100 Years Ago Today: Chevrons Causing Trouble

Akron Weekly Pioneer Press, January 31, 1919

Chevrons are making headlines again! Today’s post is a follow up to a previous article filed under ‘100 Years Ago Today’ about chevrons called Marks of Service, which concludes with the author pleading to its readers:

“The man who displays any of the chevrons…has done his full duty by his country and is worthy of honor.”

Cheyenne Record, Volume 7, Number 44, January 23, 1919

Apparently the message didn’t hold water for many people reached out to their Congressmen over the “discrimination” of the distinction of gold vs. silver chevrons, complaining that their service stateside was not their choice but their assignment, and they gladly would have served on the front lines instead.

Gold Chevrons:

A single gold chevron for each wound received in service in the Theater of Operations (mostly France) is worn on the forearm of the right sleeve. This chevron is placed pointing downward.

2 Types of Gold Chevrons.jpg
Gold chevrons

Silver Chevrons:

A single silver chevron for each complete six month’s service in the United States is worn on the forearm of the left sleeve. This chevron is placed pointing downward. 

Silver Chevron

Republican House Representative, John C. McKenzie, (who held that position from 1911-1925), gets a looooong quote in this page three opinion piece, saying that Congress may need to prohibit certain chevrons, but I can’t find any evidence that this was actually brought to lawmakers, nor that it was passed. Rep. McKenzie does offer an interesting solution to the problem, namely that chevrons should only be worn by those who “served in actual fighting” and “clearly risked their lives.”

But what is “actual fighting” and what does it mean to “clearly” risk your life? The article’s author rebuts with a nod to the air servicemen who trained pilots stateside. I imagine their job being akin to a Drivers Ed teacher, except your students are flying primitive airplanes thousands of feet above the ground. Clear risk? Check!

Also, Rep McKenzie, what’s up with the shaming of the army field clerks who according to you, “dodged real military service”? Does the military not have important clerking to be done? Records to keep? Messages to send? Shout out to the clerks!

Regardless of whether Rep. McKenzie’s solution is appropriate, the problem was very real to servicemen after the War. I like the following explanation of hierarchy that was causing the rift:

“There was a clear hierarchy for these left sleeve service chevrons: silver were the lowest ranking and could not be worn by anyone entitled to wear either a single blue chevron or for anyone entitled to wear gold chevrons(s). The next rung was the single blue chevron, showing less than 6 months in the theater of operations. Anyone with more than six months service was to wear a gold chevron for each 6 months in the theater of operations. Thus World War I uniforms should exist only with one or more silver chevrons, one blue chevron, or one or more gold chevrons.”


I’m also intrigued by the way that the editorial cartoon highlights the problem of untreated anxiety servicemen were dealing with post-WWI.

The poor fella on the right who can’t get the ladies wears two silver chevrons, meaning he served stateside for at least 12 months but not more than 17 months, while the (pipe smoking?) gent on the left served at least six month but not more than 11 months abroad.

Pfft, AND he was probably a clerk. Kudos to the cartoonist for the inclusion of the word GOLD in all caps on the woman’s shoulder to let us know her man’s chevron color. Very subtle.

The anxieties I’m seeing in the cartoon include: Can I find a partner? Will anyone want me after my service? Should I wear my military uniform? Is this attracting people or repelling them? Why is everyone else getting the attention I want? Why is it so hard being lonely? How can I improve my status when it’s printed on my sleeve?

100 years ago today, chevrons became a point of contention for former service members, symbolizing the anxiety over status in 20th century America, to the point that Congress members were thinking of making laws to legislate chevron wearing.

100 Years Ago Today: Pithy News, Woman Dreams of Teddy Roosevelt’s Death

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Moffat County Courier, Number 24, January 30, 1919

Let me get this right. A woman in Moffat County, Colorado had a dream that The Old Lion, The Rough Rider, The Bull Moose, T. R., The Trust Buster, The Hero of San Juan Hill, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the 26th President of the United States, died in his sleep at the young age of 60 years old? Oh come on now, Mrs. Sarah Lewis!

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Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir at Glacier Point in Yosemite (1903)

Teddy can survive anything! He was shot in 1912 while giving a speech and kept talking. He explored the River of Doubt, contracted malaria, and lived. He charged through heavy fire at the battle of Kettle Hill and survived. He…wait what? He died in his sleep on January 6, 1919 due to a pulmonary embolism (where a blood clot gets caught in one of the arteries that go from the heart to the lungs)?

Indeed, the entire country was so shocked to hear of Col. Roosevelt’s death, that only a dream premonition could have foretold it, which is probably why the Moffat County Courier ran this dream story on the SECOND PAGE of its newspaper 100 years ago today.

