This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The 12th Cavalry Mounted Band

17 October 2016



We can't see it but it's there in the air.
Just enough to make one shiver.
A not entirely unpleasant aroma

of oiled leather and horse sweat.









Of course there is more
that we can't smell,
but we see it behind the horses,
sweetening the green grass.









Adding to this unseen stew of odors,
there's a manly musk
of wool jodhpurs and felt hats.
And since soldiers will be soldiers
there has to be a robust bouquet
of cologne and hair creme too.  











We can't hear the music either,
but the horses, they are listening,
with ears turned back
in worried anticipation
of a sudden cymbal crash.










Some steeds are a bit impatient for a command,
as each animal knows its rider
and awaits the inward breath of an altohorn
as much as the nudge of a knee
to step off into formation.










It's what military training is
all about in the cavalry.

Learning the harmony and rhythm
of man and horse. 










It's what twenty-two U.S. Army bandsmen
of the 12th Cavalry regiment
understood when they lined up for the camera
at Ft. Brown, Texas in August 1924.









* * *



* * *

This impressive mounted cavalry band is pictured on a so-called yard-long photograph, approximately 9" by 36", the type of photo displayed on a wall of the post headquarters. This PDF viewer gives only a middling recreation of the original photograph which I've digitally stitched together from scans of six sections of the image.

{If anyone knows of a good image viewer for very wide format photos
that is compatible with Google blogger, I'd appreciate letting me know in a comment}


The mounted band is perhaps my favorite musical ensemble because of how these bands combined two seemingly contrary skills, instrumental musicianship with horseback riding. Learning to play a clarinet well is difficult enough without simultaneously mastering the control of a large horse that might take strong exception to a poorly executed tune. Few people in today's show business world aspire to acquiring such expertise. Yet not too many generations ago, a soldier with both musical and equestrian talent might find a career as a bandsman in a mounted cavalry band.     



Behind the band is the Ft. Brown parade field which understandably is quite large for the purpose of practicing cavalry drills. In the background are huge live oaks and bushy Rio Grande palmettos. In the center is the bandstand used for concerts minus horses. Though sepia tone photos seem eminently suited for army greens and khaki, I do regret we can't see if the horses are a matched set of bays. All red brown or are some blacks? Note also that one of the four clarinet players holds a smaller high E-flat clarinet, which despite its size, is a formidable weapon for any soldier to wield.




The band has two bass instruments, a helicon tuba on the right and a sousaphone on the left, which along with the bass drum are the only instruments that can be played competently with one hand while still holding the horse's reins in the other. There are three cornet players and one bugler, though all four undoubtedly knew the regulation bugle call book by heart.

Beyond the sousaphone and bass drum is a row of wood clad buildings, most likely officers' quarters. Notice that like the bandstand, the porches are wire screened. There is a parked car and two other wheeled vehicles in blurred motion. Is the middle one a baby carriage?






Located about as far south as one can go in the continental United States, Fort Brown was originally just an earthworks defense built in 1846 on the north side of the Rio Grande River by General Zachary Taylor. Originally named Fort Texas, the Mexican government considered it an outrageous provocation by President James K. Polk to place American forces below the official border which was then 100 miles north at the Nueces River. The incursion started the Mexican–American War (1846-48) which began with a siege of Fort Texas. During the action two American soldiers were killed, including Major Jacob Brown. To honor the major's death, General Taylor renamed the site Fort Brown, and in 1849, the city of Brownsville, Texas, was established just north of the fort's perimeter. The city of Matamoros, Mexico lies just across the river from Brownsville.

In 1848 Zachary Taylor would use his military fame to succeed President Polk as the 12th President of the United States. Unfortunately his term was cut short when he succumbed to an unknown digestive illness and died in July 1850.   



* *


* *






Brownsville TX Evening Herald
8 August 1924








In August the afternoon temperature on a parade ground in Brownsville, TX might hover around 100°+ F.  Most concerts by the 12th Cavalry Band were scheduled for later in the cooler evening with the band performing on the post bandstand. The band acted as ambassadors for Ft. Brown's army troops to Brownsville's and Texas' and Mexico's civilian communities. During the summertime in the 1920s the band gave public concerts twice a week. Their music programs usually began with a march, followed by an arrangement of an opera overture, a few light popular tunes featuring a solo instrument, and finished with a foxtrot. Cavalry horses were apparently very fond of dancing.




_  _ _






Brownsville TX Evening Herald
12 November 1924


The Bandmaster of the Twelfth Cavalry Band was named George A. Horton. Only one musician wears a visible rank insignia, the corporal and sousaphone player, third from left, but I don't think he is Horton. The soldier on far left is a better choice for bandleader, but he may have a pair of cymbals hanging on the back of his saddle and his uniform lacks any distinctive marks of a warrant officer, so I am not completely certain. Bandmaster George Horton was married and had two daughters with musical talent on violin and voice that sometimes caught the attention of the Brownsville newspaper. Horton also played violin and led the bandsmen when they appeared as an orchestra at the post's social soirees for officers and wives. Horton conducted the 12th Cavalry band from at least 1922 until 1929 when another bandmaster took over.


