No matter which side of the current border wall dispute our opinions fall, we likely inherited some our ancestors’ viewpoints.
A border crisis with Mexico more than a hundred years ago deeply affected Jackson County and solidified our ancestors’ worldviews. Some of our own deep-seated values and opinions on border protection and gun ownership can be traced to this crisis that our ancestors experienced.
The world must have been every bit as frightening and uncertain for Hoosiers in the 1910s as it is for many us in the post-9/11 era. News of foreign wars filled Jackson County newspapers. With the Great War in Europe on the horizon, more immediate threats of a foreign armed invasion of U.S. soil loomed from Mexico.
In 1912, just two months after the State Department issued an ultimatum to Mexico to safeguard American interests, the very first volunteer — John Hainey of Kurtz — signed up at the newly-established Seymour recruiting station.
In 1913, 60 volunteers formed the first Seymour national guard unit “ready to march to the front” in Chihuahua, Mexico. At least four men from Seymour served in the Vera Cruz occupation, and many Hoosier civilians, including a man from Medora, were rescued from Vera Cruz by American troops in 1914.
In early 1916, Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa’s forces attacked American mining executives in Mexico and then crossed over into New Mexico in March, killing 16 Americans.
President Woodrow Wilson responded by sending Gen. John J. Pershing into Mexico to capture Villa in what is known as the Punitive Expedition in Mexico. Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916 in June, and two weeks later the secretary of war called national guard units from 47 states, including Indiana, to federal service.
By July, 4,000 Indiana National Guard, including Seymour’s Company K, had mobilized from Fort Benjamin Harrison to Mercedes, Texas, at the border.
Not everyone in Jackson County supported Wilson’s border policies. A July 5, 1916, Seymour Daily Republican (Tribune) editorial argued that the administration’s lack of policy had exacerbated the border crisis, first supporting the overthrow of former Mexican President Huerta by supplying Carranza and Villa “with arms and ammunition,” and then favoring “Villa in his warfare against Carranza,” and finally recognizing Carranza “as head of the de facto government” and abandoning Villa. Regarding border protection, “we guarded it badly.”
Meanwhile 40 Jackson County civilians formed the Seymour Rifle Club. Authorized by the Hay Act of 1914, the Department of War furnished one weapon and ammunition for every five adults in an organized gun club so that civilians would “become accustomed to handling army guns effectively … to defend the communities in which they live if … invaded by any enemy of the United States.”
In July, four cases of ammunition and eight rifles arrived, and the rifle club began target practice at that national guard’s range at Kurtz.
In February 1917, the Indiana National Guard returned home, only to be called up again few months later, this time to support the U.S. WWI effort. But the value of arming civilians to protect against foreign invasions would become ingrained in Jackson County’s ethos. These earlier historical origins of border protection and government-supported weapon ownership and training help us not only to better appreciate our own deep-seated beliefs, but also hopefully make it easier for us to respect opposing viewpoints, often those of family, friends and neighbors.
Craig Davis, who was born in Seymour and graduated from Brownstown Central, currently lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and works for a U.S. government contractor on school-based violence prevention. He is the author of “The Middle East for Dummies” and a number of non-fiction articles, including a Letter to the Editor published Jan. 22, 2003, in the Tribune titled “The Tale of Two Teachers and a Dropout.” Send comments to [email protected]