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CAMP DEL RIO

Thomas T. Smith

CAMP DEL RIO. Camp Del Rio, located four miles from the Rio Grande at San Felipe Springs in Del Rio in Val Verde County, had several additional names by the U. S. Army—Post of San Felipe; Camp San Felipe; Camp U.S. Troops at Del Rio, Texas; and Camp Robert E. L. Michie. San Felipe Springs was the crucial military resource, a reliable water source, the third largest springs in Texas in an arid West Texas desert environment. The springs served as an important element of the San Antonio–El Paso military road beginning in 1850, and the small town of San Felipe del Rio grew up nearby after the Civil War

Responding to increasing Indian and bandit raids from Mexico, the Buffalo Soldiers of Troops D, F, and I, Ninth Cavalry, from Fort Clark occupied the springs as a temporary outpost from November 1875 to January 1876. Capt. Joseph M. Kelley and his black soldiers of Troop E, Tenth Cavalry, returned to the springs on September 6, 1876, and established Post of San Felipe Springs, which was renamed Camp Del Rio in 1881 after the town was renamed. The San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Irrigation Company donated 407 acres for the main post site, and the U. S. Army leased for grazing another 2,391 acres from San Antonio businessman John Twohig and his partner Augustine Toutant de Beauregard. 

From its establishment in 1876 to the first closing in May 1891, Camp Del Rio generally remained a typical one-company frontier post occupied by cavalry troops from the Eighth Cavalry and Tenth Cavalry, and by infantry companies from the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Second, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Fifth Infantry regiments. After the first post closure in 1891, the donated land was eventually returned by the government to the San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Irrigation Company. 

From August to October 1907 the site was temporarily reoccupied by a troop of First Cavalry from Fort Clark, and on June 30, 1908, the post was reestablished by Capt. Casper H. Conrad and Troop A, Third Cavalry, soon joined by a company of the Twenty-Third Infantry. At the height of the Mexican Revolution in May 1916 to January 1917 Camp Del Rio became the regimental headquarters for the Fourteenth Cavalry commanded by Col. Frederick W. Sibley, who also commanded the Del Rio Border Patrol District. During this period the post reached a peak occupation of thirty officers and 844 soldiers, with five troops of cavalry, four infantry companies, and, at one point in the summer of 1916, two coast artillery companies converted to temporary infantrymen. During the Great Call-Up of 1916 when 156,414 national guardsmen were mobilized and rushed to border service, Camp Del Rio remained a regular army post, with no national guard units assigned. 

During World War I the post was primarily occupied by small companies of the Third Infantry. In the post-war period in April 1920, Camp Del Rio became the headquarters for the Twelfth Cavalry Regiment. On June 24, 1920, the post was renamed to honor Brig. Gen. Robert E. L. Michie who died in France in 1918. 

In the entire life of the post, most of the troops and officers were under canvas or in soldier-built buildings, having little or no Congressional-appropriated construction or permanent structures. Funded by the officers of the Twelfth Cavalry, in March 1921 the officers’ club opened, and, with the local civilian elites, the officers voted to form a country club which became the San Felipe Country Club. Added as well was a nine-hole golf course, the first course built by John Bredemus who went on to design many notable courses such as the Colonial in Fort Worth. The Twelfth Cavalry officers’ enjoyment of their new club was short-lived, as the regiment was ordered to Fort Brown seven months later in October 1921. 

With the departure of the Twelfth Cavalry, Camp Robert E. L. Michie was reduced to its original Post of San Felipe roots, a one-troop cavalry post with rotating units from the Fifth Cavalry at Fort Clark. On July 11, 1923, the last garrison, Capt. Manly F. Meador and Troop F, Fifth Cavalry, mounted and marched away to Fort Clark thus closing the post’s nearly three decades of service to the nation. To again donate land to the government for a post site, in 1919 the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce had purchased 400 acres for $8,000 from the heirs of G. Bedell Moore, a real estate developer who owned San Felipe Springs. After the post closed, the deed reverted to the chamber who in turn sold it back to Moore’s heirs. 

During the lifespan of the post, a number of military notables did duty at Camp Del Rio as junior officers. Lt. Gen. Samuel B. M. Young, the first chief of staff of the U. S. Army in 1903–04, commanded the post as an Eighth Cavalry captain in 1880–81. Serving as a lieutenant in the First Cavalry at Camp Del Rio in 1907, Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright was the commanding general at the siege of Corregidor and Bataan Death March in World War II. Lieutenants Leonard T. Gerow and Walton H. Walker served together in the Nineteenth Infantry at Camp Del Rio in 1915. Gerow commanded V Corps in the D-Day Normandy landings and became a full general, as did Walker who was a corps commander in George S. Patton’s Third Army and later commanded the Eighth Army in the Korean War where he was killed in a jeep accident.  Maj. Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen, commander of the First Infantry Division in North Africa and Sicily, was a second lieutenant in the Fourteenth Cavalry at Camp Del Rio in 1916. Flying out of Camp Del Rio in 1920 as a lieutenant in the Ninetieth Aero Surveillance Squadron, Lt. Gen. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle went on to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading the famous Tokyo Raid in April 1942 and afterwards commanded the Twelfth, Fifteenth, and Eighth Air Force. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Douglas Braudaway, Del Rio: Queen City of the Rio Grande (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2002). Gemma Mehalchick, Terri Myers, Karl W. Kibler, and Douglas K. Boyd, “Val Verde On The Sunny Rio Grande”: Geoarcheological and Historical Investigations at San Felipe Springs, Val Verde County, Texas (Austin: Prewitt and Associates, Inc., Reports of Investigations Number 122, March 1999). Records of the United States Army Adjutant General’s Office, 1780–1917, Record Group 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.  Returns From United States Military Posts 1800-1916, Microfilm No. M617, roll 1106, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Vertical Files, Daughtrey Research Center, Whitehead Memorial Museum, Del Rio, Texas. Whitehead Memorial Museum et al., La Hacienda (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976). 

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Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Thomas T. Smith, "CAMP DEL RIO," accessed November 14, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qcc62.

Uploaded on September 11, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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