_ _ _








 







On the left side of the yardlong photograph is an inset photo of General John J. Pershing, (1860-1948). Pershing was then Chief of Staff for the United States Army, with the rank of General of the Armies. His illustrious military career began in 1886 as a young Second Lieutenant in the 6th Cavalry. Pershing served in both the Spanish-American  and Philippine–American wars, assigned at different times to the 10th, 1st, and 15th Cavalry regiments.

But it was his successful command of the Pancho Villa Expedition in 1916-17 that encouraged President Woodrow Wilson to chose him to lead the American Expeditionary Force in 1917. During his WW1 service Pershing took notice of the high musical standards of European military bands and their positive effect on their soldiers' esprit de corps. In 1922 Pershing established the U. S. Army Band in Washington, D.C., also known as "Pershing's Own", which became the premier musical organization of the United States Army. Pershing retired just two years later on September 13, 1924.



_ _ _







On the right side is another officer's portrait, Col. John M. Morgan, the commanding officer of Ft. Brown. An 1893 graduate of West Point, Morgan served in both infantry and cavalry units, and during WW1 commanded the 309th infantry, 78th division, winning the silver star and distinguished service medal.  Col. Morgan died in San Antonio, TX in November  1939 at the age of 71.


_ _ _





***


A lineup of a mounted cavalry band makes an impressive photograph.
In 1923 the Band of the 105th Cavalry Wisconsin National Guard
had their yardlong picture taken which then
took up a whole 8 columns of the Eau Claire, WI Leader newspaper.


Eau Claire WI Leader
2 August 1923


These next two photos are two small informal snapshots,
the opposite of the very large format,
and were most likely taken by a bandsman's box camera.
They are marked: Fort Brown Band  1929.






The band didn't ride horses to every engagement. Sometimes they waited around for an army truck. In my experience as a collector, photo postcards of cavalry bands marching on foot are much more common than photos of them mounted on horseback. The second photo is of the band's snare drummer showing how his instrument is cleverly attached to his belt so that it can be tilted for proper drumstick technique whether in saddle or off.







In August 1928 the Cass City, Michigan newspaper ran a letter from a hometown boy who was stationed as a member of the 12th Cavalry Band in Fort Brown, Texas. The soldier's name was Charles Kercher and he wrote the following to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. E. W. Kercher.



Cass City MI Chronicle
31 August 1928


   
    Arrived here yesterday at 11:00 a.m. We left Chicago Friday at 4:00 p.m. and certainly had a fine trip. Most of the cotton here is ready to pick and it surely is a beautiful sight.
    The fort is located directly on the Rio Grande. The band hall is about two blocks from the International Bridge. Our town here of Brownsville is a short distance from the fort and about the size of Cass City. The walks are all lined with large palms and orange trees.
    Last night, I went across to Mexico (the town of Metamorous (sic)). From an agricultural standpoint, Mexico is fine. The cotton is nearly waist-high and all the crops are in abundance. But the towns all have narrow streets, all adobe thatched houses for the common people, and only the rich live in fine houses. The civil policeman of Mexico is practically powerless as the whole of this part of Mexico is under military rule and a troop is garrisoned in each town.
    The band here is certainly a fine company numbering about thirty. All of course are mounted, being inreality a branch of the 12th Cavalry. 
    We have rehearsals every morning and two concerts a week (open air) and we also play for retreat each evening and for guard mount and special drills and parades.
    The weather here is ideal as there is a steady gulf breeze blowing. We are twenty miles from the gulf. The horse coral here is a grand sight. Even the medical men have their horses. All of them are finely built and young as a horse for parade must be flawless because the musician must concentrate on his music and not stop to spur his horse on. If one horse lags or gains step the formation is spoiled. All the band horses are care for by the Headquarters Troop.
    Will close at it is time for retreat.




Unfortunately Bandsman Charles Kercher didn't mention the instrument he played.




Thirteen years later, the 12th Cavalry Band
posed for another photo at Ft. Brown.
This time without horses.


Brownsville TX Heraldo de Brownsville
11 July 1937

In 1937 the bandmaster was Warrant Officer W. G. Archambault, a regular army soldier with nearly 35 years of service posted to 19 different army bands! He began in 1903 as a member of the cavalry band at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, followed by the 11th cavalry band at Ft. Riley, KS and Ft. Des Moines, IA; the 14th Cavalry Band in Walla Walla, Washington; the 28th, 4th, 36th and 41st Infantry Bands. In 1917 on the advent of America entry into WW1 he was promoted to his first bandmaster assignment with the 341st Infantry Band in Camp Grant, IL. Archambault went on to lead bands at Camp Lee,VA, Ft. Thomas, KY, Camp Funston, KS and the Army Air Corp Band in the Panama Canal Zone. Between 1921 and 1923 Archambault was bandmaster for the 51st and 52nd coast artillery corps. He also directed the bands of the 2nd cavalry at Ft. Riely, and the 7th, and 8th cavalry regiments at Ft. Bliss, TX. He had been stationed at Ft. Brown since 1931.

