Nestled at the base of the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains
is a place that has reflected the history of our nation while
it has forever changed the landscape of the Intermountain West.
Fort Douglas began as a federal camp ominously perched over the
valley settled by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. It hastened the demise of native Americans throughout
the West. It was a strategic Union outpost, located along the
path that linked California Gold to the nation's capitol. It was
a place where thousands American military heroes were recruited,
trained and dispatched throughout the world to fight in five major
wars, protecting the freedom of the United States of America.
It was a prison for people who were feared at times when national
security was threatened. It was a place that brought men and women
together for a single cause, and home to countless army brats
who grew up playing under its shady trees. It was the final resting
place for enemies and brothers alike.
Weakened after years of neglect and military downsizing, Fort
Douglas has recently been revitalized by the University of Utah.
Its Heritage Commons is a place for students from throughout the
world to live as they study at the premiere Western research institution.
And it will host top athletes from around the globe who will compete
in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Games. Now launching
its next chapter of history, Fort Douglas remains forever linked
to its dynamic military past.
"The Spirit of Fort Douglas" was made possible by the
George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Foundation and the C.
Comstock Clayton Foundation.
At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, federal troops stationed
in the Utah Territory at Camp Crittenden were called East for
Camp Crittenden was located forty-five miles southwest of Salt
Lake City. It had been established three years earlier by General
Albert Sidney Johnston. But when soldiers left to join the war
between the states, the camp was abandoned. This defensive vacuum
left the overland stage and the telegraph lines vulnerable to
attacks by the indigenous peoples of the region.
"Well, the troops were withdrawn in the spring of 1861 leaving
no military in what is now Utah or, territory and that included
half of Nevada at the time and part of Wyoming and some of Colorado.
And uh, the Indians became bolder. Uh, also hungrier, the white
man was ruining his living. So they were actually starving. So
with the withdrawal of troops why the the uh, Overland Trail,
which is the old Pony Express Trail and the stage line, uh, was
threatened and President Lincoln called for volunteers and he
asked the Governor of California to furnish Calvary and Infantry
to protect the trails through Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico
and so forth.
Although it was thousands of miles away from the Civil War Battlefields,
the Overland Trail was important to the Union war effort.
It was the thoroughfare used for transporting gold and silver
from California to fund the union war effort. President Abraham
Lincoln knew that any impedance to this cash flow - either from
Indian attacks or the Confederates - would directly impact the
Union soldiers on the battlefields.
Lincoln's call for volunteers to protect the Overland Trail was
answered by Patrick Edward Conner. The 41-year-old soldier had
proven himself a hero at the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican-American
War. Connor was wounded in combat and discharged at the rank of
Captain. He then joined the California Gold Rush and remained
active in the military.
On July 5th 1862, Connor received his orders and began to move
the California Volunteers from Sacramento across the desert of
Nevada to the Utah Territory.
"He uh, got under way in July of 1862 with about 800 troops
and 55 heavy wagons, crossing the desert. The temperature supposedly
reached 120 degrees. Now he was a very strict task master. He
had a parade or an inspection every night. The men liked him,
you know, he was one of them: he'd been a private and been in
the gold rush. And he got to as far as Ruby Valley in Nevada where
he stopped to build a small Fort called Ruby, Fort Ruby"
" he left his troops at Fort Ruby and came on alone in the
stagecoach to just reconnoiter the Salt Lake area. And he was
so bitterly anti-Mormon and wrote to his superior officer: 'The
Mormons are nothing but a bunch of traitors, murderers and whores.'
And he said, 'We've got to do something about this, not only to
keeping the trails clear of Indian attacks, but these Mormons
are traitors. We have to be careful about them too. We've got
to watch them.'"
Colonel Connor, an Irish Catholic immigrant, was suspicious of
members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly
referred to as the Mormons. He disliked their practice of polygamy
and, above all, questioned their loyalty to the Union. So instead
of stationing the volunteers at the abandoned Camp Crittendon,
he had his own agenda.
"He decided that he was not going to reestablish Fort Critendon
for two reasons. One, he didn't like the site. He wanted something
closer to Salt Lake City as he said, what was a thousand troops
on the east side of the Jordan River were much more effective
then three thousand troops on the other side in looking after
the Mormons. Now his job was not to keep an eye on the Mormons,
and at one time he was specifically reprimanded for getting involved
in that kind of politics. His job was to protect the Overland
Mail and Telegraph Route."
