World War II, Liberty
held German prisoners of war who had fought in North Africa under the legendary
Gen. Erwin Rommel – a.k.a. “The Desert Fox.”
More than a century earlier
and only a short distance from the WWII
prison camp, Liberty held
Mexican soldiers who had fought under Gen. Santa Anna at San
In both cases, with the Germans in the 1940s and Mexicans
in the 1830s, the people of Liberty
treated the prisoners humanely and with dignity.
Miriam Partlow, in her
book on Liberty County history, wrote that the German prisoners “received about
the same kind of friendly treatment that the Mexican prisoners of 1836-37 did
when camped only three miles to the north on the land of Judge William Hardin.
In some ways Liberty is
an unusual city. Possibly some of its steady and healthy growth is due to a friendly
spirit among all races and creeds, including Indians and captured prisoners."
Mexican Hill, where the Mexican prisoners stayed in Liberty,
is the name of the historical marker on the north edge of Highway 90.
inscription says, “Here Mexican soldiers captured at San
Jacinto were held from Aug. 28, 1836, to April 25, 1837, when all were released.
The kind treatment accorded them by the owners of the plantation Judge and Mrs.
William Hardin, induced many of them to become citizens of Texas.”
highest ranking Mexican officer imprisoned at Liberty
was Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos, brother-in-law of Gen. Santa Anna. A street in
Liberty is named for Cos
and another for Santa Anna.
Cos and Judge Hardin became friends and Hardin
allowed him and other Mexican officers a lot of leeway in Liberty.
They were free to walk around the town, and if anyone mistreated them or spoke
out of line, they had to answer to Judge Hardin.
In April 1837 the people of Liberty
petitioned to the government requesting that the Mexican prisoners be released
– and they were.
Pedro Delgado, in his book, “Mexican Account of the Fall of San Jacinto,” had
high praise for the Hardin family. “Oh, virtuous family,” he wrote. “How great
and how many your exertions have been to relieve the degree of our sorrowful and
destitute condition. Oh William Hardin! Thy name and that of thy noble wife will
be imperishable in the hearts of the Mexican prisoners, who, victims of fate,
suffered the unexpected disaster of San Jacinto. … I will never cease to proclaim
and praise thy meritorious and charitable conducted towards us.”
Carmody, when she attended Lee College, wrote a research paper on the German POWs
in Liberty during World
War II. She said the typical prisoner was about 20 years old, tall and handsome.
Some of the prisoners were top officers in Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
Dr. Albert L. Delaney of Liberty served as the prison camp physician and established
lifelong friendships among some of the prisoners.
at the site of the Trinity Valley Exposition fairgrounds, the prison camp housed
500 men. Their main assignment was to help harvest the abundant rice crops in
the Liberty area. Liberty
County Agent Gordon Hart served as the intermediary between the government and
the local rice farmers, making arrangements for when and where they worked.
prisoners also worked for Elmer Gray, who owned a lumber business in Baytown,
and they helped to build houses in the Morrell Park subdivision in Baytown.
Like others, Gray established lasting friendships among the prisoners,
admiring their work skills and their willingness to work.
Fox” taught them well.
September 1, 2012 column
Topics: World War II
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