If ever there was a band director
who understood the harmonics of musician and horse
it was Warrant Officer (Wilford) W. G. Archambault.



Brownsville TX Heraldo de Brownsville
11 July 1937


As the article in the Brownsville Heraldo de Brownsville states, the Twelfth Cavalry Regiment was formed in 1901 and was stationed mainly in Texas and the Philippines. But in the following years of WW2 it would be dramatically reorganized as the US Army converted traditional horse mounted cavalry units into a modern mechanized army. In 1937, even though neither horses or musical instruments had changed, the era of Bandmaster Archambault's horse mounted cavalry band was inescapably drawing to a close.

Change was soon to come for Fort Brown too. By 1943 the military decided the post's open fields were better suited as training ground for airplanes rather than horses and it was transferred to the US Army Air Force. In 1946 after the war, Fort Brown was decommissioned and the land was acquired in 1948 by the City of Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, now the University of Texas at Brownsville. The old parade ground which once resonated with the sound of horse hooves and brass fanfares has long disappeared from Brownsville's public memory.




* * *




Just right of center are two bandsmen
whose instruments are difficult to see clearly.
The one on the left is the piccolo player.
Like General Pershing and Col. Morgan,
he wears a Sam Browne belt,
but it has an extra clip to hold his small instrument.





The soldier on the right
has an instrument that is
technically more military than musical.
Just to the left of his horse's head
we can see the hilt of his cavalry saber.
He is the drum major
who leads the mounted band
when it performs on parade.  





Washington D.C. Evening Star
4 January 1904

In January 1904, the Army general staff issued a new order that said:

    "Ordnance officers of posts will issue, upon proper requisition, revolvers and ammunition and equipments therefor to the proper officers for the use of bands, trumpeters and musicians and sabers for the use of drum majors and mounted bands.
    "Revolvers and ammunition and equipments therefor will be kept by these officers in store for use by all bandsmen, trumpeters and musicians when they take the field and for use in case of emergencies. The cavalry sabers will be issed to drum majors and mounted bands, and will be carried by them at all times when on duty"


* * *













* * *



This month I received a copy of a wonderful book
by Bruce P. Gleason on the history
of American mounted military bands.
I'm very proud to say that the image used for the front cover
is an extraordinary photograph from my collection
that I featured in my story from May 2010
about the 11th U.S. Cavalry Band.

The drum major leading his mounted band as it wheeled
on the parade ground of Fort Des Moines, Iowa
is brandishing a new regulation musical weapon
as the photo was taken in 1904.
It's also quite possible
that one of those 11th Cavalry musicians
was named Wilford G. Archambault,
who 30 years later would become
bandmaster of the 12th U.S. Cavalry Band.
Just another of those strange coincidences of history
that turn up if you keeping digging.




The book is entitled:


Sound the Trumpet
Beat the Drums

Horse-Mounted Bands
of the U. S. Army, 1820-1940

by Bruce P. Gleason





Bruce P. Gleason is Associate Professor of Music Education and Music History at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the founding editor of Research and Issues in Music Education. His numerous articles have been published in the Journal of Band Research, Military History Quarterly, National Guard Magazine, the Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, and other journals.
Sound the Trumpet, Beat the Drums:
Horse-Mounted Bands of the U.S. Army, 1820–1940
Published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
ISBN-10: 0806154799
ISBN-13: 978-0806154794.
available in hardcover at Amazon and other bookstores.






This is my contribution to October's Sepia Saturday
where everyone is on the move.



http://sepiasaturday.blogspot.com/2016/09/sepia-saturday-344-october-2016-from.html





5 comments:

La Nightingail said...

I always enjoy looking at and reading your interesting and informative posts and your 'week three' edition this month is no exception! :)

FishBone911 said...

I can't imagine playing the trombone while riding a horse, must have been quite challenging to say the least.

Little Nell said...

You set the scene perfectly, right from the start. I enjoyed reading about the mounted bandsmen and don’t they look happy? How wonderful that an image from your own collection was used for the book cover too.

Jo Featherston said...

I imagine it must take considerable training for those horses to become accustomed to loud music at such close quarters, especially drums and cymbals etc.

Ken Howser said...

A wonderful great story about both horse mounted bands and my 12th Cavalry Regiment. Of course I want to learn as much and receive as much data on the latter Cavalry band as I can. I am so glad Google wandered me in.
Semper Paratus!
Ken

Ken Howser, Jr.
Secretary to the 12th Cavalry Regiment Association

http://www.12thCav.US/
https://www.Facebook.Com/12thCavalryRegiment/

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