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Searching for the first fallen Sun Devils, part 2

May 23, 2017

Like Pat Tillman, Howard Draper and Albert Pitts volunteered early; their decision wasn't a popular choice in the WWI era

Editor's note: This is the second in three-part series that came from the search through history for the first Sun Devil war heroes. Howard Draper and Albert Pitts were killed overseas during WWI. Today, we explore a young Arizona, a skeptical nation and the decision to go to war. 


Arizona in 1917 was still rural — “in a weird way,” ASU historian Heidi Osselaer said.

“It’s a state that was transitioning to a modern society, as was the entire country,” she said. “We tend to mark that World War I-era as the time where America enters the modern world.”

At the time, people clustered in mining towns. About 330,000 people lived in Arizona in 1920, a 63 percent increase from the 1910 census.

“Mining towns, do you consider those rural?” Osselaer said. “They’re cities. Bisbee, Morenci, Globe, Clifton, those places were big towns when they were booming, and then they’d die. So in a sense, they were urban. You had ranching and farmers, but more people than you’d think were in the cities; then, as now, there’s not a lot of private land. Mostly state, federal, Indian land. So you are clustered in urban areas, but these urban areas were small towns. There was a time, I think, Bisbee was probably the biggest city in the state, and Phoenix took over pretty much around the turn of the century.”

New state inferiority
Satterfield political cartoon about the imminent statehood of Arizona and New Mexico.

The state had something of an inferiority complex. The rest of the country wasn’t enamored of the Southwest in general. When New Mexico and Arizona were admitted to the Union in February 1912, Eastern newspapers ran cartoons welcoming the new states that depicted them as sleeping Indians and Mexicans or rootin’, tootin’ cowboys firing pistols. Arizona had an image as a violent, lawless desert hellhole. People here were acutely aware of that.

“There was an effort by reformers to clean up the state,” Osselaer said. “They got a prohibition law passed; they gave women the right to vote. ... They start passing anti-gambling laws, anti-prostitution laws and all these other things. So there is this image.

“This was a transition, when people are moving into cities from ranches and the country, and you have things like indoor plumbing, electricity, movie theaters, all these wonderful things. So you see it becoming a more urban and modern society. That said, Arizona was the poorest state in the Union at that time. People had to work hard to get by.”


America declared war against Germany in April 1917. The country was divided. It was America’s first foreign war against a serious, industrialized opponent, and the national mood was isolationist. Put it this way: Vietnam was more popular.

One-third of Americans were immigrants who had come over to avoid being conscripted into the Prussian or German armies, or they were immigrant-born. They had no interest in sending their sons overseas to die fighting for some royal family. As many Americans skipped the draft as served in World War I.

Heidi Osselaer
Heidi Osselaer is a faculty associate in ASU's Department of History. Photo courtesy of Heidi Osselaer

“Do most people want to go fight overseas?” asked Osselaer, the ASU historian. “No. These were Old World dynasties. These weren’t democracies. Are you going to go fight against the Kaiser and the Hapsburgs? You can imagine the average farmer or rancher who was working hard: ‘My son is going to go? Who is going to bring in the crops?’”

People wrote letters to draft boards, congressmen, anybody they could to get their sons out of conscription. Osselaer quoted from them:

“‘I can’t go to war. My folks live in Yarnell and they are 16 miles outside of town; both of them have tuberculosis. They do not have a car, they cannot get in. If I leave and I do not take care of them, they will starve to death out there.’ It was really serious stuff.

“The head of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association: writing letters to the draft boards, in Washington, D.C., the War Department: ‘You have to understand, sir, that cowboying, ranching, is a young man’s job. You’ve decimated my industry.’ All these men are being pulled off to go to the front line, cause cowboys are usually single, young, ruthless ... they go pretty quick in the draft process. He goes: ‘This is not something I can put an old man in. Their body won’t take it; I can’t get cattle rounded up for slaughter. My industry is falling apart.’

“Cotton growers: having trouble finding pickers. Everybody is scrambling to get everybody. So this is our first taste of it, and for a lot of families, they would just say, ‘I don’t want my boy to go.’ They would send him to a relative in another town, they’d send him out of state to hide out. That was very common. And, most complied, the vast majority, but they were not happy. And they were happy when the war ended quickly.”

Robert Spindler
Robert Spindler is the archivist of special collections at Hayden Library. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Urban folks had a different take on the war, said ASU archivist Robert Spindler.

“They were politically connected; they read the newspaper … more educated, more global view of things, and would be more sympathetic to the patriotism and the call to arms,” Spindler said. “So, I think you’ll see very different perspectives, depending on who you talk to.”