Sagamore Hill house near Oyster Bay where Theodore Roosevelt died

Another interesting nugget that shouldn’t be slept on is the cosign of her son, George Lewis, notably of the Mountain Division of the American Red Cross. The inclusion of his position lends credence to her story because of how revered the Red Cross was during the Great War. Indeed, Woodrow Wilson publicly called upon the American people to back the organization throughout the war.

Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881. The first Colorado-based chapter of the Red Cross started in 1914, known as the Pikes Peak Chapter. The Mountain Division of the Red Cross was then established, comprised of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. In the years before the U.S. joined the war, the Red Cross was sending doctors, nurses, and medical supplies to war ravaged European countries. They also called on women (and men) stateside to help make socks and sweaters for the soldiers in volunteer groups called the Production Corps.

American Red Cross historical poster 

100 years ago today, Mrs. Sarah Lewis, the mother of George Lewis who worked for the lauded Red Cross in Colorado, had a nighmare/premonition that the seemingly impossible had happened: ex-president Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep, but two days later the truth came out — the impossible had happened, and Roosevelt was dead of a pulmonary embolism.

100 Years Ago Today: Two Men Killed in Boiler Explosion

Steamboat Pilot, January 29, 1919

Railroading was so incredibly dangerous 100 years ago. One of the reasons why these old pictures and stories of railroad routes through the Rockies leave me shaking my head in awe is just how much risk there was in building, maintaining, and operating these lines.

Engine No. 100, pre boiler explosion, near summit of Moffat Road
Photo Courtesy of Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library

I’m especially fascinated by the Moffat Road, aka Rollins Pass Road, aka The Hill Route, aka Corona Pass Road. I’ve run it, I’ve skied it, I’ve seen people snowmobiling, driving, and biking it. The 100+ year old route is alive and semi-well today, despite the Needles Eye tunnel being caved in since 1990, the Devil’s Slide trestles in disrepair, and the iconic Riflesight Notch hanging on by some decrepit ties. But still it persists over the Continental Divide.

The “road” was originally a path used by Utes and Arapahoes for thousands of years. In the mid-1800s it became a wagon route to Middle Park and points north. At the turn of the century, millionaire David Moffat incorporated the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad and secured the funding to make it into a railroad route, and construction began in 1903-1904.

Moffat Road map from Tolland to Tabernash
Moffat Tunnel (completed 1928) the dashed line

At the time, Moffat Road was the most direct railroad from Denver to Middle Park, but it was incredibly costly to maintain, especially during the winter, when giant rotary snow plows were necessary to move the many feet of snow on the track. The road’s 2%-4% grade was also very difficult for engines to complete, and in 1928 the opening of the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, which allowed the railroad to traverse under 13er, James Peak, made the Moffat Road obsolete.

Image result for rotary snow plow moffat road
Rotary Snow Plow on Moffat Road

In 1919, the Moffat Road was still in regular use, and terrible accidents like derailments, forest fires caused by engine sparks, and rarer events like the boiler exploding in today’s article, were unfortunate occurrences in railroad life.

The Routt County Sentinel ran an article on this boiler accident on Jan 24th, with more details about the explosion. They said it was the “first accident of [its] kind in history on Moffat Road.” They also reported that the boiler cylinder blasted forward 225 feet, and an ejector valve flew backward 200 feet. I can’t even imagine the concussive sound of such an explosion.

According to the Routt County article, the explosion took place not so much near Tolland, which is at the eastern base of the hill climb, but farther up the road on Brogan’s Cut, near Dixie Lake, which is right at treeline, a few miles after the road is more consistently at the steeper 4% grade. Dixie Lake is now known as Jenny Lake, which is about 1/2 mile past Yankee Doodle Lake.

Jenny Lake (bottom right) and Needles Eye Tunnel (center right) as seen from high above and long ago

The Routt article refers to the Dixie Lake “siding,” which is where a track splits off from the main line, and in this case there was a water tower fed by Dixie Lake at the siding. Did the boiler explode because it was low on water? If the train had made it to the siding to re-fill the boiler would this tragedy have been avoided? I couldn’t find anything more than speculation about the cause of the catastrophe.

Maybe they shouldn’t have put Engine No. 100 on this Moffat Road auto tour brochure for motorists produced sometime in the 1960s-1970s

100 years ago today, reports of a boiler exploding on the (possibly cursed “hoodoo”) Engine No. 100 while ascending Moffat Road near the Continental Divide, killing two men, Engineer Carlin and Fireman Proctor, while injuring another, Brakeman Behringer.

100 Years Ago Today: Small Son Tells How Father Killed Mother

Herald Democrat, January 28, 1919

Let’s fill out some key points to this terrible story. On December 2, 1918, 34-year-old Pearl(e) Centers, plow factory worker, father of nine-year-old Raymond Centers and former husband of now-deceased Daisy Myrtal Centers (34), killed his wife because she refused to reconcile their recent divorce, aka she wouldn’t take his sorry ass back (Sings: Try to control me, boy, you get dismissed). He testified in court that he also tried to shoot himself in the head. It seems he was not successful.

