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Right after the United States declared war on Germany in July of 1917 the War Department built the short lived and ill fated Camp Logan, a World War I-era army training camp in Houston, Texas. The site of the camp is now primarily occupied by Memorial Park, which features jogging trails, several playgrounds, baseball fields a golf course. The park borders the Crestwood neighborhood and is near Memorial Elementary School. Some chunks of concrete, many building foundations, and extensive trenches used for training or middens still remain in the heavily-forested park. Many of the trails through the park in this area trace the routes of old Camp Logan roads. One stretch of a Camp Logan road remains in original condition, that being the shell-surfaced service road to the golf course.
A map of Camp Logan as well as other resources about the camp and its history are available at the Houston Public Library in the Texas and Local History Collection, housed in the Julia Ideson building, next door to the Central Library downtown.
Camp Logan Riot
On August 23, 1917, a riot erupted in Houston. Near noon, two policemen arrested a black soldier for interfering with their arrest of a black woman in the Fourth Ward. Early in the afternoon, when Cpl. Charles Baltimore, one of the twelve black military policemen with the battalion, inquired about the soldier’s arrest, words were exchanged and the policeman hit Baltimore over the head. The MPs fled. The police fired at Baltimore three times, chased him into an unoccupied house, and took him to police headquarters.
Though he was soon released, a rumor quickly reached Camp Logan that Baltimore had been shot and killed. A large number of the soldiers decided to march on the police station in the Fourth Ward and secure his release. If the police could assault a model soldier like Baltimore, they felt none of them was safe from abuse.
Maj. Kneeland S. Snow, the battalion’s commander, initially discounted the news of impending trouble. But around 8pm Sergeant Vida Henry of Company I confirmed the rumors. Kneeland ordered the company first sergeants to collect all rifles and search the camp for ammunition. As the order was being obeyed, a soldier suddenly shouted that a white mob from Houston was approaching the camp. Soldiers rushed into the supply tents, grabbed their rifles, and began firing wildly in the direction of supposed mob. The officers found it impossible to restore order. Sergeant Henry led more than 100 armed soldiers towards Houston, by way of Brunner Avenue and San Felipe Street and into the Fourth Ward. In their two-hour march on the city, the mutinous soldiers killed fifteen white civilians, including four policemen, and seriously wounded twelve others, one also a policeman, subsequently died. Four black soldiers also died; two were accidentally shot by their own men, one in camp and the other on San Felipe Street. They also shot Captain Joseph Mattes of the Illinois National Guard, mistaking him for a policeman, then began quarreling over their course of action. After two hours of terror, Henry advised the men to return to camp and shot himself in the head.
Early next morning, August 24, civil authorities imposed a curfew in Houston. On the twenty-fifth, the army hustled the Third Battalion aboard a train to Columbus, New Mexico. There, seven black mutineers agreed to testify against the others in exchange for clemency. Between November 1, 1917, and March 26, 1918, the army held three separate courts-martial in the chapel at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The military tribunals indicted 118 enlisted men of I Company for participating in the mutiny and riot, and found 110 guilty. It was wartime, and the sentences were harsh. Nineteen mutinous soldiers were hanged and sixty-three received life sentences in federal prison. One was judged incompetent to stand trial. Two white officers faced courts-martial, but they were released. No white civilians were brought to trial. The Houston Riot of 1917 was one of the saddest chapters in the history of American race relations. It vividly illustrated the problems that the nation struggled with on the home front during wartime.
Camp Logan also developed further notorious attention among the residents of Houston the following year as the locus point of the first widespread local outbreak of the deadly 1918 Spanish Flu. By September 24 of that year over 600 cases had been reported by the US Army surgeons at the camp, who made the fateful decision to send the sick to homes and hospitals in the community to try to protect those soldiers still healthy at the camp. By October 3 doctors reported 48 soldiers from the camp had died from the flu and it had begun to rapidly spread through the city. By October 9 the local newspapers reported that 33 flu related deaths had now occurred in the city and that the Mayor, District Clerk, and 20 police officers had contracted. Flu cases in the city were now reported to be in the thousands and steps were being take to put quarantines in place. Public schools, restaurants, and gatherings were shut down including the Barnum & Bailey Circus and local churches.
In recent years, Camp Logan refers to the neighborhood tucked in to the northeast corner of Memorial Park, bordered by Westcott and Arnot streets, north of Memorial Elementary School.