Thursday, August 12, 2021

Wild West Division


My current work in progress takes place against the backdrop of World War I. Because my main characters live in Pendleton, Oregon, I researched what would happen if the hero was conscripted (drafted) to serve. Where would we go for training? How far would he have to travel?

That led me to the founding of Camp Lewis, which is now known as Joint Base Lewis McChord, near Tacoma, Washington. 

In 1917, the Pierce County Electorate voted in a bond to purchase 70,000 acres they intended to donate to the federal government for use as a military base. Since America had now joined the war blazing in Europe, more soldiers were needed immediately, which meant additional training facilities had to be created. Located just south of Tacoma Washington near American Lake, Camp Lewis became first military installation in the history of the United States to be created as the direct result of an outright gift of land by citizens of the area.  

Construction began July 5. In approximately 90 days, a reported 10,000 men built 1,757 buildings and 422 other structures that were lighted, plumbed and heated. Streets, roads, and railroad spurs were underway. The camp was named after Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Later, the main gate was added that still stands to this day.

Photo from National Archives
91st Division, Camp Lewis, on overnight hike to Mt. Rainer.

The first recruits arrived at Camp Lewis on the fifth day of September in 1917. By the end of December, the camp had 37,000 officers, cadre, garrison, and trainees on post and was the largest military post in the USA at the time.

A group in Seattle wanted to send their drafted men off in style, so a grand party was held the night of September 4. It had been decided which of the conscripted men would walk through the gate and get the honor of being the first to be officially registered at the camp. They had a parade and arrived to find a farmer from the Burnt River region of eastern Oregon had beat them to the punch. I can just see their faces when they arrive to find him already registered.

Photo from National Archives
91st Division training 

Camp Lewis became home to the 91st Infantry Division. Men being trained there came California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the Territory of Alaska. 

Unknown soldier wearing 91st patches

They were called the Wild West Division, and their battle cry became “Powder River! Let’er Buck!” According to sources I found, one of the early arrivals at the camp was a cowboy from Wyoming, still dressed in his chaps, boots, spurs, and hat. When asked where he was from, he said, "Wyoming, sir! Powder River! Let'er Buck!" 

Photo from National Archives
91st Division trench training

Many of the men were amused by his enthusiastic reply, and that because their battle cry. Although it was September of 2018 before the 91st Division joined in battle, they did well for a bunch of  "cowboys" from the west, recognized for their efforts by General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. 

The 361st Regiment (in which the hero of my story serves) was reportedly one of the best units in the AEF. Although they were in combat less than six weeks, the group is credited with gaining 15 1/2 miles of ground in enemy territory. In a war where battles were fought to gain even a few yards, this was a huge accomplishment. 

You can read more about the 91st Division and the fictional characters who are part of it as well as many historical tidbits in my soon-to-release sweet romance, Sadie.

Inspired by the true stories of women who served in France during World War I, Sadie is a sweet romance filled with courage, hope, and lasting love.

 She yearns for far-flung adventures. He longs for the home he’s found in her heart. Will a world at war tear them apart, or draw them closer together?

 For most of her life, Doctor Sadie Thorsen has imagined seeing the world on grand adventures. When America joins the war raging across the world in 1917, it seems her dreams are about to come true. She travels overseas as a contracted physician, eager to do her part, and hoping to encounter the man she loves. Endless streams of wounded push her to the limits of endurance, then she receives word Harley John Hobbs, the man who owns her heart, is missing in action. Unable to bear the thought of life without him in it, she refuses to let go of her hope that he’s alive.

 The day Sadie Thorsen shoved Harley John Hobbs down on the playground was the day she marched off with his heart. He spent years doing everything in his power to become successful, determined to have more than himself to offer Sadie if she ever returns to their eastern Oregon town. Conscripted to join American Expeditionary Forces, Harley John answers the call and heads to France. Wounded and alone, he clings to the promise of seeing Sadie one last time.

 Can deep, abiding love withstand the tragedies and trials of a world at war?

Find out more about Sadie today!


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