Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Letter From A Soldier

Climbing My Family Tree: Letter from A Soldier, Big Piney Examiner, Big Piney, Wyoming 1 August 1918
Letter From A Soldier, Big Piney Examiner, Big Piney, Wyoming 1 August 1918

I love finding things that give me a picture into my ancestors' history and/or the times or place. When I was researching my great-grand-aunt Grace Gregor Bentley, I found a letter to her from her middle son, Benjamin F. Bentley (my first cousin, twice removed), printed in the Big Piney Examiner (Big Piney, Wyoming) on August 1, 1918. In the letter, he describes his life in Camp MacArthur, Texas after he had joined the Army during WW1.

My transcription:


We, we arrived at our training camp at last, here at Camp MacArthur, Texas, it is quite a nice camp here but not so pretty as Fort Logan.

The cotton here is short this year, it looks like sunflowers and about knee high, the country is flat with little groves of locust trees. In some fields the corn is ripe and right beside the ripe corn, young corn is just beginning to grow. It is sure hot but not so uncomfortable as one might expect – we sure sweat an awful lot, they say when one quits sweating down here he is sick. They are keeping us in quarantine for the first two weeks, they do all of the new recruits the same way at Denver.

The officers here said we were the best looking bunch of men that had come in here. We are all training together in companies. Nate Sanford, Bradley and Bill Moffit of Daniel, are in my company. The training is easy so far, just squad formation in plattons (sic), and they are teaching us the right face left face – right dress and that lung exercise.

Out of each squad of eight men they just took one man for a corporal, just lined us up and the captain walked down the line and gave us the once over, he picked me. We corporals have to train after supper every night, I am getting along fine. A lot of them got scared or mad at the extra training, but I am going to stick right with it although it isn’t as pleasant as being a private. I have to know where those seven men are all the time and answer roll call for all eight of us and see that they keep shaved and the tent clean and all that goes with this army life. The extra training at night sure helps, as I can keep about two jumps ahead of the rest of my squad, they are all good boys too and are all from Wyoming, but strangers to me.

I like this army life better every day, the grub is good and lots of it, only the kitchen policies, pile beans, soup and pudding all on the same plate – I eat three plates full three times a day and am hungry all the time at that.

They just assigned this company to the infantry – that is O.K. with me as I like to train. The fastest of us will go into another company as we learn the different drills, so you see a corporal has to keep on the jump all the time. We have to train every day and Sunday’s (sic) too, with only a few minutes off at a time. I sure improve that time practicing the drills behind the tent. Those square dances in Wyoming are easy alongside of the right flank march, flank march double time and a lot of other stuff – I have to stand so straight I almost tip over but the officers carry themselves that way all the time. After we get trained we will be assigned a new squad to train, with only a lieutenant over a lot of corporals.

The officers are sure fine men, very pleasant and all of them are Southerners and talk with that slow drawl and don’t sound their r's at all.

This is an aviation camp, about fifty planes in the air all the time. There is a world of stuff to write about but I will write again soon.

Your son,

Benj. F. Bentley
42d Company Infantry Replacement Camp
Camp MacArthur Texas" 

Benjamin later got to France with the army; he served about a year and by the end of the war was a 1st sergeant, according the news article about his death. He survived the war but died only eight years later in a horrible work-related accident in Olympia, Washington, where he worked as a longshoreman. He was hit in the head by a timber and knocked into the bay while he was helping to load a ship (the Nyhaug). Despite a round the clock search, his body was not recovered for nine days, He left behind a widow, Kathryn (Cavanaugh) Bentley and three children, Thomas L., born about 1921; Dora Berenice, born about 1924; and Benjamin, Jr., born about 1926.


"Letter From Soldier," 1 August 1918 Big Piney Examiner, p. 1; "Cavanaugh-Bentley", 1 July 1920 Big Piney Examiner, p. 3 (found at NewspaperArchive.com); "Accident Results in Death of Ben Bentley at Olympia," 2 September 1926 Pinedale Roundup, p.1 (found at NewspaperArchive.com); "Bay Gives up Body of Port Worker; Blow Caused Death," The Morning Olympian (Olympia, WA), Thursday, September 2, 1926, pp. 1 and 6 (found at GenealogyBank.com).


  1. Newspaper archives can provide the best insight into our ancestors' lives - I just love them! Nice find, Jo.

    1. I love old newspapers. This family (Grace Gregor Bentley, her husband, & her kids' families) show up in two Wyoming papers (the Big Piney Examiner and the Pinedale Roundup) over 400 times! - most are one-liners. If their direct line descendants do genealogy, it will be a treasure trove for them!


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