Camp Nichols on Ward Parkway

(originally published 12/6/18)

With the 100th anniversary of the first Armistice Day still in our rearview mirror, I wanted to share once more this sketch of a local regiment and the small camp it occupied for a few critical months in 1917.

The Third Missouri Infantry Regiment was first organized in 1888, and spent the next three decades mustering in and out of federal service – including a stint with Pershing’s forces during the Mexican Revolution. In March 25, 1917, a Presidential order mobilized the Third Missouri at Kansas City to guard the city’s transportation infrastructure, in anticipation of joining the war in Europe. But the Third Missouri lacked a camp site, a spot to muster in the troops, to train and prepare for deployment. So when J.C. Nichols offered a few acres within the undeveloped Country Club, they had their camp which fittingly, if informally, came to be known as Camp Nichols.

To date, I have found only one map that vaguely locates the spot, the well-known cartographic map of the Country Club District, a 1930 promotional map more illustrative than navigational. The map depicts the cartoon images of a doughboy facing a finger-pointing superior. The Nichols Company records do include two photos of the site, included here.

The life of Camp Nichols was brief. There are few references to Camp Nichols in publication or online, but two items give a tiny peek into Kansas City life as America entered the war. The first mention appears in a work on military intelligence, which the author dates to 1917. In one of the first attempts to use law enforcement as a means of gathering intelligence information “in the field,” a former police detective assigned to Camp Nichols after enlistment volunteered to turn spy on local “socialist activities.”

On July 16, 1917, an army lieutenant at Camp Nichols in Kansas City had been invited, by virtue of his previous work as a police detective in that city, to accompany local authorities on a raid of the meeting hall of the Agricultural Workers Organization, a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).”

Some revolvers, what appeared to be “burglary tools” and some organizational records were confiscated, “which resulted in a $100 fine for each of the ten radicals arrested and their expulsion from the city.”

The second mention of Camp Nichols appears in a short article in the December 8, 1917 issue of The Survey, the leading social welfare magazine of the day. Under the title, “Camps and Saloons in Kansas City,” the report bestows a dubious distinction on Camp Nichols. Kansas City, so the article relates, was a good example of the problems facing the War Department with respect to the moral character of its soldiers, those problems being liquor and prostitution. In that context, the article relates that…

“…formerly there was located in Kansas City a temporary camp, Camp Nichols, in which the percentage of venereal disease was high.”

Sadly, The Survey article doesn’t rank Camp Nichols on the intoxication levels of its soldiers. But between the spying and the prostitution, it stands to reason there was plenty of reasons to drink.

And what of the soldiers of the Third Missouri Infantry? In October 1917, the Regiment moved to Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, and was incorporated into the 140th U.S. Infantry, 35th Division, which fought in in the Battle of Verdun, the longest battle of World War I (10 months) and one of the costliest in history. Of the 94 soldiers from the original Third Missouri that fought in Europe, 20 were wounded, 5 were killed, six were killed and one was captured, giving the “Old Third” a heartbreaking casualty rate of 34 percent.

(Photo: The only two known pictures of the 3rd Regiment at the Camp Nichols site. Courtesy the State Historical Society of Missouri-Kansas City.)

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