Buffalo Bayou
An Echo of Houston's Wilderness Beginnings
by
   Louis F. Aulbach   
The Tragic Violence Along Buffalo Bayou in 1917

The violence that occurred during the night of Thursday, August 23, 1917 is often referred to as the Camp Logan Riot. Some sources call the events the Houston Riot of 1917, and that is probably a better appellation since the actions of the mutinous soldiers assigned to Camp Logan took place away from the actual premises of the military base.

The acts of violence took place in two locations along Buffalo Bayou. The first was the suburban residential community of Brunner, located on the north side of Buffalo Bayou and centered at the intersection of Washington Avenue and the modern Shepherd Drive. The second scene of rioting took place on the south side of Buffalo Bayou along San Felipe Road, now known as West Dallas Avenue, in a residential area of the Fourth Ward known as the San Felipe District.

There was a third scene of violence in the episodes of this night that is not strictly part of the riot, but is rather more of an epilogue. Sergeant Vida Henry, the leader of the mutinous troops, stood alone near the tracks of the GH&SA Railroad along the eastern edge of the Fourth Ward, probably close to the modern intersection of South Main Street and Wheeler Street. At about 2:05 am on Friday, August 24, Henry took his own life with a single shot from his revolver.
 
The events of that August day began when reports circulated in the camp on Reinerman Street that Corporal Charles W. Baltimore, an off duty military policeman from the 3rd Battalion, had been roughly treated by a Houston policeman and arrested. Later, rumors that Baltimore had been killed provoked intense feelings of anger and frustration among the troops. The unrest among the soldiers continued to build during the early evening, and when Sergeant Vida Henry of I Company reported the situation to Major Kneeland S. Snow, the commandant, Snow ordered Henry to collect the rifles and ammunition from the men. About 8:00 pm, shortly after sunset, as Henry was gathering the rifles and ammunition, a soldier screamed that a mob was coming toward the camp. Private Frank Johnson yelled for the troops to get their guns. A shot was fired and bedlam broke out as the soldiers raided the supply tent for their weapons, and shots were fired wildly into the residential neighborhood. Ironically, Sergeant Henry emerged as the leader of the mob of over 100 soldiers who spilled out of the bivouac area and into the Brunner community intent on marching to the Fourth Ward jail to release their imprisoned comrade.

The mob of soldiers marched one block east on Louis Street, now Center Street, to Roy Street, where they peppered the home of Peter Morrison at 1119 Roy Street with rifle fire. Fortunately, there were no injuries to the Peter Morrison family, but when the soldiers turned south on Roy Street, across Washington Avenue, to Lillian Street, two young men at 4910 Lillian Street were not so lucky. Frederick Winkler, age 19, a machinist, was shot and killed on his front porch as he turned on the porch light. William J. Drucks, 26, was shot in the right arm, but he ultimately recovered and lived until 1975.

Although the main body of the mutinous soldiers headed down Roy Street, it is clear from the other reports of casualties that such a large body of soldiers fanned out across several blocks and numerous streets, shooting at random targets and demonstrating their well-honed marksmanship skills at any opportunity that presented itself.

E. A. Thompson was among the first to be killed by the rioters, presumably near Washington Avenue. Adam R. Carstens, a 48 year old house painter with a large family, was shot and killed near Parker Street and Center Street. M. D. Everton, a member of Company H, 5th Texas Infantry, was found dead near Carstens. He had been shot in the liver and in the right shoulder, and he had been bayoneted in the abdomen.

Washington Avenue was the main street of the Brunner, a working class residential community that had only been annexed by Houston in 1915. The local residents would certainly be out on the streets in the dusk of a scorchingly hot summer's day socializing and completing the errands of the day. Manuel Garredo, who lived at 4900 Washington Ave, was shot and killed. Senelton "Senator" Satton, a barber, was shot through both thighs and bayoneted through the heart and neck. Sammie Foreman, a member of Company F, 5th Texas Infantry, was shot in the leg, but did not suffer a serious injury. More seriously injured were W. A. Thompson, who was shot in the hip, and Alma Reichert, who was shot in the stomach. George W. Butcher, 41, who worked as an ice man and who lived with his wife and seven children on Kiam Street in the Cottage Grove Addition, just north of Brunner, was shot in the left chest and right side, but he recovered from his wounds.

