Oklahoma History: May 2009 Archives

A passing mention by Skye of German prisoners of war in Pennsylvania reminded me that a fair number of them -- tens of thousands -- were held here in Oklahoma, too, during World War II, at places like Ft. Reno, Ft. Sill, and Camp Gruber. Here are some links (with an excerpt or two) for learning more:

Oklahoma Journeys story on German POWs in Oklahoma

Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture entry on Prisoner of War camps

By May 1943 prisoners of war began arriving. Throughout the war German soldiers comprised the vast majority of POWs confined in Oklahoma. Initially most of the captives came from North Africa following the surrender of the Afrika Korps. After the Allies invaded France in 1944, the camps received an influx of soldiers captured in Europe. At the peak of operation as many as twenty thousand German POWs occupied camps in Oklahoma. Seven posts housed enlisted men, and officers lived in quarters at Pryor. At each camp, companies of U.S. Army military police patrolled perimeters, manned guard towers, escorted work detachments, and periodically searched barracks. Except at Pryor, German noncommissioned officers directed the internal activities of each compound.

"For the Duration: Behind Fences in Oklahoma" tells of the POW and enemy alien internment camps "that existed in 26 counties around the state." Oklahoma hosted mainly German POWs, but also Japanese, Italian, and German aliens "picked up in Midwestern and north central states, South and Central America." Ethel Taylor compiled the information from the Chronicles of Oklahoma and newspaper accounts.

A program was in effect to segregate the Nazis and Nazi sympathizers from the general camp population, that was never fully successful. The Nazi and their sympathizers that were segregated were sent to camps with higher security. They tried to keep the general population from wavering on the Party line, using fear and physical punishment to achieve this. The pressures were great and several of the POWs that committed suicide were thought to have done it under pressure. The "hard liners" carried out some "executions". One such case was at Tonkawa, where Johannes Kunz was "tried" and found "guilty of treason". His body was found in the compound the next morning. The five leaders of the group that had "tried" Kunz, were courts martialled by the US Army and executed at Fort Leavenworth Military Prison in Kansas. Any prisoner that could read or speak English had to be especially careful when reading an American newspaper or talking to an American. They could never be sure just who to trust, and above all, they had to survive.

A separate page provides details on each of the camps, its size, and the types of prisoners it held. The closest one to Tulsa was north of Bixby.

BIXBY -- Located west of S. Mingo Rd. at 136th St and north of the Arkansas River from Bixby, this branch of Camp Gruber opened April 1, 1944. There could have been POWs in the area earlier, being trucked in daily from another camp. It confined 250 prisoners and closed Dec. 15, 1945.

An interesting note from the entry on the Pryor camp:

It was amazing to the local guards as to the number of cars with tags from the N/E states who came each visiting day-- prisoner's family members who were U.S. citizens.

The history of Camp Gruber, from the Three Rivers Museum website, includes much about the POWs held there:

Camp Gruber had its own celebrities. In civilian life, Private Arthur Johnston, 88th Division, 351st Medical Detachment, was the Hollywood composer of hits such as "Pennies From Heaven," and "Just One More Chance." Another notable soldier stationed at Camp Gruber was actor William Holden. Ironically, Holden was stationed at a camp where Americans held German POWs, but one of his most famous roles was as an American POW in Stalag 17....

Camp Gruber made local headlines on June 5, 1943, when the Muskogee Phoenix released an army disclosure of plans to establish a prisoner of war camp at Gruber. When completed, the facility had a capacity of 5,750 prisoners, with branches located at Bixby, Haskell, Morris, Okemah, Okmulgee, Porter, and Wetumka. In 1944, Glennan General Hospital in Okmulgee was added as a branch for the treatment of POWs.

1917TulsaRailMap.jpgToo tired tonight to do much more than link. I've been working on a post about the Oklahoma City Union Station rail yard / I-40 relocation controversy, but it's not ready. For now, here are links to some maps and other information about the history of the state's rail network, from most recent to oldest:

From the Oklahoma Department of Transportation's website. (Note how much of the network is owned by ODOT and leased to various railroads, including the entire Frisco route from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.)

University of Alabama collection of historical Oklahoma maps. The browser is annoying, and you can't download high res copies, but there's some very interesting material here, including:

Note the interurbans connecting Bartlesville to Dewey, Nowata to Coffeyville, Oklahoma City to Norman, El Reno, and Guthrie, Lawton to Ft. Sill, McAlester to Hartshorne, Shawnee to Tecumseh, and Miami to the rest of the Tristate mining region. As far as I can tell, only Tulsa's interurban lines -- Sand Springs and Tulsa-Sapulpa Union (originally the Oklahoma Union Traction Ry.) -- remain in operation, as freight-only short lines.

OkGenWeb's 1915 state map with a list of railroad names and abbreviations -- high res scan

Doug Loudenback's high res scan of a 1905 map and gazetteer of the Twin Territories.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma History category from May 2009.

Oklahoma History: March 2009 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma History: June 2009 is the next archive.

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