I’m not sure why the accused is not named specifically in this short, tragic news article, but I found a follow up article also from the Herald Democrat that ran the next day, which brought forth more details about the attempted murder/suicide.

There were only two witnesses for the prosecution, Daisy’s brother, Leonard Shields, and their star witness, her son, Raymond. Pearl Centers took the stand to defend himself in court, testifying that his son’s story was true: he shot his wife and then shot himself.

The jury took four hours to arrive at a guilty verdict, sentencing Mr. Centers to life imprisonment for first degree murder. They did, however, need to grapple with the following piece of confusing testimony from Pearl himself.

Herald Democrat, January 29, 1919

Is he saying he pulled out the gun, tried to kill himself, and then his wife grabbed the gun and accidentally shot herself? Or did he take the first shot to the head, and then kill her? How is this confirming your son’s story? And bruh, your son is asleep in the bed, right there next to your wife, WTF?

San Juan Prospector, February 7, 1919

As of the 1940 census, Pearl Centers was still incarcerated at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City, as he had been since 1919.

100 years ago today, Pearl Centers was tried and convicted of first degree murder for killing his wife, Daisy, while his young son, Raymond, slept next to her (and her brother was in the kitchen), and then he tried and failed to kill himself, but instead he spent the rest of his life in prison.

100 Years Ago Today: White Gold Saves Colorado Economy

Morgan County Republican, Volume 19, Number 4, January 24, 1919

All hail the sugar beet, aka white gold, a crop that can actually grow in Colorado’s arid climate and rocky soil! In 1919 the sugar beet reached an all time high price of $10.02 per ton paid to beet farmers, which was two cents per ton higher than the national average. No wonder growers were looking to expand their farms 30 to 100 percent that year.

But why the rise of the sugar beet? A series of events led to increased demand for sugar grown and refined in the U.S.

  • Sugar tariffs were imposed on imported sugar
  • Land treaties removed Indians from their native lands and opened these lands to white farmers
  • Laborers worked for low wages: Russian, German, and Hispanic immigrants, as well as Indians were willing to perform very difficult labor for little money
  • European immigrants brought sugar beet seeds and sugar refinery equipment to the U.S.
Sugar beet field circa 1900
photo courtesy Denver Public Library

Let’s back up a few years.

In 1899, Colorado’s economy was in flux. Silver and gold mining proved unsustainable after the silver crash and ensuing panic of 1893 that left 18% of the population unemployed. Ranching failed to generate the kind of revenue needed to support towns and cities. Infrastructure for Colorado tourism was not yet established, for roads had not yet been built to take travelers into the mountains, and the railroads were not reliable over the high mountains, nor were they affordable for the working class.

Enter Charles Boettcher, German immigrant and American entrepreneur, who made his fortune opening hardware stores across Colorado and selling equipment to hardrock miners in towns like Leadville.

Charles Boettcher (1852-1948)

On a trip back to Germany in 1899, Boettcher saw the sugar beet industry in the German countryside and realized the potential for this cash cow in Colorado. Legend has it that Boettcher took one of his wife’s luggage bags, emptied it, and filled it with sugar beet seed to take back to Colorado.

The same year, Boettcher opened the first sugar beet processing factory in Grand Junction, Colorado. In the next few years, he opened a sugar mills in the towns of Loveland and Greeley, north of Denver. He and New York businessman Henry O. Havemeyer founded the Great Western Sugar Company in 1905, and by 1906 he opened a sugar refinery in Fort Morgan, which had the capacity to produce 600 tons per day. The postcard below (unknown date) says the factory has the capacity to produce 1200 tons per day.

Fort Morgan Sugar Beet Factory postcard

Every town where there was a sugar beet factory and/or farm prospered economically from the industry until the 1950s and 1960s when imported cane sugar became popular. For the next five decades the industry steadily declined, and now the only sugar beet refinery factory remaining is in Fort Morgan. However, sugar beet farming has seen some resurgence in recent years, with improved land use efficiency techniques.

Sugar beets circa 1920
photo courtesy Denver Public Library

100 years ago today, sugar beet farming and sugar refining was more profitable than ever in Colorado and continued to play a key role in the economy of towns across the state in the post-mining era.

Be sure to check out the Colorado Exeperience episode on the rise and fall of the sugar beet industry in Colorado called “White Gold” below:

Colorado Experience (RMPBS) presents White Gold

100 Years Ago Today: Marks of WWI Service

Cheyenne Record, Volume 7, Number 44, January 23, 1919

A chevron is a ‘V’ shaped stripe that was sewn onto an American Expeditionary Force (AEF) or a stateside soldier’s service coat, signifying length of service, honorable discharge, or number of wounds received, depending on the color and the placement of the chevron.

