THE INSTALLATION: When we students started primary flight school, it is doubtful that many of us spent much time thinking about how Fort Wolters got its name or the significance of the installation. Fort Wolters was named for Brigadier General Jacob Franklin Wolters a man who figures prominently in early 20th Century Texas military and political history and was considered by many to be a great man. Certainly all of the sources that were consulted for this article paint a picture of a good and fair leader in both his private and military life.
We also gave little thought to the men who had preceded us or about the history of Fort Wolters in general. Although 40,000 student pilots passed through the entrance to the post (many on their way to fly and fight in Vietnam), they were latecomers to the installation, as more than 200,000 soldiers passed through the same entrance at old Camp Wolters during World War II they too on the way to war. But the history goes back even further to 1925 when BG Wolters negotiated for the original acreage that would eventually become Camp Wolters, Wolters Air Force Base, Camp Dallas (ROTC), and Fort Wolters. Thousands of Texas National Guard soldiers, Dallas Area ROTC students, and Army Engineers trained there before we did. There was also a NIKE missile base dose to the main heliport.
In 1921 the Texas National Guard was using the Mineral Wells Rock Creek area as a field training ground. Then Troop F, 124th Cavalry of Texas National Guard moved to Mineral Wells in 1923 along with a band and a medical detachment. Troop F was involved in patrolling the border from Brownsville to Fort Bliss and, later the troop was activated for federal service during World War II and served in Burma under Lord Mountbatten. They were assigned to clear the Burma Road, and one member of the unit, 1st Lt. Jack L. Knight, won the Medal of Honor.
Then, in 1925, a grant for the construction of a new National Guard Training Camp was given to General Wolters and the city commissioners of Mineral Wells purchased 50 acres next to Mineral Wells Lake for the headquarters. At that time the population of Mineral Wells was 7,000 and the Mayor, John Miller, got citizens together and an additional 2,300 acres were leased.
From 1933 to 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corp lived there and built facilities for the camp. But as war loomed, in l94O the camp was selected as the location for an IRTC - Infantry Replacement Training Center — and on March 22 of that year, the post was officially handed over to the US Army. This camp was to become the largest of the infantry replacement centers during the war. At the end of the war, the post was deactivated and in 1946 it was returned to the National Guard. However, in February of 1951 it was reactivated and re-designated Wolters Air Force Base. The principal mission was to train US Army Engineer units for construction activities for the Air Force, as the Air Force did not have integral construction engineering capabilities.
In July 1956, the base reverted to control of the US Army for the purpose of training helicopter plots, and that function was moved from its previous location at Camp Gary in San Marcos, Texas. By September 1956 the school was activated and the first class graduated in April of 1957. Then, in June of 1963, the base was designated as a Fort and two years later, in 1965, it became the US Army Primary Helicopter School. After the Vietnam War, in 1973, Fort Wolters was officially closed. The flag was lowered for the final time and that flag is now in safe keeping at the Mineral Wells Public library. From 1940 to 1973, at least 14 Medal of Honor recipients (eight in Vietnam) trained at the post; notably Audie Murphy and Ed "Too Tall" Freeman, names that most of us easily recognize. Also, one infamous soldier received his training at Camp Wolters during WWII: Eddie Slovik, the only soldier to be executed for desertion since the Civil War.
THE MAN: So who, exactly, was General Wolters? Jacob Franklin Wolters was born of German heritage in the Central Texas town of New Ulm on September 2, 1871. In that period, Central Texas had many German immigrants and their heritage can still be seen today in the hill country near San Antonio and Austin. His parents were Thomas and Marguerite (Wink) Wolters, and in addition to Jacob, they had five other children Jacob was born at a time when it was possible for a person to be acquainted with men that fought in the War for Texas Independence from Mexico, the Indian wars, and the Civil War. When he was born, the battle of the Alamo had been fought only 35 years earlier, the Civil War had ended only six years before, and there were still American Indian conflicts until about 1890. So it was likely that Jacob had neighbors and associates who were involved in a lot of early Texas military history. Jacob even wrote a short book about one of the incursions into Mexico in 1842 that was based on some of his conversations with the men from the expedition. The book “Dawson’s Men and the Mier Expedition,” was published in 1927 and described a disastrous sortie into Mexico by American troops from Texas.
Early schooling for Jacob was in Schulenburg, Texas, and later he attended Add-Ran College (which became Texas Christian University)in the tiny town of Thorp Spring At Add-Ran he studied law and was admitted to the Texas Bar in 1896.
