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The Streets Were Lined With People

A rchives of the Big Bend. This may be the most impressive name for a repository of history I have ever heard. It captures the region perfectly. According to the website, this Archives, “is an important and dynamic historical resource for the Sul Ross State University and Big Ben…” Located on campus in the Wildenthal Memorial Library in Alpine, Texas, this unique regional collection symbolizes both pride of place and the ethos of west Texas people.

Arl Walter Fulcher was one of those people. Born in Lampasas, Texas in 1887, young Walter moved with his family to the Big Bend where they found a home with more land and a lot less water. Ranching was their stock in trade and they were good at it. Walter enlisted in the US Army’s First Army Mobile Veterinary Hospital in May, 1918, during the last months of the Great War. The army was looking for men experienced in working with and tending to draft animals and Fulcher checked all the boxes. Millions of horses, mules, and donkeys were used in World War I, and millions were killed or wounded as soldiers were by bullets, bombs, gas attack, and disease. The British and French armies were more prepared for the inevitable slaughter of animals than the Americans, but even their resources proved meager given the overwhelming numbers, a fact Fulcher would know all too well.

The subject of this post is the first of twenty-five letters Walter would write over the course of a year. This letter finds him aboard a troop ship headed for France. In it, he describes his journey from Texas to the east coast of the US and includes some memorable moments along the way. While in France, Fulcher would write of his experiences in war and post-war France, the French people and its culture, and life as a soldier in the Veterinary Service.

Walter Fulcher returned to Big Bend country in the summer of 1919, and there he would stay. In his later years Walter would write a book, The Way I Heard It, Tales of the Big Bend, (available on Amazon), participate in local civic affairs, and serve his country again during World War II. Ari Walter Fulcher died in Midland, Texas in 1953, age 65.

I have not read the remaining twenty-four letters but that is my plan. This letter leaves me wanting to know more. Should you feel the same way, a link to all of Fulcher’s letters is included in the introductory email.

Arl Walter Fulcher wrote large (literally, as you will see) with humility, honesty, humor, and common sense. I like him. I think you will too.

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Arl Walter Fulcher Paris 1919


W ell, here I am somewhere on the Atlantic [Ocean] and am as well and happy as I can be expected under the circumstances. I never before realized the immensity of the ocean as I do now and only wish that the water of the earth’s surface were more equally divided. For instance, a few more dry spots in the Atlantic and a few more wet ones in Western Texas. Would like to tell you a lot about the trip that I am not allowed to tell so that will have to keep until I get home. I am sure it will be almost as fresh in my memory then as it is now.

I got the jam a few days before I left camp. The Secretary of War was not in hollering distance so another Sergeant, a cook, and four privates helped me eat it, and a soldier on guard duty from another outfit where we had our picnic, licked the jar, and all voted it was simply great.

Did you get a letter I wrote from camp saying it would likely be my last from the US, for some time? I had scarcely finished it when I got orders to fall the men out to break camp. We had practiced this so much that in the short time we had everything in shape and were out on the road waiting for orders to march.
We had to make a long hike under full pack but the men were all in good condition and not a man of our unit fell out, though men from other units filled the ambulances.

About 9:00 that night, we passed through a town where the Red Cross treated us to nearly everything a soldier could ask for, after which we resumed the march.
Everybody in town must have known that soldiers were leaving and turned out to tell us goodbye for the streets were lined with people. There was no cheering and no bands playing and we had orders not to yell or sing, so they just stood and watched us march by, mostly in silence. Some waved the flag, some waved their hands, and some said, “goodbye boys.” Some of girls ran out in the streets and shook hands with us as we went by, some told us they had brothers over there, some invited us back to Christmas dinner with them, and of course we accepted all such invitations.

All were smiling and our bunch was the happiest of all for we were taking another step toward accomplishing what we started out to do. In fact, the only sad ones I saw were a few who were taken out of our company a few days before we left camp and did not get to go with us. For believe me we have some crack unit and everybody admits we have the best command of all the V.I. [Volunteer Infantry], if not in the U.S. Army.

One of our old Drill Sergeants who had given us our first lessons came over from our barracks to our camp to tell us goodbye, and shook hands with the whole bunch, though his arm must’ve ached.

As we were passing through the town where the Red Cross fed us, a big fellow in the uniform of a Captain (don’t know who or what he was) stood and watched us go by. As I came along (I was marching by the side of the column) he grabbed my hand and said, “So long old man” and I forgot he was an officer and said, “So long old timer.” He looked and talked like a Westerner and I am sure he was.

Will close for this time. Will write my next [letter] from the other side. This will be mailed on board ship and started back almost at once. Hope it gets by the censor. If it is not in good shape when it gets home copy it in ink, for I haven’t any, and send it the usual rounds.

With love to all, Bro.


Address me as follows:
Sgt. A.W. Fulcher
Army Mobile Vt. {Veterinary] Hosp. #1
American Expeditionary Forces, via New York


Transcript, of letter, dated August 7, 1918, Walter Fulcher Collection, 1916 – 1975,
Archives of the Big Bend, Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas.

Why Historify?

The past is inhabited by people, not faceless groups or impersonal trends. Stories are told through human activity. I discovered the magic and meaning of stories as a history teacher and the singular privilege of working at a Texas state archive filled with personal letters written by ordinary folks. Human stories will always be at the heart of history. That is what this website is all about. Please join me as we study the past through the words of those who lived it, one document at a time.


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