Camp Cody, Deming's Forgotten Legacy
By: Laura Krol
Very few people know there once was a 2,000 acre parcel of land which adjoined the city of Deming and housed 30,000 army troops, not recently mind you, but in 1916. Located on the northwest side of Deming, this historical place was called Camp Cody. The beginning of the Twentieth Century was a time of turmoil in Europe, as well as in Mexico. There were revolutionaries in Mexico and it was the beginning of World War I in Europe. The United States military was at an expansion stage. The Army began using motor vehicles and airplanes. As all of these events were taking place guardsmen were being trained in the Deming area. Many people do not know and understand the significance of the camp and the impact it had on the Deming economy.
Camp Brookes was a joint maneuver encampment of the state guard and federal army. The summer camp, to train the troops, took place from July 11-21, 1914 in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Deming was the chosen site in 1914 because o fits proximity to the border in view of the increasing possibility of war with Mexico. Over 1,000 soldiers were stationed at the camp carried out the joint maneuvers, which at that time was the largest military exercise in the United States of America.
On Tuesday, July 21 at approximately 1 p.m., a bugle sounded throughout the camp to signal the dismantling of Camp Brookes.
Camp Deming was the second camp to the site three miles northwest of Deming. The official opening was held on Saturday, December 29, 1916. Camp Deming encamped the National Guard during the Mexican crisis. Although the outpost opened in December, it grew after Pancho Villa's raid on March 9, 1916, in Columbus, New Mexico. Camp Deming's glory was short-lived because the camp was gone by the time the War Department announced the coming of a new camp. Militia ordered the closure of the camp on February 23, 1917.
The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. With a standing Army of only about 200,000, the nation made an immediate decision to establish 32 training camps throughout the 48 states.
The loss of the Camp Deming created a recession in the town, which was about to be remedied by the announcement of the new camp. In May of 1917, the Army's examining board came and inspected the former site of Camp Deming. On June 15, 1917 the village of Deming received word that it be the site of one of the training camps to be established. This site was especially chosen because of its proximity to the railroad. Less than one mile away from the campsite is the Mimbres River, which was accessible for water usage.
The camp opened its gates on July 16, 1916. By July 20th, the camp received its name, Camp Cody. It was named after the famous buffalo hunter, William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill). Over 30,000 men needed to be housed, eight men to tent, clothed, fed, kept reasonably clean at the time that they were completing a training program in a rapid, disciplined, military manner. The camp was designed for approximately 36,000 troops. There were also 6,000 framed tents that had floors, electric lights and coal heaters.
The labor process was a very big undertaking. When work was at its height, there was a force of 3,000 men. Carpenters received $8.25 per day, while plumbers and carpenter foremen earned $9.63. A bricklayer foreman earned $11 for a shift. The camp cost American taxpayers over $2,025,000, which was an incredible sum for that time period.
The camp setup was very immense. There were three main streets and eighteen cross streets. Altogether, twelve miles of street were graded and topped with a three-inch coating of gravel. Later, crude oil would be poured on the primary streets to endure heavy truck traffic.
The men ate at either of the 120 mess houses. At least 10,000 loaves of bread were baked there on a daily basis. There were 1,200 shower bath houses. There were two of the most popular places around camp. There was at least one of these facilities on each company street. Eleven massive warehouses stored food and other provisions for an army of 30,000 men. The foundations of the those buildings are still visible to the east of the ASARCO
(American Smelting and Refining Company) mill which now exists on part of old Camp Cody.
There were all sorts of amenities for the men. There were at least five YMCA buildings; a Knights of Columbus, a library and post office were throughout the camp. In Deming, there was about five theaters and an ice cream factory, which underwent a big expansion because the economy of Deming was increasing due to the number of people the camp brought to Deming. With all these places, plus training, the men did indeed stay busy.
Plans for a new sewer system for the camp was approved in June 1918. The structure was such that it began at the West End of Camp Cody and flowed eastward. Adjacent to the Mimbres River, a huge spillway was constructed to complete the disposal process to empty into the river. The large septic tank was approximately 100 feet long and 80 feet wide. It was divided into 12 sections and had the capacity of 2,500,000 gallons. The project cost about a half-million dollars.
Things were going good at Camp Cody. The City of Deming's economy grew increasingly due to the population of men stationed at the camp. The men even wrote an official theme song. A score of the music can be found at the Deming-Luna Mimbres Museum. The cover of the score states, "We're Coming From Cody, Official Song of the Thirty-Fourth Division, U.S. Army Camp Cody Division. Words and Music by Jack Yellen and Private Harry Wessel." A very interesting camp newspaper was put out once a week by the El Paso Herald, the "Trench and Camp." The first edition came out on October 8, 1917. It cost one cent to send the paper to the folks back home, if a soldier wanted them to see what they were going through. The last edition came out on December 5, 1918.
After Brig. Gen. James R. Lindsay ordered the demobilization of the troops, most of the camp would be taken down. Everything but the hospital was used as tuberculosis sanatorium for soldiers. In 1922 the hospital was transferred to the local Chamber of Commerce.
Mother M. Aquina, Superior General of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Notre Dame, Indiana was looking for a suitable place for a sanatorium for Sisters suffering from tuberculosis. She received a letter from the Rev. G. C. Van Gothem, pastor of both Holy Family and St. Ann's Churches in Deming, asking the Sisters to establish such an institution there. She discussed the offer with her Council; they agree to purchase and staff it.
The bidder for the auction was J. A. Mahoney, acting for the Deming Chamber of Commerce and also as the President of the Holy Family Church Parish Council. Finally, the sum of $10,000 was agreed upon and paid by the Chamber of Commerce. On May 12, 1923, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, dedicated the Holy Cross Sanatorium in Deming, New Mexico.
The "little town" invested about $450,000 into the renovating of the sanatorium. Some of these costs included:
Nurses Quarters $10,000.00
Administration Building $26,183.00
Patient Building No. 3 $45,359.00
Patient Building No. 4 $44,359.00
Patient Building No. 6 $44,370.00
Dining Room $ 7,000.00
Chapel $ 5,000.00
Convent $ 15,000.00
Cow Stable $ 7,500.00
After all these buildings were situated, there were over 500 areas of land with 28 modern buildings.
The buildings of Camp Cody were also purchased with 320 areas of land, to be used for a farm, garden and a recreational building. When the architect, Trost & Trost of El Paso, Texas finished the renovations, the complex included a small farm, a poultry yard, a herd of cattle, a U. S. Post Office, an ice plant, a flowered vegetable garden, a grain silo, an incinerator, a cement swimming pool, a cemetery, a dipping vat, a small fire department and a blacksmith's shop. There were rumors of a gatekeeper's house, which was a barred building for those with mental problems.
In 1938 their numbers of patients steadily decreased, which led them to the closure of the hospital. The grounds were left for six Sisters to care for. On March 12, 1939 there was a fire. It started in the administration building, which cut off all the telephone connections. By the time the Deming Fire Department got there it was too late.
For the most part all the buildings were destroyed except for a few memories from the past, a couple of pictures, and some foundations of what was once Deming's treasure. Today there is a skeleton of the Old Boiler Room. It is graffited with every color of the rainbow spray paint. It is truly a shame that our youth does not appreciate the past. It disappeared into the midst of time. Camp Cody... Deming's forgotten legacy.
© Text is the copyright of Laura Krol.