First conscripts enter Camp Lewis as the U.S. Army post officially opens on September 5, 1917.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 10/05/2016
  • Essay 20151

On September 5, 1917, Camp Lewis, the new army post located in Pierce County south of Tacoma, officially opens and welcomes its first drafted men. The identity of the first conscript to enter the camp will be a source of public interest, and considerable confusion, for years to come. The first history of Camp Lewis, published in 1918, identifies Private Herbert W. Hauck (1894-1979) as the first draftee to report, and that account will be repeated many times over the years, but Hauck is not actually drafted until September 20. According to contemporaneous accounts, plans call for a group of draftees from King County, with Swiss immigrant Arthur Halder (1893-1994) at the head of the list, to be the first to enter. In fact, however, a conscript from eastern Oregon, Arthur W. Goff (1888-1950), mistakenly travels directly to Camp Lewis rather than reporting to his local draft board and, at 8:45 a.m., hours before the King County inductees arrive, becomes the first draftee to report to Camp Lewis for military service. Newspaper accounts note an irony -- Goff is a pacifist.

Review of the Record

In 1916, following two decades of efforts by local boosters to bring a major military facility to Pierce County, the U.S. Army accepted an offer to build a permanent army base near American Lake south of Tacoma in return for the donation of 70,000 acres of land for the facility. In January 1917 Pierce County voters approved a bond issue to fund the land purchase, and that June -- two months after the U.S. entered World War I, which had been raging for several years in Europe -- construction at the base began. By September, the camp, named in honor of Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) of the Lewis and Clark expedition, was ready to begin training some of the many men being drafted into the army to join the fighting overseas. The first draftees were scheduled to arrive on September 5, 1917.

Alice Palmer Henderson's 1918 book The Ninety-First: The First at Camp Lewis, published the year after the camp opened, assigns considerable importance to the identity of the first draftee to arrive. She describes Private Herbert W. Hauck chauffeuring Colonel Peter W. Davison (1869-1920) through the gate in early September and becoming the first conscript at Camp Lewis:

"Col. Davison was in Seattle under orders to proceed to Camp Lewis, and was driven there, the first week in September 1917, by a chauffeur who had been drafted. So Col. Peter W. Davison and Private H. W. Hauck arrived together, and for three days constituted the entire Depot Brigade" (Henderson, 29-30).

Henderson's work was the first history of the camp and remains the most thorough. Histories since then draw upon her documentation, including repeating her account of Hauck as the first draftee.

However, a review of U.S. Army records casts serious doubts on this account. In early September 1917, Colonel Davison was in Juneau, Alaska, assigned to the Alaska Road Commission. He received orders to Camp Lewis and arrived in Seattle on September 16. He and his wife Esther W. Davison (1880-1958) stayed at the Windsor Hotel and Apartments on the northwest corner of 6th and Union in Seattle to await his Camp Lewis assignment. Private Hauck was not inducted until September 20, 1917. He arrived at Camp Lewis on that date.

Colonel Davison would become the commanding officer of the 166th Depot Brigade, which had the important task of assigning troops to various units. Major General Henry A. Greene (1856-1921), who headed the 91st Division, the primary unit at Camp Lewis, recognized Colonel Davison's leadership abilities and in June 1918 made him his chief of staff. The Davisons also became involved with community programs in Seattle and Tacoma, including Seattle's Army-Navy Club.

Ten Million and Ninety-two Men from King County

Local newspapers provided extensive coverage of the first conscripts going to Camp Lewis. The first man called to the colors under the Selective Service Act was to be from Seattle or King County. The events were festive: On September 4, 1917, the city of Seattle gave a rousing send-off to its very first conscripts. Drafted men paraded through downtown along with women of the Red Cross. That evening the draftees attended a concert with 13 bands, two drum corps, and vaudeville acts. Then dancing at the Hippodrome Dance Hall lasted until the early morning of September 5. After a few hours of sleep the men climbed into waiting cars. Citizen volunteers drove their cars with the draftees through downtown Seattle and then on to Camp Lewis. At the head of the auto convoy was the Seattle Fire Department band, a police band, and a fife and drum corps in large sightseeing cars.

Reporters wrote cheerfully that "Ten Million and ninety-two Seattle men ... reported at Camp Lewis" that afternoon ("Seattle's First Draft ..."). The number was in reality 93 men -- 74 from Seattle and 19 from elsewhere in King County -- one of whom was a well-known local athlete with an unusual name. Ten Million (1889-1964) was a Broadway High School star and 1908 graduate, University of Washington athlete, and professional baseball player in the Northwest League.

The King County draftees were expected to be the first to enter Camp Lewis. The King County Draft Board order of induction had Arthur Halder at the top of the list. If the conscripts entered in order Halder would be the first. Arthur Halder was born in Switzerland and had already served two years in the Swiss Army before immigrating to Canada. From Canada, Halder came to the United States and worked for the Great Northern Railway before joining the U.S. Army in September 1917. The army would be his avenue to American citizenship. If he had been first at Camp Lewis it would have been another memorable event in his life.

The First of Many

However, an Oregon draftee had in error beaten the King County convoy to Camp Lewis. Arthur W. Goff, a farmer from Burnt Ranch in eastern Oregon, had been instructed to report to his local draft board for travel. Instead he spent several days traveling on his own by auto and train to Camp Lewis. He arrived at the camp gate at 8:45 a.m. on the morning of September 5, 1917, hours before the King County convoy pulled through the entrance early that afternoon. Private Goff thus became the first draftee into the camp. Goff's surprise arrival had another twist, which newspaper accounts of the event noted -- he was a pacifist opposed to war in general.