While Connor distrusted the Mormons, they in turn doubted the
intentions of his federal troops. The Mormons had been persecuted
for their religious beliefs
They fled West after witnessing
their church founder Joseph Smith die at the hands of an angry
mob in Nauvoo, Illinois. Mormon leader Brigham Young suspected
Connor's troops were coming to enforce the Morrill Act, an 1862
Federal law that banned polygamy and limited church ownership
of property. To avoid occupation by armed federal troops, Young
volunteered to protect the trails with his own forces. In a telegram
to Utah's representatives in Washington, he suggested:
"The militia of Utah are ready and able, as they have ever
been, to take care of all the Indians, and willing to protect
the mail line if called upon to do so."
When news reached Salt Lake City that Connor was not going to
reestablish Camp Crittenden, but would instead settle much closer
to the city, anticipation mounted for a battle between the Mormons
and the California Volunteers.
The Volunteers expected a confrontation at the Jordan River,
where they thought Young's troops would forcibly resist if they
crossed the stream. John A. Anderson, a chaplain attached to Connor's
command, recorded the tension surrounding the Jordan River Crossing:
"If our troops are to march on United States territory wherever
the Government sends them, and those who resist their march because
of polygamy, are really traitors as those who resist because of
slavery, and are to be dealt with as such. This command from the
highest to the lowest is disposed to treat the Mormons with true
courtesy and the strictest justice, so long as they remain friendly
to the government; but the moment they become traitors the river
Jordan will become as acceptable to us as the Potomac, for we
will be fighting for the same precise principle - the flag and
national existence - as our eastern brethren."
The California volunteers crossed the Jordan River without incident
and advanced closer to the pioneer settlement.
The next day, when the troops marched through the Salt Lake City
streets lined with onlookers, it was said the they were met with
"neither cheers nor jeers."
They stopped before the mansion of the territorial governor Stephen
S. Harding, who advised Connor and his men:
"I believe the people you have come amongst will not disturb
you if you do not disturb them in their public life and in the
honor and peace of their homes; and to disturb them you must violate
the strict discipline of the United States Army, which you must
observe and which you have no right to violate."
Sufficiently warned, Connor and his men continued their march
two-and-a-half miles east of Salt Lake City, to the slope between
Emigration and Red Butte canyons - not far from where Brigham
Young had viewed the valley for the first time and declared,"This
is the place."
There, on the 26th of October 1862, they activated their camp,
and named it after Steven A. Douglas, the recently deceased Senator
from Illinois who lost the race for president against Lincoln.
But winter was quickly approaching, and the California Volunteers
had to start building their quarters quickly.
"they dug partially subterranean, almost dugouts, that had
log, maybe two or three feet up and they were covered with tents.
And then by that next summer they changed to log and a little
bit of adobe. I think some of the main buildings, like the officers
quarters, commanding officers quarters, the surgeon and the hospital,
were adobe and the rest of them were log.
"The officers and men lived in these dugouts. They built
two or three permanent buildings, stone, the Guard House was stone.
According to Colonial Connor they lived very comfortably. Of course,
he lived downtown in a home. [laughs] He didn't live on the Post.
That gave them quarters. Almost immediately started sending out
parties against the Indians.
The Northwest Shoshone, the Piute, and Goshute Indian tribes had
populated the Great Basin for thousands of years. But when pioneers
settled at the base of the Wasatch mountains, they usurped the
rich grasslands used by these tribes for hunting game and gathering
"The Mormon pioneers, settlers came in and took over the
best springs and creeks and so on. And so the Indians had a terrible
dilemma. In the winter - they'd do their best in the summertime
to get along - but in the wintertime, all they could do was come
around and beg at Mormon homes for food, because there just -
or attack immigrant parties and get food. It was, as I say, just
an awful dilemma for them. It was no-win situation."
Starvation drove the Indians to desperation. The Northwest Shoshone
had resorted to harassing Mormon settlers and raiding emigrant
parties and stages for food. In the fall of 1862, members of the
Northwestern Shoshone tribe killed a ten-man mining party en route
between Montana and Salt Lake City. In response, the chief justice
of the Utah territory issued a warrant for the arrest of Bear
Hunter, the tribe's chief, along with his subchiefs.
"Well, Connor was looking for an excuse. What he wanted
to do was make an example of some group of Indians so that all
the other Indians of the Great Basin area would understand that
they hadn't better fool around with Connor and his volunteers,
that they meant business."
Narration: In January, Connor decided to launch an offensive on
the Winter camp of the Northwestern Shoshone on the confluence
of Battle Creek and Bear River, just north of Preston, Idaho.
He hired Orrin Porter Rockwell - the notorious Mormon gunslinger
and religious zealot - to serve as a guide for the volunteers
on their march to the tribal winter dwelling.
