Northwest Men's Preparedness League and Business Men's Camps at American Lake

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 1/05/2015
  • Essay 10911
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In the summers of 1915 and 1916, businessmen from around the Northwest learned how to soldier at Business Men's Camps held at American Lake in Pierce County. The camps, organized by the Northwest Men's Preparedness League with support from the Washington National Guard and United States Army were part of a larger effort promoting universal military training and preparedness to defend the United States. In 1913 and 1914 U.S. college students had attended military summer camps, run by the army, that taught basic military skills. The concept was expanded to encampments for business and professional men in 1915. During the 1916 camp Stephen Appleby (1869-1950), a Tacoma banker and vice president of the Preparedness League, encountered U.S. Army Captain Richard Park (1883-1972), who was surveying for a permanent West Coast army camp. Park was shown the American Lake site where the businessmen trained and, following a campaign by Appleby and other Tacoma civic leaders, the army established Camp Lewis there. (The facility was later renamed Fort Lewis and then Joint Base Lewis-McChord). The military summer-camp programs ended with the 1917 enactment of the Selective Service Act instituting a military draft.

The Plattsburg Idea

In 1913 two military summer camps for college students were established, one at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and one at the Presidio of Monterey in California. Major General Leonard Wood (1860-1927), then Army Chief of Staff, was a powerful advocate of the camps. The Student Military Instruction Camps, as they were called, were part of a general preparedness drive and were seen as a step toward universal military training. The two camps taught basic military skills such as drill, calisthenics, parading, and weapons firing. Regular army and National Guard troops served as instructors and trainers. They discovered the students to be quick learners. In 1914, as World War I broke out in Europe, the program was expanded to four regional camps, with the west coast camp at the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey. Also that year, Wood ended his tour as Chief of Staff and became commander of the Eastern Department, United States Army, with authority over eastern camps. In that capacity in the summer of 1915 he would help establish a camp for businessmen at Plattsburg Barracks in New York, which would become a national prototype.

In 1915 world events -- news of the war in Europe and threats on the United States border with Mexico -- increased interest in military readiness. On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed and sank the Cunard liner Lusitania, with a loss of 1,195 passengers including 124 Americans. Americans expressed outrage and horror over the civilian deaths. Two New York lawyers, Grenville Clark (1882-1967) and his law partner Elihu Root Jr. (1881-1967), were scheduled to play golf on May 9, but were so upset and angry over the attack that they canceled their play and discussed what could be done. Clark organized a group that called for action by the United States. There were discussions at the Harvard Club in New York City. General Wood, a Harvard graduate, was a regular club attendee and found the emerging preparedness movement of fellow members encouraging. In late May Clark revived an earlier proposal he had made to form a small military reserve corps of businessmen and professionals. He also read about the 1914 Plattsburg summer camp for college students and thought a similar camp for businessmen and professionals in their late twenties and thirties would contribute to national defense.

The concept was presented to Wood, who considered it an excellent idea. It fit with his thinking on preparedness. Other prominent citizens, including former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and financier and presidential advisor Bernard Baruch (1870-1965), endorsed the concept. Baruch helped by donating $3,000 for the first businessmen's camp. General Wood made it clear that the camps, similar to the college student camps, would be voluntary and the army would only supply training cadre, barracks space, and equipment. Army and National Guard officers ran the camps as part of their normal duties. Some of the best and brightest officers became trainers. Captain George C. Marshall (1880-1959) was one of a number of future generals to be a camp instructor. The camps were four weeks in length.

In 1915 training camps were held at various locations across the nation, with a total of 10,000 volunteers attending. On the West Coast there were camps at American Lake in Washington and at the Presidio of San Francisco. The best-known camp was at the Plattsburg Barracks and the summer-camp concept became known as the "Plattsburg Idea."