Although Goff was the first draftee to report, Camp Lewis was already occupied by thousands of officers and men in three regular army or volunteer units. Present to greet the new recruits were the volunteer 363rd Portland Ambulance Company with 119 men and 12 ambulances, the volunteer Masonic Ambulance Corps of San Francisco with 12 ambulances, and a regular army truck company. Both ambulance units served in France.

More draftees reported for training on September 6 and on subsequent days. By September 9, the camp had received 2,274 draftees. Soon special trains full of recruits were pulling into the Camp Lewis station, bringing the number to 20,449 by September 24. On October 8 the conscripts numbered 39,000 and on November 11 the count reached 45,000. These troops would go into battle as the 91st Division, and Camp Lewis would become an important training camp.

During and After the War

The thousands of men who reported to Camp Lewis in the fall of 1917 arrived a little too early to pass through the Liberty Gate that would soon become the primary entrance to the camp. The impressive arched stone-and-wood military entrance gate, designed by noted Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter (1860-1939), was under construction that fall. It was completed in January 1918 and subsequently greeted those coming to the facility. An iconic feature of Fort Lewis (as the base was renamed in 1927; it would become part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2010), the entrance gate was the scene of many firsts, not all of them recorded. Among the firsts that news photographers did document was the first Women's Army Corps soldiers passing through the gate in 1943 during World War II.

But in early 1918 during World War I, training and war preparations soon overshadowed the new gate. Those first draftees of 1917 were busy learning to be soldiers. Arthur Goff completed his training at Camp Lewis and served in France with the 316th Supply Train. Supply trains brought rations, equipment, and other supplies to the front lines. Discharged in April 1919, he returned to farming. In the 1930s Goff moved to California and farmed poultry. He married, acquired a stepson, Wesley Taylor (1916-2000), and during World War II again served his nation. Goff worked in defense at McClellan Field in Sacramento. After he died in 1950, his stepson obtained a military headstone noting Private Goff's service.

Arthur Halder was discharged in January 1918, before his unit went overseas. He was with Seattle's Hi-Grade Dairy for 40 years and then spent 11 years with the state Agriculture Department as a milk inspector. Ten Million served with the 361st Infantry, reaching the rank of first sergeant. He played on the regimental ball team with other former professionals. After the war he worked for the City of Seattle as a railway claims adjuster.

Herbert Hauck trained with the 361st Infantry Regiment and served in France. He reached the rank of corporal and was discharged in 1919. Hauck returned to Seattle and by 1925 was manager of a Pierce Arrow dealership. In the Great Depression he took up professional photography.

After his service at Camp Lewis as General Greene's chief of staff, Colonel Peter Davison was transferred to Camp Fremont in California to command the Eighth Infantry Regiment. Davison received his star as brigadier general in August 1918, and then became second in command at the Hoboken Port of Embarkation in New Jersey. He died of illness there in February 1920.

Following his death, Esther Davison moved to Seattle, where the couple had planned to retire. She was active in community affairs. In January 1922 she participated in the Seattle Garden Club's memorial tree plantings in honor of World War I service members. She contributed two elms for Memorial Way, the eight-mile road between Des Moines and the Seattle city limits. One of her elm trees honored Camp Lewis commander Major General Henry A. Greene. A second tree honored her late husband, Brigadier General Peter W. Davison. During World War II, Esther Davison had an office job at the Seattle District of the Army Corps of Engineers, where she served 16 years altogether.


Alice Palmer Henderson, The Ninety-First: The First at Camp Lewis (Tacoma: John C. Barr, 1918); Harold H. Burton, 600 Days Service: A History of the 361st Infantry Regiment (Portland, Oregon: James, Kerns & Abbott Co., 1921); "Automobiles to Convey Drafted Troops to Camp," The Seattle Times, September 2, 1917, p. 13; "Seattle to Honor Men Who Will Join Army," Ibid., September 4, 1917, p. 3; "Seattle's First Draft Gets Down to Real Business," Ibid., September 6, 1917, p. 2; "Personal Mention: Colonel P. W. Davison and Wife Arrive Seattle Last Week," Ibid., September 23, 1917, p. 60; "Maj. Gen. P. W. Davison, Prominent in Seattle, Awarded Honor Medal," Ibid., September 21, 1919, p. 19; "Many Apply For Elms," Ibid., January 20, 1922, p. 7; "Services Set for Mrs. Peter Davison," Ibid., July 27, 1958, p. 31; "Social Notes of the Week," Daily Alaska Dispatch, September 2, 1917, p. 4; "Seattle Plans Honors," Oregonian, September 4, 1917, p. 19; "Oregon Pacifist Prompt to Report," Ibid., September 6, 1917, p. 1; "Drafted Men Reach Camp," Ibid., September 6, 1917, p. 4; "Ambulance Boys Begin Real Work," Ibid., September 9, 1917, p. 12; "General Davison Dies," Ibid., February 13, 1920, p. 6; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Fort Lewis, Part 1, 1917-1927" and "Liberty Arch Monument gate at Camp Lewis is completed on January 26, 1918." (by Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.), (accessed October 5, 2016).

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