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Camp Lewis at full steam

1918-19 is busy

A 91st Division soldier stands in front of his tent on Camp Lewis in 1918. Photo credit: Jack Allison

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Once Camp Lewis was built, soldiers in-processed, trained and shipped out to Europe, including the 91st Division, which left in the late spring of 1918. 

While the 91st had many names, the nickname the soldiers chose to carry with them as they boarded trains was the Wild West Division.  At one time, Camp Lewis had 500 of America's best cowboys bucking horses.  And since Lewis was the only cantonment to draw its draftees from Montana, Wyoming and Nevada, it had the monopoly on rodeo stars and cowpunchers.

The Army corralled its horses and mules on 400 acres at Lewis in an area called Remount.  It was the only clearinghouse during World War I where animals were trained to see action on the front lines.  During their stay, the cowboys taught the animals to pull artillery pieces and caissons of ammunition.  And while the 91st Division was at Camp Lewis, the cowboys staged three rodeos, and as one observer said at the time, in civilian life a million dollars could not have brought together the assembly of rodeo stars who performed for as many as 30,000 people.

As soon as the 91st Division departed for France in June 1918, the 13th Infantry Division moved into Camp Lewis that same month.  While there is not a lot of information regarding the Blackcat Division, it is assumed they trained hard, ready to see action overseas.  November 11, 1918 came however, the war was ended and the 13th never deployed.  The division was later inactivated at Lewis in 1919.

During the war

Camp Lewis primarily buzzed with military training from Fall 1917 to the end of the war.  At the time, the post's commander Maj. Gen. Greene restricted recruits from Tacoma and Seattle in an effort to cut down vice and rowdy behavior.  Instead, he had Greene Park built, located behind the current location of JBLM's main museum.  The park provided entertainment including vaudeville shows as well as dancing at the Hostess House, silent movies and concessions.

Future looked grave

The accomplishments at Camp Lewis during WWI were amazing.  During the war against imperial Germany, the 91st, 4th, 13th, 44th, 18th and 41st divisions (mostly Reserve and Guard units) were trained, garrisoned and/or mobilized from here.

Immediately following the war, Secretary of War Baker assured Pierce County officials that Camp Lewis would remain open and permanent.  However, by 1919, as Camp Lewis officially became the property of the U.S. government, the War Department began dismantling the major portion of the camp, leaving only a limited tract of housing for a small party of troops.

The deed, as discussed, provided the clause that the land would revert back to the county if not used.  And that would create great controversy into the next decade as Lewis' future looked uncertain.

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