Northwest Men's Preparedness League

The Pacific Northwest had strong advocates for the preparedness movement, among them Seattle Times publisher Clarence B. Blethen (1879-1941). Blethen, an officer in the Officer Reserve Corps, promoted preparedness and summer encampments. He had attended reserve training with regular army units and was well aware of readiness issues. In his civilian life he spoke of the need for preparedness and citizen soldiers. In 1916 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and commander the 1st Coast Defense Command, Washington National Guard. He eventually reached the rank of major general in the guard. He encouraged the formation of the Northwest Men's Preparedness League. The league held meetings lectures and, with Washington National Guard and U.S. Army support, organized summer encampments at American Lake in 1915 and 1916.

Businessmen from Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Spokane, Ellensburg, North Yakima, Portland, and other cities joined the Preparedness League and attended the camps. One of the more active league members was Stephen C. M. Appleby, who served as its vice president. Appleby was cashier of the National Bank of Tacoma. A graduate of the Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minnesota, he came to the movement with military training.

The first Northwest encampment, named the Business Men's Camp, was held in 1915 at American Lake in Pierce County south of Tacoma. It was loosely patterned after the Plattsburg camp. Businessmen paid $60 for food and uniforms. The camp included bankers, lawyers, a judge, a minister, a physician, and other successful businessmen. Harry Whitney Treat (1865-1922), a very successful Seattle capitalist who had built the Ballard streetcar line, pulled the same duty as others. The camp's tents were erected at Cosgrove, American Lake (in 2015 the Washington National Guard headquarters Camp Murray). The daily schedule had the 94 businessmen in attendance getting up at 5:30 in the morning, with assembly at 5:45 a.m., followed by breakfast and then calisthenics, drill, and marching until lunch. After lunch there was instruction on military subjects with mess at 6:00 p.m. The men also spent time at rifle and machine-gun ranges practicing maneuvering and firing. Time was set aside for sports and games between the trainees and the training cadre. For recreation there was swimming in American Lake, baseball fields, and a grove of trees that served as a park. Musical shows were brought to the camp for evening concerts. It was a tough nine-hour day for many accustomed to desk work. Attendees called the camp the "TBM" for "Tired Business Men."

On September 10, 1915, former President William Howard Taft (1857-1930) spoke to the businessmen at the American Lake camp. He declared that while international peace might be realized through negotiation or judicial action, the United States in the meantime must be prepared to defend itself against attack. He noted that the volunteers at the camp represented a key part in this defense, but said that the nation needed to be more concerned with readiness. Distinguished speakers at the camp also included Seattle Mayor Hiram C. Gill (1866-1919) and U.S. Congressman Albert Johnson (1869-1957) of Hoquiam, Grays Harbor County. Throughout the year Preparedness League members gave speeches, had lectures, and submitted newspaper articles that called for readiness. Stephen Appleby gave one such address, titled "Preparedness," to the Tacoma Knights of Pythias on February 21, 1916. A major event was a league parade in Seattle on June 10, 1916. The league also presented speeches by military leaders such as Major General Franklin J. Bell (1856-1919), commanding the Western Department, United States Army, who spoke of preparedness and training camps.

On February 4, 1916, the Military Training Camps Association was established to help organize future camps. It raised $100,000 to promote businessmen's camps across the nation. The association produced advertising and promotional brochures and had speakers tell of the importance of the program. General Wood made 134 speeches as part of the effort. One promotional slogan -- "Give your vacation to your country and still have the best vacation you ever had" -- appeared in the May 6, 1916, Saturday Evening Post. The Northwest Men's Preparedness League held regular meetings in Seattle and Tacoma. Western camps for the summer of 1916 were held at Fort Douglas near Salt Lake City; Monterey, California; and American Lake. Advertising encouraged West Coast enrollment.

The 1916 Business Men's Camp at American Lake opened on August 28 and closed on September 23. The army covered the cost of food and uniforms for the 117 men who attended this camp. The first week was devoted to military basics. Commanding the 1916 encampment was Colonel Ulysses Grant "U.G." Alexander (1864-1936), a regular army infantry officer. Alexander, by then a Major General, obtained hero status in World War I hero for his 38th Regiment's gallant stand at the Marne River. He and the 38th earned the nickname "Rock of the Marne."