The mob of soldiers headed south to converge at the narrow bridge across Buffalo Bayou at Shepherd's Dam at the end of Brunner Avenue. For those who were unaware of what was taking place in their neighborhood that evening, the consequences were dire. Charles W. Wright, a barber, came out of his home on Wood Street, now Floyd Street, near Brunner Avenue to investigate all the commotion. He was shot in the stomach and killed. Jitney driver E. M. Jones, 53, drove his last fare of the day and was found dead on a shell road near Brunner. He had been shot several times and his right arm had been severed by a saber. Earl Fendley, age 16, who had been with a group of friends on Washington Avenue earlier that evening, was found in the road near Shepherd's Dam, shot through the heart and bayoneted.                                                                                    
Camp Logan Riot - Brunner scene
The soldiers converged on the narrow bridge at Shepherd's Dam and then made their way up the dirt road through the riparian forest along the banks of the bayou to the San Felipe Road. The San Felipe Road ran due east, directly into the heart of the Fourth Ward. It would place them near enough to their intended location, the jail on the banks of Buffalo Bayou at the corner of Bagby Street and Capital Avenue. This route also offered an unobstructed path to the city. Although they encountered the small, black community of Green Pond adjacent to the College Memorial Park Cemetery established by Jack Yates, and across from Yates' Houston College, there were only a cluster of houses in the Stanley Subdivision near the Magnolia Cemetery (near modern Montrose Boulevard). The road passed through scattered rural farms and fields until it reached the western edge of the San Felipe District near present day Taft Street.

After marching for an hour or so, the soldiers stopped to rest in the 1600 block of San Felipe Road, near Gillette Street, about three miles from where they had begun their journey. The mob numbered slightly less than 100 men now, since some of the rioters had wearied of the quest and had drifted back to camp. It was still a well armed and formidable force.

As they resumed their march to town, the mob encountered a captain and a lieutenant from Camp Logan. Although the soldiers almost shot the officers, they decided instead to allow them to pass, perhaps indicating that the mob was focusing its hostility, not on its own military comrades, but on the Houston police.

Within 10 minutes, the mob was at the call box on San Felipe Road at Wilson Street. Mounted officers Ross Patten and W. H. Long were at the call box and Long was making a call. A dozen soldiers fired on the police, killing Patton's horse and wounding him. Patten and Long took cover in an adjacent house. Patten would die from his injuries two weeks later.                                   

At just that time, a vehicle driven by businessman Charles W. Hahl approached the scene. Police officers Rufus Daniel, W. C. Wilson, Horace Moody and C. E. Carter had commandeered the car for a ride to the action. The car stopped when they heard shots fired on Patten and Long. Sergeant Henry ordered his men to take cover in the City Cemetery on the south side of the street. Daniels then proceeded to charge the troops in the cemetery with only his hand gun, and he was instantly killed. Carter, Wilson and Moody took cover in a nearby garage. Moody was shot in the leg and severely injured. Moody later died while doctors were amputating his leg.                               
 
The firing ceased, and the soldiers brutalized the dead body of Rufus Daniels, battering his face and bayoneting his body. The mob then continued toward downtown.                                                   

Four blocks later, at Heiner Street, the troops encountered a seven passenger touring car driven by James E. Lyon. This car had two civilian passengers and police officers John E. Richardson and Ira Raney, who had hitched a ride to get to the area of the action.

The mob disarmed those in the touring car and held them in the road with their hands up. When Richardson inadvertently let his hands down a soldier struck him over the head with butt of his rifle. At that point, Raney and the civilian passenger Eli Smith took off running in opposite directions. The 56 year old Smith was an easy target for expert riflemen. Smith was later found in the ditch at Heiner Street. He had also been bayoneted in the hip and the left arm pit, a thrust that penetrated his heart. Officer Raney's dash placed him in the illumination of the car's lights where he was shot. Raney's body was beaten and bayoneted like that of Officer Daniels.

Lyon, who jumped as a soldier took aim at him with his rifle and he was only hit in the arm. Lyon ran for two blocks where a police officer found him and took him to a hospital. Lyon survived with only minor wounds in the leg and arm.                                                                                              
        
Asa Bland, the other civilian passenger in the touring car, was shot over the left eye, but received only a slight graze wound. He was knocked unconscious by a soldier and lay motionless in the middle of the San Felipe Road. Officer Richardson feigned death nearby.