When war was declared, Congress knew a draft would be needed. Similar to Pat Tillman, Howard Draper and Albert Pitts both signed up right away. It’s why they both saw action in Europe. If they had waited, it’s likely they would have been part of an occupying force in defeated Germany. As it was, they were overseas for the heart of the fighting.

More people died in car accidents back home than died on the Western Front, Osselaer said.

“Volunteers like (Draper and Pitts) were the exception, not the rule,” she said. “A lot of people avoided it entirely.” 

To go or not to go?

Arizona mines ran 24/7 and made a ton of money during the war. With metal prices through the roof, miners worked longer hours than ever — but not for much more money.

“There was a lot of testiness,” Osselaer said. “I was surprised when I learned (Draper’s) parents were in mining camps, because those were very contentious. … There were a lot of miners on strike. They were chanting things like, ‘Down with the draft.’ They were of the mentality that this was the rich man’s fight. … I was surprised to see he was from that sort of background.”

Morenci Mine
Open-cut copper mining operations at the Phelps-Dodge Mining Company at Morenci supplied great quantities of the copper vital in the war effort. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress 

The response to the mining strikes became a dark period in Arizona history. July 1917 saw what has become known as the Bisbee Deportation, the illegal kidnapping and deportation of about 1,300 striking mine workers, their supporters and citizen bystanders by 2,000 members of a deputized posse.

The action was orchestrated by Phelps Dodge, the major mining company in the area, which provided lists of workers and others who were to be arrested in Bisbee. The arrested were first held at a local baseball park before being loaded onto cattle cars and deported 200 miles to New Mexico. Phelps Dodge presented its action as reducing threats to U.S. war interests, and no one was ever convicted of wrongdoing.

Some Arizonans who enlisted saw it as an obligation of becoming a state five years earlier. Many of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders came from Arizona. That had an effect as well, Osselaer said.

“Arizona has a strong military tradition because of the Spanish-American War and Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders,” she said. “Frank Luke was hailed as a hero, and John Greenway, and many men. A lot of people — the upper classes here — viewed the Spanish-American War as a way to prove that Arizonans were ready for citizenship. They had done that on the battlefield by volunteering with Teddy and all that.”

A lot of the early enlistees tended to be more educated and well-off, like Albert Pitts, or they came from military backgrounds. “That’s where you get those guys,” Osselaer said.

Mexico Cartoon
Zimmerman Telegram political cartoon: The infamous 1917 Germany-Mexico idea.

Proximity to the border also made Arizonans more likely to support the war.

The German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, invited revolution-torn Mexico to join the war as Germany's ally against the U.S. In return, the Germans would send Mexico money and help it recover the territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, which Mexico lost during the Mexican-American War 70 years earlier. British intelligence intercepted the Zimmermann Telegram and passed it on to Washington. President Woodrow Wilson released it to the public, and Arizona and much of the rest of the nation saw it as a casus belli.

“Even though I think that was a far-fetched scheme, people were afraid,” Osselaer said. “Pancho Villa had been on the border for years going back and forth. There were unstable governments and violence and revolution in that country. I think there was a sense that it was time to step up.”

First to go

Four months after Draper’s performance as Lincoln and a month after the U.S. had declared war on Germany, Capt. Oscar Temple of the First Arizona Infantry addressed morning assembly at school, the Arizona Republic reported. Temple discussed “the war, its phases, and the best opportunities the young man has who is just enlisting,” the paper said.

Draper was one of them. The day before, he was among a handful of students who had enlisted in the infantry.

“Recruiting officers were there, and I’m sure one of them got to him and encouraged him to go,” said Osselaer, the ASU history expert.

Pitts and Draper
Albert Pitts (left) and Howard Draper. Photos courtesy Arizona State University

The university administration wrestled with how to deal with current events intruding upon academic life. A solution was arrived upon and an announcement made.

“President Matthews of the Normal states that the school is not encouraging the young men to join the forces and neither are they discouraging them,” the newspaper said. “In the belief of the faculty members it is a question that every man should decide for himself, but once determined to go, the men are receiving every possible aid from the instructors.”

The next day, 500 students and civilians turned out at the train station to watch Draper and his small group board a train to join Company C of the First Arizona Infantry on the border.

“It was a demonstration such as Tempe has not seen in years,” the Arizona Republic reported. “As the train rolled into the depot, the old school yells filled the air and then each man in turn was given a cheer individually.”