"Colonel Connor devised a scheme to surprise the Indians.
He sent a company of infantry out ahead. They marched openly during
the day. And this was to make the Indians believe that there,
only a small force was coming up there. And then at night he marched
with his Calvary and he had about 300 men altogether.
It was the morning of January 29, 1863. The volunteers launched
their assault on the entrenched Indians across the bitter cold
Bear River. Initially, the Indians succeeded at repelling Connor's
men, but the flanking attack by the volunteers transformed the
fight into a massacre. The troops ruthlessly killed the disorganized
Indians, killing men women and children.
"It was a terrible butchery. At about eight o'clock the real
battle was over. Connor just moved across the river to take care
of his wounded and just let his troops go - do anything they wanted.
Some of them raped the Indian women. They killed some of the Indian
infants, who had lost their mother. They bashed them in the head
with axes and so on, and just slaughtered them. It was a terrible,
brutal thing. And it was Connor's responsibility. He could've
stopped at any minute. He didn't - he didn't stop it. He just
let the men have their way and do what they wanted to do."
The California Volunteers suffered 22 deaths. As for the Shoshone,
the numbers vary. Officially, Connor reported 224, while civilian
observers who visited the battle site the next day counted 368
Indian bodies. When the troops returned to Fort Douglas, they
boasted of their victory by prominently displaying the scalp of
Bear Hunter in public. Later, they built a monument to their fallen
comrades in the Fort Douglas cemetery. Connor was promoted to
Brigadier General for his efforts at the Battle of Bear River.
"Well it was their chance to gain some glory of course.
They couldn't go to Virginia to fight the rebels so if they were
only going to be able to fight Indians, or native Americans, it
was their chance to make a name for themselves and to make their
Connor, their colonel, a brigadier general too. This was a matter
of some pride to them; so they looked forward to it, as Connor
did. It was the opportunity they had been looking for, you know.
They had enlisted to fight, and here's the only chance to fight
-- to fight American Americans."
The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 at Promontory
Point, Utah made Fort Douglas a strategic outpost on the Western
Frontier. Seasoned troops from the camp could be dispatched to
fight the few remaining Indians who were not on reservations throughout
the Northern Plains. Troops from Fort Douglas participated in
the Sioux War of 1876 and later at the battle of Wounded Knee.
The California volunteers had other major impacts on the landscape
of Utah Territory. General Connor made it a priority to develop
a mining industry in the Utah Territory. He believed a mining
boom would spark an influx of non-Mormons who could dilute the
Mormon political control of the region. Encouraged to prospect
in their off duty time, soldiers from Fort Douglas found ore in
Bingham Canyon, Alta, and Park City. After his military career,
Connor established and operated profitable mines, and later became
known as the "Father of Utah Mining."
Connor also founded the Union Vedette, a newspaper that gave
voice to the so-called gentile population of Salt Lake City and
countered the LDS Church-controlled Deseret News. Under the editor
Captain Charles Hempstead the paper became the first daily newspaper
in the territory.
"By the 1870's there seems to have been more of a truce been
affected by the Mormons and the people up here - particularly,
we've discovered across class lines. The Mormons were always very
interested in gentility and culture, with a capital C. I mean,
you know, like the Opera and demonstrating their civilized quality
of their existence in their community. And I think the, especially
the army officers, lent that, let a little prestige to the events
downtown. I know there was a special place in the Salt Lake Theater
for the for the officers."
In the 1870's they decided to rebuild the Fort. General Sheraton
made a visit out here, and he said it was the worst Fort, the
conditions were the worst he'd ever seen. And it must have been
pretty bad cause he'd seen a lot of Forts. So they started building
these sandstone buildings. The first one built was the two-story
building across on the northeast side of the Parade Ground, completed
in the spring of 1873, of what they call Quartermaster Victorian.
Now they got another appropriation the next year and in 1874 and
1875 into 1876 they constructed most of the red sandstone structures.
The transformation from Camp Douglas to Fort Douglas came in 1876,
when the post was almost completely rebuilt under the command
of Colonel John E. Smith. The fort's signature Officer's Circle
was built, with its ten red sandstone quarters forming an ellipse
at the top of the parade ground. The unique designed emerged when
local army leadership deviated from the standard building plans
issued by the army quartermaster
"Here at Fort Douglas, I think, that it's very distinctive.
I mean, the basic plans of most of the buildings, whether they're
the officers duplexes, the barracks and so forth are fairly consistent
with what's built around at other posts. But what happened here
was that they used the existing stone from Red Butte and was really
interested in a picturesque gothic revival outward appearance.
