by Paula Bosse
In March 1917, just days before the United States entered World War I, it was announced that there would be lunchtime military training drills in downtown Dallas for any man who wished to participate. This was part of the “Preparedness Movement” which was sweeping the country, in which citizens readied themselves for war. The idea for these drills came from Oswin K. King, a Dallas sportswriter, and they were organized and conducted by Capt. M. G. Holliday, with help from other officers of the Texas National Guard. The drills were held “in the rear of the old Santa Fe station, Murphy and Commerce streets. There is a vacant block there and the central location makes it ideal for the purpose” (“Military Drills for Business Men Planned,” Dallas Morning News, March 25, 1917). (See this location on a 1905 Sanborn map, here.)
Seems like a good time to insert a photo of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe depot (when it was still in operation), behind which all this drilling activity was taking place:
ca. 1899, via Portal to Texas History
Military-style drills involving local civilians hadn’t really been done like this before, and news of this swept the country’s newspapers. It was a BIG story. Dallas became the city everyone copied. Cities all over the United States began their own drilling exercises, and Capt. Holliday was kept busy traveling around Texas to advise towns on how to establish such civilian units for themselves. There was a lot of marching in formation going on in April 1917.
Two weeks in, drill-mania had taken over Dallas. It was estimated that 600 men were showing up daily for the downtown noon drills, and that many more — perhaps as many as 2,000 — had joined smaller groups and clubs which were drilling on their own all over town. There was a large contingent in Oak Cliff, lots of students in high schools and at SMU, policemen, letter carriers, businessmen, etc. There was even a suggestion that women should form their own groups. Any way you looked at it, the endeavor was a success (or at least fervently supported). Capt Holliday said that, should the need arise, a large body of troops could be immediately organized in Dallas — perhaps two regiments’ worth.
This training lasted about a month, which seems like sufficient time for bank clerks and grocerymen and automobile mechanics and upholsterers to get the hang of doing whatever this was. By the spring of 1917, Dallas was prepared.
The April 1, 1917 Dallas Morning News article accompanying the photo above is transcribed here:
DALLAS BUSINESS MEN MOBILIZE FOR MILITARY TRAINING
First City in United States to Start New Drills in Rudiments of Soldier Knowledge
From Few Dozen the First Day to 600 or More Saturday, Shows Rapid Increase of Interest in the Noon Drills. Captain in U.S. Cavalry and Number of Non-Commissioned Officers Instructing Men and Rudiments of Knowledge of Soldier Life
Dallas enjoys the distinction of being the first city in the United States to inaugurate the new mobilization of business men for the purpose of learning the rudiments of military training. There were those who said it could not be done, but the movement has gotten under full swing and the attendance is increasing daily.
Oswin K. King, of the Evening Journal, originated the idea, and becoming enthused of the possibilities, Mr. King suggested the matter to Captain M. G. Holliday of the 12th United States Calvary. Captain Holliday at once took up the plan as suggested by Mr. King and agreed to supervise the work.
For several days now, hundreds of Dallas business men have been in line on the spacious vacant property to the south of the Commerce Street station of the Santa Fe Railroad. The site is convenient to hundreds of business offices and not over five minutes’ walk from the skyscraper district.
That interest is increasing in the movement is evidenced by the number of business men who are enrolling. From a few dozen on Wednesday, last, to 400 on Thursday, and probably 200 more Friday and Saturday, shows that Dallas men are anxious to learn the rudiments of military training.
The idea is to teach the rudiments of close-order formation, including everything in what is known as the “Soldier’s School Without Arms.”
The instruction will continue indefinitely. Captain Holliday is assisted by several non-commissioned officers and civilian military experts.
Sources & Notes
Top photo from The Dallas Morning News, April 1, 1917, sent to me by Julia Barton (thanks, JB!).
Photo of the Santa Fe depot is from a Dallas Fire Department publication from 1899, provided by the Dallas Firefighters’ Museum to the Portal to Texas History — more information is here.
More Flashback Dallas posts on the WWI era can be found here.
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