917. America operated with a small army compared to European armies with fewer than 100,000 men in the regular army and 115,000 National Guard troops in 1914. The Conscription Act of 1863 during the Civil War that allowed wealthy men to purchase an exemption from service proved extremely unpopular and inspired riots. (1) The Selective Service Act of 1917 implemented local draft boards. Local draft boards carried the responsibilities of registering soldiers, determination of order and serial numbers, call, and entrainment of draftees.

The draft boards printed the serial numbers on tiny pieces of paper and put them in small pharmaceutical capsules. Then, they put the serial number gelatin pills in a glass bowl and mixed them up thoroughly. On June 27, 1917, U.S. Secretary of War, Newton Baker, while blindfolded drew the first capsule of the WW I draft, and the first draft call of WW I lasted until early the next morning with 10,500 capsules drawn. In propaganda films to encourage men, President Woodrow Wilson is also depicted with a blindfold while drawing his capsule.

Each federal judicial district established a district draft board that operated about 30 local boards in counties in the U.S. (2) All of the Texomaland counties had a local draft board. President Wilson stressed, ”The significance of this cannot be overstated. It is a new thing in our history and a landmark in our progress…It is in no sense a conscription of the unwilling, it is rather a selection from a nation which has volunteered its mass.” By the time the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, American men were not gleefully running to the armed forces to register for military service.

America needed to raise, train, and quickly deploy armies to join her allies, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and Russia in fighting Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey. There were several categories for draftees: eligible and liable, temporarily deferred but available, temporarily exempted but available, exempted due to extreme hardship, and exempted or ineligible for military service.

On Friday, August 24, 1917, the Sherman Courier listed the names of 135 exemptions and 20 claims of denied exemptions in Grayson County. Most of the men given an exemption supported a dependent wife and children. The men whose exemption claims were denied cited dependent parents or a recent marriage. (3) **

WW I and Women’s Roles

The American Red Cross ran a national knitting campaign that advertised the need for sweaters, hats, and gloves for enlisted men on their way to spend their first winter in trenches in Europe. The Red Cross distributed yarn from their local branches so women could supplement the standard-issue military uniform. The military issued a heavy coat and stockings to soldiers. Women attending Austin College to grandmothers spent their free time away from studying and housework or babysitting “Knitting for Sammy”.

Yarn manufacturers followed suit by turning out yarn made for military use. Across the U.S., women donated 24 million pieces of knitted winter gear for “Sammy”. Magazines printed the patterns for the knitted items. A set containing sweater vests, scarves, wristlets, socks, helmets, a mitten with separate trigger finger, and knitted in army khaki and navy gray, was sent to the Smithsonian in 1918.

The expectation of labor shortages hit everywhere in America during WW I. The University of Oklahoma began teaching telegraphy to boys and girls aged 15 and up with preference given to young women. (4) This was the first time in American history that women were recruited to perform jobs only available to men in the past. They went to work as railway guards, ticket collectors, postal workers, police, firefighters, bank tellers and clerks, heavy and precision machine operators, factory workers, and farm labor for much lower wages than the men. Forty percent of all women workers were married women during WW I.

Denison was known as an industrial center during WW I. Our Texomaland great-grandmothers might have gone to work at the Texas Electric Railway, the first interurban railroad in Texas, which shuttled passengers from or to Dallas, Denison, Corsicana, and Waco, (1908-1948). Or, maybe she went to work at the Merchants and Planters Bank (1872).