You find the standard plan that's being issued by the Army is
very restrained and very, sort of, practical kind of soldierly
thing and what they did out here is built quite elaborate and
In the midst of widespread construction, it was decided that an
ecumenical church be built. And in 1884, the Gothic Revival-style
Post Chapel was established and would serve many generations to
the time it closed in 1991 it was claimed that it was the
oldest Army Chapel in continuous use.
The new buildings created a feeling of military stature and permanence
not only for enlisted men, but also for the general population
of Salt Lake City.
"Not only were they here to serve as a military force, but
also as a civilizing force. I mean, since they brought American
values into the West and into this emerging Western region. And
particularly, it's not so prevalent, or it's not so obvious in
Utah - where you had the Mormons basically doing the same thing:
using their architecture as a way of demonstrating their civilized
nature of their religion and their society. The Forts really,
in so many ways, act as civilizing elements in the landscape by
reiterating the way that American society really works. I mean,
there's the officer class and then there's the non-commission
class, the middle class, and then there is the, you know, the
working class, the soldiers. And so the Forts always had this
amazing kind of hierarchy."
In 1896, the year Utah was admitted to the Union, the United States
Army decided to garrison Fort Douglas with the 24th Infantry Regiment.
The move brought approximately 600 African-American men, women,
and children to the city. Only four African-American units existed
in the U.S. Army; the primary function of these so-called "Buffalo
Soldiers" was to suppress Native American uprisings throughout
the West and Southwest. Although they had been typically stationed
in remote posts, the 24th Infantry soldiers earned the opportunity
to occupy an urban fort and nearly quadrupled Salt Lake City's
existing black population.
"And so the sending of them, of the unit to the to Fort Douglas
was a reward for past service. And at that time, you had to keep
in mind, that Fort Douglas was considered to be one of the finer
military stations in the West."
Washington dealmaking helped initiate the 24th Infantry's move
to the favorable post. The unit's sole black officer, Chaplin
Alan Alansworth, sought the help of Reconstruction-era Congressman
John Mercer Langston to influence Washington leaders to support
"This was a veteran unit. Many of the men had been into the
service for many many years. It also represented a time in which
they could have a sense of cohesiveness. Uh, family members and
individuals who followed the camp and the setting itself was within
the midst of an existing African American community. Uh, an existing
African American community which had churches, fraternal organizations;
there was an African American newspaper published. And so there
was a sense of wholeness to their lives which obviously they had
not experienced in some of the more isolated stations of the West."
In the 1890s most African Americans were concentrated in former
the slave states of the South. Racial polarization was the norm
not only in the South but also in Utah, where the majority of
the population viewed blacks as second-class citizens.
Negative racial stereotypes emerged in popular culture though
minstrel shows and advertisements.
Prior to the arrival of the 24th Infantry, the Salt Lake Tribune
featured an editorial citing the presence of black soldiers as
an "unfortunate change." The article warned of the 24th
Infantry offending "the best people of the city." U.S.
Senator Frank Cannon had no success appealing to Secretary of
War for transfer of the unit elsewhere.
In a rebuttal to the Salt Lake Tribune, Private Thomas A. Ernest
of the 24th Infantry wrote a letter to the editor, saying: "We
enlisted to uphold the honor and dignity of our country as our
fathers enlisted to found and preserve it... We were men before
we were soldiers. We ask the people of Salt Lake to treat us as
"Prior to stationing the 24th Infantry, you did not locate
African American military units in the midst of a large, white
urban settlement which had significant of African Americans as
well. In fact, you find that the black units were stationed at
isolated posts in the West, Midwest, and the Southwest regions
of the country - ranging from Minnesota west and out to Texas
west. And so this was an opportunity which, I think, the officers
knew that the soldiers needed to make a good showing of themselves.
I think, and particularly, that they were aware of the sensitivities
to the fact that when the soldiers were not on the post, there
was some concern about African American soldiers riding on the
local uh, streetcars, back and forth and rubbing shoulders at
certain times of the year with some of the best citizens of the
uh, community who lived along Brigham Street, which is today South
Temple. And it was inferred that somehow a drunken black soldier
would be more obnoxious then a white soldier."
A year after the soldiers' arrival, the Salt Lake Tribune issued
an apology for its earlier opposition to the 24th Infantry and
it publicly regretted its earlier prejudice.
The drums of war began to beat early in the spring of 1898, and
the 24th regiment was ordered to fight in Cuba and the Philippines
as part of the Spanish-American War. On the day of their departure,
local residents - both black and white - lined the streets of
South Temple to bid them farewell.