"He has always fearlessly advocated what to him seemed right and to the best and lasting benefit of a majority of the people" from Fayette County: Her history and her people). This seems to sum up the sentiment that most of the contemporary sources held about the General
His first step in politics was to run for and be elected County Attorney of Fayette County. After serving 2 years, he formed a partnership with Judge R. H. Phelps and practiced law in La Grange, Texas. Jacob married Sallie F. Drane of Columbus, Texas on April 25,1893. They had two sons, Theodore Drane Wolters and Russell Franklin Wolters. In l896 he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives from the Twenty-fifth District, Fayette County, and became one of the most influential leaders of the Democratic Party during that period.
In 1905 Jacob moved to Houston and established a new law partnership with Jonathan Lane and James X. Storey He continued to be involved with politics, and in 1918 he helped to elect William Pettus Hobby governor. While executing his duties as general in the National Guard during many civil actions, he worked with a number of Texas governors.
Before starting college, Jacob started his military career. He entered the Texas National Guard as a private in 1891 in Company D of the Fayette Guards and later served as a first lieutenant in the First Texas Cavalry, United States Volunteers, Troop H (Lane’s Rangers) patrolling the Mexican border. He served in that capacity during the Spanish-American War and then, during World War I, he organized the Texas Cavalry Brigade. The Texas Cavalry Brigade was to be mobilized for Federal Service on January2, 1919, but the war ended before this could occur (In 1921 the brigade became the 56thCavalryBrigade). On January 17, 1911, Jacob was appointed Lt. Colonel, and then on April 1, 1918, he was promoted to Brigadier General. Upon his retirement in 1934,BG Wolters was promoted to Brevet Major General.
CIVIL ACTIONS and MARTIAL LAW: The 2O’s and 3O’s were busy times for the Texas National Guard. This was the time of the Great Depression, prohibition, race riots, the oil boom, and other events like natural disasters that required the Texas governors to call out the National Guard. These included tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and, once even to fight grasshoppers. To call out The Guard in this era basically meant, "General Wolters we need you again." Although The Guard was to be used l7 times for events in Texas between 1918 and 1938, the following events are the most significant involving the command of General Wolters.
Galveston, Texas: In March of 1920 labor disputes with the Longshoremen's Union resulted in a strike against the docks in Galveston, leaving the state's largest port idle. There were assaults on the non-union men who were being employed to keep the port open, and sometimes this violence led to riots. As was the norm at that time, the Texas Rangers were sent in first, but they were not able to solve the problems. Fearing more violence and injuries, the governor decided in June to send in the Texas National Guard and the 1st Texas Cavalry was mobilized. In those days, cavalry still, meant men on horseback. Even today mounted men can still have a great effect on civil disobedience. Martial law was declared on June 7 and this early deployment would lay the blueprint on how the general would handle future actions and martial law. Wolters arrived and immediately started patrols, while at the same time evaluating the effectiveness of local law enforcement- Often during martial law, the local authorities had to be relieved of their duties because they had become ineffective or were corrupt. One of the general orders that was issued to his men was to shoot to "hit,” if they had to shoot. He admonished his troops that shooting into the air was ineffective and only encouraged more rebellious actions. His troops quickly restored order, and in September martial law was lifted. By October 8, the troops had left Galveston, allowing General Wolters to return to Houston and resume his law practice.
Mexia, Texas: It was not long after the events in Galveston, in 1921, that oil was discovered in the small Central Texas town of Mexia, which is very dose to Waco. In a very short period of time, the population swelled from 2,500 to dose to 50,000, and Mexia became a typical oil field boomtown. Boomtowns brought in workers, prospectors, and a lot of people who wanted to make money off of the unsuspecting. Trouble began to brew by December of that year and the Texas Rangers were once again sent in because it was evident that the locals could not keep law and order. Again, the action of the Rangers was not successful, so, on January 11, 1922 martial law was
declared and the soldiers under General Wolters mounted up and headed for Mexia. The troops arrived from the various parts of the state on trains (depending on which of the units were mobilized), and then quickly set up camps and began patrolling. Texas Rangers Frank Hamer and Tom Hickman (two of the most famous Texas Rangers) were already in Mexia along with 11 other Rangers when The Guard arrived. These two men would be associated with The Guard in these types of actions for the next 10 years. Ranger Hamer was to become even more legendary in Ranger history as it was he who tracked down and killed Bonnie and Clyde in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, in 1934, just a year before General Wolters' death.
General Wolters began to dean up the many violations of the law, including prohibition violations and gambling, and soon brought the area under control. By the end of February, martial law was ended. The population of Mexia today is only about 7,500, but one can still see evidence of the oil boom when driving through the area.