Some of the companies that our great-grandmothers may have worked at in Sherman include the Overall Manufacturing Company (1909), later the Pool Manufacturing Company. It manufactured overalls at first and later added work pants and shirts and matched uniforms. It was the first in the industry to use preshrunk fabrics and colorfast khaki. * (5)

Maybe great-grandma worked at the Denison Cotton Mill, the largest of its kind west of the Mississippi River (1905-1977), the Union Woolen Mills, or maybe she produced Denison Maid Flour at the Dennison Mill and Grain Co. The Gate City Hosiery Mill, established in the 1890s, manufactured 100 each of men’s, women’s, and children’s hose daily. It was the first knitting mill in Texas. It moved here from Atlanta to be located in the best cotton-producing region in north Texas. (6)

Whatever people did to support the war effort in Texas and Oklahoma, you can be sure that our Texomaland forbearers contributed their best. Have you ever stopped to look at the Grayson County WW I Memorial at the courthouse in Sherman? Its inscription reads:

“In Honored Memory of the Men
Of Grayson County
Who Served in WW I.
Duty Honor Country Well Done
Be Thou At Peace”

The back of the memorial denotes the Grayson County and Denison barrack numbers 81 and 3 respectively.

First Modern War Machines

For the first time in history, WW I was fought with dynamic new weapons and war machines. Tanks were used for the first time. Airplanes evolved from barely able to stay in the air into effective weapons from 1914-1918. Repeating rifles saw widespread use. British depth charges, a bomb set off by the pressure of the water depth, destroyed German submarines. German zeppelins could fly higher than the Allies airplanes. Diphosgene and mustard gas served as chemical weapons. The French built huge artillery machines. Machine guns ruled battlefields with rapid-fire rounds that shot 500-1000 rounds per minute. Horses supported the cavalry and played a crucial role, and millions of horses became military casualties. (7)

WW I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. People wear the poppy flower as a symbol of remembrance on Armistice Day on November 11th every year. The bright red poppy was the only thing that grew on the bloody battlefields in Western Europe during WW I. (8) An American teacher named Moina Belle Michael and Frenchwoman Madame Anna Guérin, known as the Poppy Lady and the French Poppy Lady respectively, inspired people to wear the poppy in remembrance for those who suffered in the Great War. WW I inspired the poem, In Flanders Field.

Excerpts from War: Message of President Wilson Before Congress, 8:30 p. m., April 2, 1917

"The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them. "…To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured." (9)

John McCrae, a Canadian brigade doctor was asked to conduct a burial service for a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who was killed by a German artillery shell in the Second Battle of Ypres. The chaplain had been called away. It is believed after the young soldier’s burial that McCrae drafted his famous poem, In Flanders Fields.

By John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Please remember our American soldiers during this Christmas season who are not living and working on American soil so that we who do can live in freedom.

* There is a Texas Historical Commission Marker at the newest site of the Pool Manufacturing Company. In 1928, the factory had 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

** A humorous side note and computer error in 2014 caused 14,000 WW I draft notices to be sent to Pennsylvania men born between 1893 and 1897. Relatives of the men began calling the Secret Service System because the notices warned that failure to register for the draft could result in fines and prison time. Apparently someone did not select the correct century for men born between 1993 and 1997 when inputting the information into the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s computer.












Miscellaneous Sources



1. WW I Draft Notice for Medical Exam
2. Serial Number Capsules
3. WW I Draft Number for the Draft Capsules

Pictures 4-6: Courtesy of and Knitted by Miranda Johnson

4. Patterns from the Popular Fashion Magazine, The Delineator, 1917
5. Knitted Helmets
6. Trigger Finger Mitten and Wristlets
7. Secretary of War, Newton Baker, Fishing for the First Draft Capsule of WW I.
8. Newton Baker Visiting a WW I Soldier in Hospital
9. WW I Poppy to Wear on Armistice Day
10. WW I Memorial at the Grayson County Courthouse


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Kendall Davis is well-versed in the English language. She has 20 years experience as a published author and writing for clients. Her published works include historical articles in museums, magazines, newspaper articles, columns, content marketing, advertising copy, blogging, and academic papers. Kendall also makes her way in the literary world as a copyeditor. Writing about history is her first love interest. If you have editing or content needs on your website or for your books, articles, blogs, or columns, please visit her website to see details and more examples of her work, the services she offers, and contact information.

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