Searching for Sun Devil war heroes

Part 1: Pitts and Draper: Different, yet similar

Part 2: An unpopular choice to enlist

Part 3: Life — and death — at the front 


Top photo: 125th Infantry, 32nd Division, passing through Masevaux, Alsace, France. Courtesy of Library of Congress

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ASU partnership celebrates South Phoenix, turns sights into sounds

What is South Phoenix? Students, ASU prof attempt to find out and celebrate it.
May 23, 2017

Regents’ Professor of English and Arizona’s inaugural Poet Laureate Alberto Rios helps young students find inspiration

The way Alberto Rios tells it, it’s like it was fated to happen: He was going to lead a public art project to celebrate South Phoenix, but he didn’t know how until “it occurred to me that we could play the street.”

The idea that turned into the performance event “Story Days: Music in the Landscape” came together after a year of work that started when Rios, ASU Regents’ Professor of English and Arizona’s inaugural poet laureate, recruited Jenny Irish, assistant director of the university’s creative writing program, and a group of students to be his “army of 100 ears.”

The team set off on various excursions throughout the city to listen, observe and record. During some of those first explorations, Rios began to notice certain imagery: birds perched on telephone wires; tomatoes lying in furrows in Harmon Park; the eyes of masked lucha libre wrestlers in a wall mural — they all looked like musical notes.

It came to fruition recently when students at Dunbar Elementary on Seventh Avenue and Grant Street played piano pieces they had composed based on photos taken in and around the area.

“Whatever you think of South Phoenix, it is ours,” Rios said. “When they play this music, they touch place. This is them; they are playing their world.”

He and his team found their way to Dunbar Elementary after overhearing children at parks. They were unfiltered and honest, and could provide a unique perspective on how the community viewed itself.

Rios connected with the school and knew the students shared his vision when a few of them pulled a friend up to the front of the classroom and told her to frown. Wrinkles appeared across her forehead, and dotted along the lines were freckles: Music, they told him.

And so they were off, taking their own photos of music in the landscape. Photos of rocks lying in scored lines of cement. Photos of bananas with stickers in neat rows at a supermarket. Photos of bouncy balls in tidy metal cages.

Over time, they converted what they saw in the photos into notes, and then into songs.

Eighth-grader Emily Tinoco performed a piece she titled “Skyline Over the Moon.”

“I really liked the concept of making music out of things we see every day,” she said.

What came out of the speakers as other students played on May 17 was sometimes somber and sometimes uplifting.

The project was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grant, and coordinated by the City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture Public Art Program.

Gail Browne, executive director of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, said it was a great opportunity to “explore the connections of Phoenix residents to the places in which they live.”

Though the focus of the performance event was music, there were other elements to the project.

“There are many strands to this,” Rios said, “but there are many strands to the community.”

From the beginning, he knew language would play a part in it, which was the initial reason behind his “army of 100 ears” in the form of ASU student volunteers.

It was their job to “listen to the people’s radio,” Rios said, to “harvest language from the air.” And they did, picking up conversation fragments here and there at banks, supermarkets, parks and libraries. As their collection of conversation fragments grew, Rios began calling them greguerias.

Greguerias are short, witty or philosophical statements, popularized by Spanish writer Ramón Gómez de la Serna. Rios read some of them aloud at the event:

“Ocotillos and porcupines are cousins.”

“Gray was on sale the day they made South Phoenix.”

Some of the greguerias are to be set in concrete blocks in the city.


Sight and sound weren’t the only senses Rios and his team put to work; scent was a big part of the adventure.

Irish, a skilled perfumer, wanted to know what smells came to people’s minds when they thought of the city. Overwhelmingly, they told her about the smell of the dirt after it rains, and creosote bushes and orange blossoms.

One day at Harmon Library, Irish discovered they had a seed collection. She took some home and planted them, and as they grew, so did the project. When they were ready, Irish mashed them up to extract their natural oils and fragrances, which she passed out along with the new seeds they bore.

“When you plant seeds, they become something else. It’s the same way when you plant words,” Irish told those in attendance. “Like the seeds, now one thing becomes another.”

Her sentiment echoed that of Rios, who expects “Story Days” to have “far-reaching tentacles.”

“I hope this will have an impact well beyond tonight, and lead to new pathways toward solutions” for improving community pride and engagement, he said.

Rios concluded the evening with a serendipitous tale of the man Dunbar Elementary was named for. Paul Laurence Dunbar, it turns out, was a poet. And one of his most well-known poems, “The Dove,” reads as follows:

“Out of the sunshine and out of the heat / Out of the dust of the grimy street / A song fluttered down in the form of a dove / And it bore me a message, the one word — Love!”