Businessmen who had attended the previous camp served as squad leaders at the 1916 encampment. On September 1 the camp was moved to Fort Lawton in Seattle to make room at Cosgrove for Washington National Guard troops returning from Mexican-border duties. At Fort Lawton there was maneuver training and instruction in sanitation and building field fortifications. It was at Fort Lawton that Stephen Appleby learned that Captain Richard Park, an army engineer, was surveying sites for a West Coast army training camp. Park was not aware of the many regular army officers who had touted the value of the American Lake prairies for maneuvers and as a training camp. Appleby met with Park and introduced him to Tacoma boasters pushing for a permanent army camp at American Lake. They gave Park a tour of the prairies at American Lake. He was impressed and called on the commander of the Western Department to inspect the site. Major General Bell looked over the land and declared it an excellent locale for maneuvers.

Impact of the Preparedness Movement and Summer Camps

With the May 1917 Selective Service Act instituting the military draft following America's entry into World War I, the preparedness movement faded away. The 1916 camps were the final Business Men's Camps. The movement and the Plattsburg Idea had failed to bring about the goal of universal military training, but had achieved greater awareness of military readiness. The camps also prepared a number of attendees to train further to become commissioned officers in the Officer Reserve Corps and regular army. Jack W. Browne (1891-1964), a Tacoma Railway manager, was typical. He was selected for the April 1917 Officer Training Camp at the Presidio in San Francisco. After completing the 90-day course he was commissioned a first lieutenant in the cavalry. The Officer Training Camps contributed significantly to the war effort by producing many competent officers. After the war Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) annual camps based on the Plattsburg model were established and continue today.

At American Lake the Business Men's Camp was critical in the effort to develop a permanent army training camp at the location. Stephen Appleby and prominent citizens employed the value of the land for maneuvers in promoting the site to the War Department. A year after the 1916 Business Men's camp, its American Lake location had become Camp Lewis, which went on to grow into Fort Lewis and then Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Development over the years altered the maneuver grounds on which the businessmen practiced. In 2015 traces of the camp's firing range remained at Miller Hill on Lewis Main, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The prairie where the businessmen maneuvered near the rifle range had become the site of barracks and administrative buildings. In Seattle, Clarence Blethen was remembered with a drinking fountain at Fort Lawton, which became Discovery Park. Blethen donated the fountain in 1923 and it survives in the park's Freedom Grove. After Camp Lewis was built and operating, Stephen Appleby was active in forming the Camp Lewis Amusement Company, which built Greene Park, an entertainment zone adjacent to the camp.

Sources: John Garry Clifford, Citizen Soldiers: The Plattsburg Training Camp Movement, 1913-1920 (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1972 ); "Takes Time to Teach Modern Game of War," Tacoma Daily Ledger, August 25, 1915, p. 1; "Bugle Again to Get 'Em Up in Uncle Sam's New Duty School," Ibid., August 27, 1916, p. 1.; "Helping Chase That Mr. Villa," Olympia Daily Recorder, April 1, 1916, p. 1.; M. M. Mattison, "It Takes Mr. Taft to Cover Ground," The Seattle Times, September 11, 1915, p. 3; "Tacoma K. of P.'s Hear Talk on Preparedness," Ibid., February 22, 1916, p. 2; "Plans Laid for Rousing Business Men's Summer Camp at American Lake," Ibid., March 12, 1916, p. 18; "Preparedness Workers Pay Tribute to Press," Ibid., June 11, 1916, p. 13; "Gen. J. Franklin Bell Holds Out Hopes for Business Men's Camp," Ibid., June 23, 1916, p. 11; "110 Seattle Men Sign for Military Training Camp at American Lake," Ibid., July 18, 1916, p. 5; "Uncle Sam to Share Expense of Attending American Lake Camp," Ibid., August 29, 1916, p. 3; "1916 Training Camp Is Removed to Fort Lawton," Ibid., September 1, 1916, p. 7.

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