Soon, a second car arrived at the Heiner Street intersection. This vehicle carried Captain Joseph Mattes from Camp Logan, three enlisted soldiers and Officer Edwin Meineke. Mattes stood up in the car as if to address the mutineers, but about forty of the rioting soldiers took aim at the approaching car and fired on those in it. Both Mattes and Meineke, as well as one of the enlisted men, were killed immediately. The driver of this second car ducked under the steering wheel and crashed the car, but he saved his life. The other enlisted soldier was covered by the fallen body of Mattes, and he escaped injury.

The rapid sequence of violent and bloody events seemed to call for a natural hiatus. The Houston police, choosing to avoid a confrontation with the superior strength of the mob of professional soldiers, monitored the situation from a perimeter of two blocks or more. Although the exact time and location of the incidents are unclear, two other men sustained injuries in the melee. Police detective T. A. Binford received a minor wound to the knee, and wholesale grocery salesman William H. Burkett who lived in the Fourth Ward received a gun shot to his left side and was hit with shotgun pellets, but he survived these serious injuries.
Camp Logan Riot - San Felipe District scene
It had been a little over two hours of violent rioting and, after the soldiers mistakenly killed their own Captain Mattes, thinking he was a city policeman, they argued over the next course of action.       
                                                     
The deflated mob retreated a few blocks to the south and gathered near the railroad tracks on the eastern edge of the Fourth Ward. Although Sergeant Henry urged the mob to attack the jail, many of the soldiers had lost interest in the venture and they drifted away and back to camp. Others wanted to hide in the woods or stay with friends in the area. Finally, after two hours of discussion, Henry concluded that the soldiers no longer wanted to continue, so he sent them away and told the men to return to camp. 

Henry had asked some of his comrades to kill him, but they all refused. Alone and in despair, about 2:05 am, Henry took his own life. The next morning, his body was found by some young boys  near the railroad tracks.                                                                   

On August 24, 1917, Governor James E. Ferguson declared martial law in Houston and he placed Brigadier General John A. Hulen, commander of the Texas National Guard, in charge of the city. That day, three hundred fifty Coast Guardsmen arrived from Galveston and six hundred two infantrymen arrived from San Antonio to enforce a curfew that was imposed on the city.

By 9:30 am on Saturday, August 25, 1917, all of the troops of the 3rd Battalion were placed on Southern Pacific trains and sent to San Antonio and New Mexico to await trial.         

The civil authority was restored to the city on Monday, August 27, 1917.

In the riot of August 23, 1917, eleven innocent citizens lost their lives, five police officers were killed in the line of duty, and thirty citizens suffered severe wounds. Four of the rioters died. Two of the mutinous soldiers were accidentally killed by their own men, one soldier was shot by a citizen and died later in a hospital, and Sergeant Vida Henry died by his own hand.
                                   
Three separate courts martial were convened at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio 1917, and they indicted one hundred eighteen men of I Company, 24th Infantry, 3rd Battalion. Seven of the soldiers who rioted testified against the others in exchange for clemency. One hundred ten of the mutinous soldiers were found guilty of at least one charge, nineteen of them were hanged, and sixty-three of them received life sentences. Two officers of Camp Logan faced courts martial, but were released. No civilian citizens of Houston were brought to trial.

It was a sad and tragic day in Houston history. Several sources discuss the reasons, the motivations and the causes for the riot, but I have chosen here to present simply the chronology of the events and the identities of the persons involved on that dangerous night in town in the summer of 1917. Please take the time to read the other sources on this episode in order to form your own opinion on the others aspects of the events.


Haynes, Robert V. Night of Violence: the Houston riot of 1917. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1976.

"Houston Riot of 1917." The Handbook of Texas Online. <http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/HH/jch4.html>

Kennedy, Tom. "The Camp Logan Riot of 1917." Badge and Gun, [vol ?].

Zoch, Nelson. "Lest We Forget." Badge and Gun, Volume XXXII, No. 5 (May, 2006).


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Copyright by Louis F. Aulbach, 2006


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