Chevrons were also known as “overseas stripes.” Some chevrons were machine made, and some were hand made, so the exact shade, size, angle, backing material, and orientation on the sleeve tend to vary.

Qualification standards for the awarding of chevrons changed throughout World War I. At one point during the war, a soldier’s service started when he set foot on overseas soil. Later, it was when he boarded the ship that would take him overseas.

This article needs some pictures to clarify what the chevrons look like, so that’s what I’ll post today. These images are all from the extensive insignia posts on The US Militaria Forum by user ‘world war I nerd’ who
frequently quotes Stars and Stripes Newspaper as well as Where Do We Go From Here: This is the Real Dope by William Brown Meloney. Each caption below is the description of a chevron from today’s article, sometimes with further explanation of orientation on coat.

A single red chevron signifies “discharged with honor.”
This was placed pointing upward, half way between the left elbow and shoulder.
A single blue chevron signifies less than six months’ service abroad.
This chevron was placed pointing down on the forearm.
A single gold chevron for each wound received in service is worn on the forearm of the right sleeve.
This chevron was placed pointing downward.
A single gold chevron for each complete six month’s service abroad is worn on the forearm of left sleeve.
This chevron was placed pointing downward.

The gold chevron for wounds is the same as the gold chevron for each six month’s service abroad, but it’s worn on the left sleeve instead of the right.
The soldier above sustained two wounds and served at least 12 months service abroad but not more than 17 months.

A single white chevron for each complete six month’s service in the United States is worn on the forearm of the left sleeve.
This chevron was placed pointing downward.

It seems the article’s author made a mistake. There is no white chevron for service stateside, but there is a silver chevron for this.

Norman Rockwell’s painting, The Coward, for the April 10, 1919 cover of Life Magazine.
The soldier depicted received two wounds and served for at least 18 months but not more than 24 months and was honorably discharged, based on the chevrons on his coat.

100 years ago today, American soldiers who served abroad and stateside wore ‘V’ shaped stripes called chevrons on their service coats in order to indicate if and how many times they’d been wounded, how long they served, and whether they’d been honorably discharged, and the author reminds readers not to shame men who didn’t have the chance to serve on the front lines.

100 Years Ago Today: Forest Service Issues Booklet for Vacationist

Steamboat Pilot, January 22, 1919

As late as the 1860s, the noun ‘vacation’ was used almost exclusively to describe the time in a school year when class was not in session. It was a time when the schoolhouses and universities were literally vacated. The other use of the word was to describe when an elected official left their position, e.g. ‘a vacation of the senator’s seat.’ But it was not used to describe the leisure time that the working class scheduled into their year.

Wealthy people took vacations, though they might have called them “excursions,” as Cindy Aron describes in her book, Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States. By 1919, however, due to the rise of the middle class and unions fighting for workers’ rights, a vacation was something that more and more people — this article calls them “vacationists” — could participate in.

This article and the booklet it’s promoting (full booklet here) also illuminates the transition of Colorado from a destination for miners in the 19th century to a destination for tourists in the 20th century. It’s a kind of re-branding of the state that its economy continues to thrive on today.

Vacationists from Denver wouldn’t have been able to get to the beautiful destinations in Routt National Forest if it weren’t for the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad route, aka the Moffat Road (now known as Rollins Pass Road), as well as newly built automobile roads that traversed high mountain passes like Rabbit Ears Pass, which had just been completed in 1919.

Berthoud Pass was one of the other routes to Middle Park and North Park near Routt National Forest. In 1919 it was a difficult wagon road that some automobile enthusiasts would attempt. However, this soon changed when the Colorado State Highway Department and the Forest Service agreed to build a 16-foot wide automobile road over Berthoud Pass, which was completed in 1920. The road was paved in 1938. It’s open year round, and is now one of the most frequently traveled high altitude passes in the state.

This article also raves about the photographs in the booklet. My favorite picture is of Carl Howelsen, a legendary ski pioneer/ambassador and ski jump champion, who helped bring skiing across Colorado. Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs is named after him.

The photo in the booklet doesn’t include Howelsen in the caption, so we’ll have to take the article’s word for it.
Here’s Carl Howelsen skiing at Berthoud Pass. Bonus pic not from the booklet, just because he’s my hero.

I also love this picture of the conical Hahn’s Peak with an early auto enthusiast driving by.

100 years ago today, the Forest Service plugs Routt National Forest as a hot destination for a new segment of the rising working class known then as vacationists, who finally had enough money and time off work to play tourist in the beautiful state of Colorado in which they live.