"At the depot, one senior member of the community, a white
woman, went up to the window of the train and placed her hand
against the window, and the African American soldier placed his
hand on the window, and she urged the soldiers to do their best
--because she recalled when her sons had participated in the Civil
War for their freedom, and she was urging them to do something
for someone else's freedom. In other words, at critical moments
we appear to be able to set aside some of our biases for the common
The accounts of the efforts of the 24th Infantry in Cuba received
widespread coverage in the Salt Lake City press. Members of the
regiment participated in the charge up San Juan Hill, a battle
crucial to the U.S.'s victory which was led by Theodore Roosevelt
and his "Rough Riders."
Later, Governor Heber Wells wrote in a letter to a veteran of
the 24th Infantry that he would be pleased to have the unit stationed
once again at Fort Douglas.
"I think the fact that several soldiers decided to make Salt
Lake City their home in the aftermath of their career, uh, is
a connection between the past and the present, and hopefully the
Following the Spanish-American War, Fort Douglas entered a new
era of construction. A row of homes for noncommissioned officers
was built, along with several large brick barracks on Soldier's
Circle. The construction was meant to attract high-quality soldiers
for what was to be a professional standing army.
War in Europe broke out in 1914. At first, President Woodrow
Wilson stressed a policy of neutrality in the overseas conflict.
The U.S. was nearly provoked to war in 1915, when Germany launched
unrestricted submarine warfare and torpedoed the Lusitania a luxury
liner carrying American civilians. The United States entered the
war in 1917 on the side of the Allies, joining Britain, France,
Russia, and Italy.
In May of the same year, the U.S. Army founded Fort Douglas War
Prison Barracks III as part of a series of POW camps. The 15-acre
Fort Douglas compound became the primary internment camp west
of the Mississippi that housed German prisoners of war.
The Naval prisoners were interesting in that they were brought
from German Naval ships that had been captured in Guam and in
Hawaii just as the United States entered World War I in April
and then those prisoners were brought quickly to San Francisco
and transported overland to Salt Lake City, to the Denver and
Rio Grande railroad station, loaded on the streetcar and taken
up to Fort Douglas.
Narration: In addition to the naval POWs, 784 alien enemies were
interned at Fort Douglas. These men were German and Austro-Hungarian
civilians, as well as conscientious objectors to the war. Throughout
the country and in Utah, these outsiders were suspected of espionage.
The U.S. Justice Department labeled them threats to national security,
then gathered and imprisoned them at Fort Douglas.
the practice was to house the prisoners of war in facilities that
American soldiers would be housed in. Barracks, if they're on
base or on an installation. If they were out in a work camp, then
it would have been an army tent. They had at least food equal
to what we were providing our own servicemen. And there was a
lot of free time for them. There were chores to be done around
the barracks, but essentially they were left to care for themselves
in the camp. Once those chores were done, they could engage in
hobbies and classes, uh, history, language, crafts, all kinds
of possibilities that way. Uh, gymnastics, exercise, those kinds
of programs were available for them.
One group of prisoners took advantage of their free time by expressing
themselves in jokes, poems, and songs recorded in the scrapbook
of Octave Bryk a
German-American civilian internee at Ft. Douglas
One prisoner complained:
No girl, no schnapps, no beer
Why shall I have to suffer like this here?
It sure is a boring dream
To ruin your life like this!
And another wrote:
Fort Douglas, Fort Douglas:
Had I known that they were going to bring me here,
I would have killed myself
But throughout the scrapbook is a tone of hope:
It won't be long until, the
Time for which we can't wait:
The gates will open and we will see
Each other in Germany again.
Feelings about those interned at Fort Douglas Prison Barracks
were mixed among the Salt Lake community.
Some people, if you bring in a new element, are always fearful
of them. So there was a mixture of, of concern, large element
of curiosity and uh, a certain amount of fear. And that probably
tied in more closely with the uh, enemy aliens as they were brought
in because these were the spies and those that uh, that threatened
sabotage or were fearful of committing sabotage here in Utah.
The anxiety felt among the local public was, at times warranted.
On numerous occasions, prisoners tried to escape by means of tunneling,
bombing with homemade explosives, and cutting through wire.
Well there were several escape attempts and in fact uh, records
indicate at least a dozen different attempts. One of which was
successful. And the record isn't clear as to how, what they meant
by successful, if uh, that individual got away and, and made good
on his escape was never identified. As far as I know, we haven't
been able to document that. Most of those were aborted before
people got outside of the camp. Uh, but a tunnel was dug at Fort
Douglas, in an attempt to go out underneath the wire and escape,
and so that was certainly a concern. On the other hand there was
always that fear that uh, that these people were committed uh,
to the Fatherland and would be willing to do whatever it took
to further the cause.
