Adobe Outposts on the Rio Grande by
U.S. military has endured its share of sarcasm over the years for not always having
the brightest ideas, hence the classic oxymoron of "military intelligence."|
But in fairness to the various services, despite occasional setbacks, their ideas
have always been good enough to win wars.
When revolution raged in Mexico
and occasionally spilled over into Texas in the years just before and during World
War I, the U.S. Army flooded the border with troops.
The Army, though
the transition to motor vehicles had begun, still depended on soldiers on horseback,
supplied by pack mules or mule-pulled wagons.
Because of the long distances
involved, and the fact that cavalry could only move 30 to 40 miles a day, the
military established a series of outposts up and down the border. Many of the
small installations stood in the vastness of the Big
Bend, where bandit raids had been a serious problem.
For nearly 20
years, soldiers stationed in those remote points made do, as a quasi-official
organ called the Quartermaster Review reported in 1925, "with only tents and shacks
for shelter, hauling their own water from the Rio Grande and enduring…intense
heat and bitter cold."
Finally, in the spring of 1919, someone in the War
Department had an idea that the troops in the field most of have applauded. The
military decided to spend $8.5 million for labor and material to build modern
facilities at 49 stations along the Rio Grande.
Eleven of those outposts
would be along the Rio Grande south of Marfa,
the military headquarters for the Big Bend, "radiating like the spokes of a wheel,
with Marfa as a center, averaging
some 170 miles across high mountains and over trails that were hard on pack trains."
of the difficulty of transporting building material over such rough terrain and
over such long distances, the Army had an even better idea: Use adobe made from
straw and clay from the banks of the Rio Grande.
"These adobe buildings
have the characteristic of being far cooler in summer and very much warmer in
winter than wooden buildings," the article said. In addition, adobe structures
could not burn and tended to last a long time.
The idea must have originated
in Texas, where savvy officers understood the local culture. As the article in
the Review put it: "A proposal was made to the War Department to build adobe barracks
of a special design, utilizing the old ideas which had been in use in Mexico since
the time of the Aztec Indians and some modern ideas t meet the old defects."
The modern idea was to reinforce the foot-thick adobe with heavy wire mesh covered
with hard finish plaster to protect the water-soluble brick from weather (in the
odd event it ever rained in that country.)
In addition to the adobe barracks,
officer's quarters, mess halls and lavoratories, all the outposts had water, sewage
and electricity furnished by World War I-surplus generators.
use of adobe proved effective and doubtless saved some tax dollars, the construction
project proved to be too much, too late. No sooner had all the improvements been
made than the turmoil in Mexico quieted and peacefulness descended on the border.
Army abandoned most of the outposts not long after all the new construction had
been completed. Even so, the installations served as periodic bivouacs during
training maneuvers and routine patrols for as long as the military guarded the
border with horse soldiers, an effort than continued through the beginning of
World War II.