Shelby County Historical Society

September, 2018 Newsletter


September Meeting

Bill O'Neal



Bill O’Neal gave a history of Texas in World War I to the Shelby County Museum on October 18, 2018.  He first gave the group a parameter on world war.  There had not been a war in nearly a century since the Napoleonic War which lasted into the early 1800s.  This spilled over to the United States for War of 1812.  World War I started in 1914 in Europe.  The fighting lasted more than 4 years.  When the United States got into the war in April of 1917, the war was 2 ½ years old at that time and the United States was only in the war for 1 ½ years.  The U.S. had a small army at that time but was able to send over 2 million men to the war.

O’Neal then stated “Let me mention Texas" role in the war.  We had an odd thing happen to us. Texas has a very strong military history.  It goes back to the Texas Revolution and the war with Mexico.  Men were ready to fight.  Every county in Texas was asked to provide a company, mostly cavalry, to the cause against Mexico.  Shelby County which was under populated in part due to the Regulator-Moderator War came up with 2 companies for the war effort.  This war was fought from 1840-1844 and the Spanish American War started in 1846.  The people who were Regulator types formed their own company and so did the other group of men, the Moderators.  World War I was a warm-up to the World War II.”

Texas had 5,000 men die in WWI and one lady.

Switching to World War II, the most decorated hero of WWII was Audie Murphy, a Texan.  Thirty-six medal of honor winners of WWII were from Texas.  Texans enlisted or were drafted in excess of the percentage of the nation's population. Although the state had 5 percent of the United States population, it provided 7 percent of those who served in the armed forces.  By the end of the war 750,000 Texans, including 12,000 women, served in the armed forces.

“Let me tell you about a lead up to WWI; no one else had this.  Texas was having a great deal of border trouble with Mexican banditos in early 1910 along the Rio Grande.  One huge raid took place on the King Ranch.  The Germans were encouraging this as they wanted the U.S. to stay out of the war.  Poncho Villa lead a raid in 1916 on Columbia, New Mexico robbing a bank, killing and burning the town.  U.S. troops were already stationed at Ft. Bliss.  And boy did the U.S. respond.  General John J. Pershing was assigned to put an army together to invade Mexico and catch Poncho Villa.  Ultimately, we had 36 thousand men who went to Mexico.  It was a 10-month operation which was nearly a year, 1916-1917.  It was at this time we entered WWI in Europe.  This is where we learned to do things on a big scale.” explained O'Neal.

When WWI rolled around in the spring of 1917, General Pershing was the only living officer who had ever held a large command.  He was a natural selection to be in charge of the American Expeditionary Force.  This included the 36th division which is going to cover itself with glory during WWI and WWII.  The 36th division was a Texas National Guard division that got federalized for WWI and for WWII. These were Texas boys.

Texas in WWI had 4 big encampments for training the soldiers.  They were Fort Bliss, Camp Bowie, Camp Travis, and Camp Logan.  During WWI twenty million people died plus the ones from the world-wide flu epidemic of 1918.

Mr. O’Neal shared stories of various men who served during WWI.  He gave his history students extra credits for these interviews.  The students could also interview home front people who helped with the war effort.  This is oral history that would have been lost forever if Mr. O’Neal had not realized so many of the veterans of WWI were dying.  

There is a video of Mr. O’Neal’s program on Texas in WWI at the Shelby County Museum if anyone would like to hear the full program.  Come by and see the full program.   


Memorial Donations
Joe Neal Jernigan
Donated by
J. C. & Venorah McSwain
Charlotte Bailey
Donated by
J. C. & Venorah McSwain
Carolyn Campbell Brown
Donated by
Leonard Irish