In 1918 an influenza epidemic swept across oceans and continents,
terrorizing communities already devestated by the ravages of World
War One. The fatal flu cast its shadow on Fort Douglas, killing
twenty POWs who would never again live to see their homeland.
The aliens or the civilians were simply loaded on the same wagon
that was used to haul the garbage and taken up and buried in what
amounted to a common mass grave there in the southwest corner
of the cemetery. But if you look at the names on the monument
there, you have to wonder if some of those names really are legitimate.
Herman German, for example. I'm sure that one is an alias.
German naval servicemen interned at Fort Douglas were sent to
Fort McPherson in Georgia in 1918. There, they joined other naval
POWs until they were returned to Germany after the war's end.
Enemy aliens were detained at Fort Douglas until well after Armistice
was declared, and the prison barracks finally closed in April
of 1920. A decade later, the German-American community of Salt
Lake City paid tribute to those interned during World War I by
erecting a monument at the Fort Douglas cemetery.
Some might interpret it as a restatement of German pride, I think
there's a strong element of that. When it was dedicated, Adolph
Hitler had just come to power in Germany a few months before that
time, and there was a representative of the German government
here, decked out in uniform to participate in that dedication.
On the other hand, when you look at the monument and you see the
wounded warrior on the top of the monument, , it certainly doesn't
convey that, that feeling of militarism and pro-nationalism that
Nazism came to represent.
The legacy of the First World War endured as the 38th Infantry
Regiment was assigned to a Fort Douglas post. The 38th was better
known for its nickname, the "Rock of the Marne," for
its heroic defense against the Germans in France's Marne river
valley. Under the command of General Ulysses Grant McAlexander,
the 38th Infantry repelled an onslaught as the advancing Germans
attempted to cross the river and march toward Paris. Outnumbered
and surrounded, the unit held its position during three days of
brutal fighting while other allied units around them retreated.
Ultimately, the 38th managed a counter attack and drove the German
forces back, capturing 600 prisoners in the process.
The tenure of the 38th infantry was the longest of any other
at Fort Douglas - from 1922 to 1940. It was a time when well-known
amenities of the post were put in place. The Fort Douglas Golf
course was built, along with other new buildings including the
The 38th Infantry was highly visible to the greater Salt Lake
community. Its regimental band, under the baton of CWO Leopold
Yost, performed hundreds of concerts, entertaining civilians and
The stock market crash of 1929 sent the nation into financial
ruin. Spreading from Wall Street to the West, the Great Depression
was a time of mass unemployment, failed agricultural crops and
economic dearth. But the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
as President marked a dramatic change in the rough times. His
"New Deal" developed organizations such as the Civilian
Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, which
provided construction and artisan jobs for government-sponsored
projects. Because of the efforts of hard-working men associated
with the CCC and the WPA, Fort Douglas flourished despite the
It's in 20's and the 30's, the Depression years, where you have
a real downturn in the economy that the Fort really becomes a
model, almost, of the American dream. That the possibility is
still there: the government has money to spend and they're putting
it into public works projects and the army's one of those uh,
those areas where you get this kind of building activity. One
of the big building phases is really in the 1930's. There's all
sorts of stories about people coming up here and finding work
in the 1930's.
There would be concerts and picnics and so forth, and people
used the Fort, and particularly the entertainments that were offered
by the military band, in a way to forget some of the troubles
of that era. You see that in the buildings that are created in
the 30's: very, very much a part of the colonial revival. I mean,
they're just solid American kinds of structures that embody these
virtues. And I think that was not lost on people, and it's part
of the overall effect I think that it had. I think if you talked
to people now, they remember that as children. You know, certainly
as a place to come and get away and spend a Sunday afternoon and
kind of hope, be hopeful.
I was working for the Department of the Interior when Pearl Harbor
happened, and the very next morning we all gathered in the director's
office and listened to Franklin Delano Roosevelt declare war upon
Japan. I heard from Fort Douglas, and when I went for my interview
they explained to me that because uh, there was imminent danger
of an attack on San Francisco, they had to relocate the 9th Service
Command to Fort Douglas, Utah. And this was a huge undertaking
because there was not room. There were no places for the offices,
the military or the civilians. So it meant a huge change and there
was great pressure to have this done. They wanted this accomplished
Fearing a coastal attack, the army reassigned the 9th Service
Command from the Presidio in San Francisco to Fort Douglas. The
move required quickly constructing hundreds of wooden buildings
to meet the needs of the war effort. These were standardized structures
with the same general appearance - wood frames with simple gable
roofs. The basic form was a long rectangular box. The building
design was guided by five principles: speed of construction, simplicity,
flexibility, conservation of materials, and safety-the most important
being speed. The average World War II-era building at Fort Douglas
was built in about an hour.