Borger, Texas: The events in Texas were quiet for some time following Mexia and it was seven-and-a-half years before The Guard and General Wolters were called on again. The event this time was another Texas oil field boom in the town of Borger in the far northern part of the Texas panhandle. Just as in Mexia, a small town had become a boomtown, with corrupt local officials led by Mayor John Miller. In 1927 Governor Dan Moody sent in a force of Texas Rangers again led by Frank Hamer and Tom Hickman. The Rangers had a stabilizing effect for a while, but then the local District Attorney was murdered, which precipitated martial law to be declared and the National Guard being mobilized Many of the undesirables quickly left Borger, much to the dismay of nearby Amarillo. By mid-October, martial law ended as the town was once again under control and The Guard withdrew.
Sherman, Texas: It was only six months later that more trouble resulted in the call for help from the governor. This time it was racial trouble in Sherman, Texas, north of Dallas. In May of 1930 a black man was accused of rape and a lynch mob quickly gathered. The local officials were able to disperse the mob but the district judge requested help, as he feared much more
trouble would follow. The judge was right. Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and three other Rangers arrived and dispersed another attempt by the mob to get to the accused. The mob he into the courthouse during the trial but Ranger Hamer broke up the using birdshot and tear gas. Shortly thereafter, the mob finally captured the jail and the accused was killed. It was never clear if he died from injuries or smoke inhalation as the jail was burned. His body was dragged through the streets and hanged and then stores and homes were burned. The Guard was called out and order was restored. The need for martial law ended by May of that year.
Henderson, Texas - The East Texas Oil Fields: Oil discoveries in Texas during this era could be both good and bad. The next hot spot that required action from the stare and the need for the National Guard occurred in the huge “East Texas Field," and this was probably one of the more difficult deployments of the The Guard and General Wolters. There was almost no control on the on the number or location of the wells being drilled or on the amount of oil being taken out of the ground, which caused prices to collapse, and many leaseholders were not getting any money from their land and oil. The Texas Railroad Commission was the authority that regulated production of the wells in the state, but the operators were in open defiance to the commission, resulting in the field being quickly depleted. There were so many wells in Kilgore, for example, that even as late as the s could walk from one end of the town to the other without ever get off a drilling platform.
Landowners were understandably upset and asked the governor to take action. At the time, General Wolters was engaged in his legal profession as an attorney in Houston for The Texas Corporation - later to become TEXACO — so he was an expert in the oil industry as well as a good military commander. He was ordered on August 15 to get ready to mobilize, and on the 16th, martial law was declared and The Guard moved to East Texas from various parts of the state. The headquarters was set up in Kilgore and The Guard stationed men in Gladewater and Longview as well. The Brigade began to get control of the fields and by September, agreements had been made between the operators and the commission so troops began to withdraw. During the period of martial law, there were many challenges to the legality of the action of the Governor. The Supreme Court finally, weighed in and upheld a lower court challenge to martial law stating it was illegal. At one point General Wolters was even held in contempt by the courts as he (and the governor) refused to abide by a lower court ruling that martial law was illegal, but he continued to enforce martial law (he was later exonerated.) When on December 21, the Supreme Court ruled against martial law, the enforcement of martial law ended. This was the last time that the National Guard was used for these type actions as The Texas Department of Public Safety took on this role in the future.
When General Wolters retired November 1, 1934, after 45 years of service to his country and his state he was the most experienced martial law commander in the United States. He wrote articles for the Cavalry Journal covering all aspects of martial law. The National Guard was called out so many times during General Wolters' command that in 1930 he
wrote the book on martial law both figuratively and literally. Many of the policies that he put in place are still applicable today and General Wolters was the recognized expert for martial law. His book, Martial Law and Its Administration, became the textbook for martial law at the time.
General Wolters died on October 8, 1935, less than a year after retiring, at the age of 63 and is interred in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Houston. The general performed his duties with the highest honor, dignity, and loyalty to his country, state, and fellow man and it is fitting that the installation that he founded bears his name. Hopefully the "Gate" at Fort Wolters will always remain as it is, and his name, at least, will be remembered.
When the fort was active, there was a museum on post that held several artifacts
from General Wolters, including his sword, flag and a portrait. When the post dosed, these items were returned to his family. It would certainly be fitting, if these items can be found, to make them available to a museum like the one being built at Mineral Wells or at the museum at Camp Mabry in Austin, the National Guard headquarters. A search is underway.