They made it clear that all of these temporary buildings were
only supposed to last for the duration of the war. And the Annex
is still there, as we all know.
So they went downtown with their bullhorns -- they meaning the
foreman, a helper and a truck. There were many, many men out in
the street needing work. And so with their bullhorns they would
say, "If you have tools, get on a truck. We have work for
everyone." And there were truckload after truckload went
roaring up to Fort Douglas and they would put them on the job
and put them to work.
One of the primary responsibilities of the 9th Service Command
was to recruit, induct, and assign orders to young men who signed
up to join the armed forces. The Fort Douglas Reception and Induction
Center could accommodate 1,000 men at a time. They were sent off
to fight throughout the world in all the different theatres of
World War Two, from the islands of the Pacific to the beaches
The population of Fort Douglas exploded during the War. At its
peak in the fall of 1943, it housed 1,000 officers and enlisted
men, and twice that number of non-military personnel. For the
first time, women were allowed to enlist in the regular army as
WACs, or recruits to the Women's Army Corps. With so many people
working together for the war cause, the fort naturally offered
a social outlet through recreation and entertainment.
"Well, there was something going on all the time. The bandstand
right out here had noon concerts. The band played over on what
is called Soldier's Field, that building wasn't in the middle
of it then. Uh, they used to set up right there and play concerts
at noon for all the people who worked in the offices around. They
played at the N.C.O. club, the officers club, downtown for things,
put on shows at the theater, and they did a big radio broadcast
every week through KSL. They just provided so much entertainment
- best there was - like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, everybody
all thrown together."
As in the first World War, European prisoners were interned at
Fort Douglas. But because housing for these German and Italian
POWs was scarce, many worked in agricultural camps throughout
the area. Some of these men who were captured in Europe and North
Africa and interned at Fort Douglas, are now buried in the Fort
For me, the cemetery really speaks to that experience of our human
connections. Even though war tears us apart, in the end to find
enemy and friend buried there together. It makes a very special
place. And to realize that uh, people buried there had fought
all over the world, the Far East, the Islands of the Pacific,
the beaches at Normandy, in other wars, and to end up in that
one spot in Utah, I think makes it a very hollowed place.
Narration: The years following World War II are marked by the
contraction in size of Fort Douglas. The Veterans administration
received land for a new hospital, The Utah Pioneer Trails and
Landmarks Association was awarded 49 acres to establish a monument
at the mouth of emigration canyon dedicated to Mormon pioneers
who had endured the long trek from Illinois to Utah. The University
of Utah, bulging with veterans studying on the G.I. Bill absorbed
298 acres, the area which is now the central campus.
"Eisenhower visited this area in 1947 after the war. The
army had already decided that there was not room enough here for
modern post, because the city and the university were just enclosing
the fort and there was no room for expansion. The president of
the university got in to see Eisenhower and asked him, 'We need
they were going to close the fort - 'We'd like to have some of
the ground and need help.' And Eisenhower said, 'I know those
boys, the fellows on the G.I. Bill. They're good men. Give them
anything they want.'"
"When I lived there, it was a smaller community. They were
starting to phase out many of the Army official duties there.
And they had given the Annex to the University already. And then
when I came back to go to school at the University of Utah, I
even had classes in the Annex. And you could see the fort was
just kind of gearing down, just slowing down slowly. And I didn't
really watch it slow down until the point when my daughter went
to the University I noticed that the Fort was just not alive anymore.
It was just kind of in a slumber, so to speak. And that's one
reason um, I think I wanted to make it come alive again. I wanted
it to be vibrant and to renew the history of the fort."
Throughout the '50s and '60s military tradition was still strong
at Fort Douglas - but time was running out. Ironically, the fort's
once-strategic proximity to an urban area had rendered it unsuitable
for modern army purposes. It was too small for training forces
and too close to Salt Lake City for employing contemporary weapons.
It endured only as an Army reserve and recruitment center.
In this era, more valuable Fort Douglas acreage went to projects
that have become an important part of the state's economy. Land
was deeded to the University of Utah for a Hospital and for its
Research Park - both centers of cutting-edge medical and biological
study. Red Butte Canyon was given over to the Forest Service,
to be preserved as pristine wilderness study area.
In 1978 the army decided to close the fort as a cost-cutting
measure, but under the scrutiny of General Michael B. Kauffmann,
whose ties to the fort started with the 38th Infantry, it was
ascertained that shutting down the fort would actually cost the
taxpayers money. He enlisted the help of Utah's congressional
delegation in the battle to save Fort Douglas, staving off closure
for another decade. The Fort Douglas Military museum stands as
a tribute to his efforts to save the fort.
In the early part of 1989, as part of President George Bush's
mandate to reduce the armed forces in America, Fort Douglas was
officially eliminated, it became the much smaller Stephen A. Douglas
Armed Forces Reserve Center. The remaining active troops were
transferred to another base of operation.
In 1991 the military career of Fort Douglas officially came to
an end as the flag was lowered and the University of Utah took
possession of sixty-two historic buildings and fifty-one acres
of land. The responsibility to reconstruct much of Fort Douglas
now rested in the hands of the University.
The Army basically lost interest in this place and things deteriorated
quite a bit. It's like your house. You know, a house that's lived
in and cared for is going to stay in pretty good shape. A post,
an army post like this that's kind of on the periphery and people
aren't really paying much attention to it, you're going to get
that kind of deterioration.
In the early 1990s, Margaret and George Montgomery visited the
Fort Douglas Post Chapel with friends to celebrate their golden
anniversary. But they were disappointed to find it in a very different
state than it had been fifty years earlier.
"It was a little chapel that just reached out to you, but
it had a spiritual feeling about it, I mean it just kind of embraced
"We hadn't been back here in all that time. We thought, we
really should - this is where we should spend our fiftieth."
"And we drove up in front of the chapel expecting to get
out and go to services, saw it boarded up and we looked at each
other and thought, 'I don't believe what we are seeing.' It was
sad, it was neglected"
"And it was in such disarray, we were sick."
Well, the chapel holds a lot of sentiment for me. When we lived
on post, every Sunday we would go to service there. And I remember,
being Catholic, I was an alter boy there and would perform those
duties and march with my father to and from -- which was a lot
of fun trying to keep up with him and his military stride. So,
as I got older and watched one of my sisters be married there,
it was natural for me to want to choose that as a place to be
The responsibility of revitalizing Fort Douglas now rested in
the hands of the University of Utah. The National Trust for Historic
Preservation designated it an official Save America's Treasures
project. It was time to bridge Fort Douglas's past through to
the future. . .to make its presence relevant to the university
create a place where individuals would again connect in community
on its grounds.
On one hand history means the past to us. We think that well,
someone will say well that Fort's really historical and that means
that it ought to be saved and that it's static and doesn't change.
And yet what we really know about history is that it's constant
You can see these layers of a camp, and then it becomes a more
permanent area with stone structures and then it sort of enters
its institutional phase as a headquarters, totally blossoms and
expands in the '30s and the '40s and then it goes into a period
of decline as the Army's attention shifts other place, basically
to the point where it's shutdown. And then the University takes
it over and it has another part of its history.
The University of Utah created a state-of-the-art residential
housing area for students that incorporated elements and materials
found in the Fort's historic structures. Fort Douglas Heritage
Commons will also serve as an official venue of the 2002 Olympic
Winter Games Athletes' Village for people from around the world
who will compete in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. In both capacities,
the residential area will be a place of community, allowing people
from different places to come together and to create the next
chapter of history.
We are very strongly committed to building a strong residential
experience for our students. And so I think that the setting here
provides a unique opportunity to build connections to the larger
history of Fort Douglas and a connection to the contemporary experiences
of students and staff and faculty working together.
The programmatic function of the fort has changed over decades
but was always related to military and to war. And now we have
this vitality of youth and an opportunity for education and collaboration
that will continue to go on here for years and will still serve
the community as a place where they can come and visit, learn
the history of the Fort and experience this unique environment.
On the ground where musket and cannon thundered 140 years earlier
the pathways where men marched off to five wars
in the face
of a city and University that have grown up to surround a fort
which once stood apart, and was viewed with dread
a place transformed in the present to meet the needs of the future
yet desperate to hold on to all that has gone before.
In the face of such compelling demands, the new Fort Douglas
requires unique standards to measure its success.
"I came up one day on the weekend when excavation just began
and I saw a squirrel run from one tree to another just looking
so confused and so panicked and I became very emotional over that.
I knew that the quail that I had seen over the past years in Chapel
Glenn and out on the Parade Grounds wouldn't be there with all
of this construction going on and it touched me greatly. And I
made a determination at that time if when the project is completed,
the quail return, then we will have been successful. And about
three weeks ago there were quail."
"The Spirit of Fort Douglas" was made possible by the
George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Foundation and the C.
Comstock Clayton Foundation.