German POWs in Baca County: “Many Thanks to Mr. Schroeder from his Broomcorn Crew”

Conversations on our Baca County Facebook groups about German POWs led me to look a little deeper into that topic. I will aggregate some of those conversations here and add a bit more.

A report from Metro State University in Denver tells us that during World War II, a series of Prisoner of War (POW) camps were established throughout the United States. From 1943 through 1946, Colorado had 48 Prisoner of War Camps. Generally, the POWs interned in Colorado worked in agricultural areas that were experiencing labor shortages. The major camps in the state were located at Trinidad, Colorado Springs, and Greeley and the accommodations took a variety of forms from school gymnasiums to warehouses. The United States government paid the prisoners with coupons that could be used to purchase goods such as toothpaste, razor blades, and tobacco. In addition, officers received $20-$40 per month depending upon rank, and enlisted men were awarded ten cents per day.

There was a camp outside of Springfield utilizing the former CCC buildings where the Baca County Fairgrounds is now located as well as a camp in Walsh which is described in greater detail in the excerpt from our 1983 Baca County History book.  There are several references to branch camps which I am guessing are what both the Walsh and Springfield Camps were.  Interestingly, one source, Douglas Burt’s “The Great Plains During World War II”, which Greg Crane posted in one of our Baca County Facebook groups appears to show Walsh(which is in Colorado for our non-Baca county readers) listed as Walsh KS.     Greg says,

Visiting the Sioux City Barnes & Noble and snatched up a copy of this book. Although it doesn’t mention Baca County in great detail, a few local places get written up: Boise City, Oklahoma; Trinidad, Colorado; Elkhart, Kansas, and Walsh…Kansas.

Walsh KS

Charles Taylor tells us,

There was a German POW camp just outside of Springfield where the fairgrounds are now. Last I knew a lot of the old buildings were still being used. We used to skate and dance in one of the old barracks

The 1980 Baca County history book provides more insight into the Walsh experience as follows,

In Walsh around the year, 1944 during WWII people practiced blackouts. (Everyone turned out their lights at the sound of a siren so that in case an enemy plane flew over it couldn’t see the town and they wouldn’t get bombed.) People also bought certain products to support the soldiers in the war.At this time, Walsh was the Broomcorn Capital of the World. (This was true for many years.) With many men away fighting in the war, Walsh had a labor shortage for its broomcorn, and other crops harvests.To solve this problem, they brought in volunteer German P.O.W.s from somewhere else. They were probably the first bunch of laborers around. They were very smart and did their best to please. They were happy to be treated like humans.They were housed in the broomcorn barn and a previous old schoolhouse. They were fed in the Thompson Motor Company (now Walsh city hall). For exercise, the Germans would march through the streets in the evening singing German songs. They stayed only a couple of months during broomcorn harvest. After they were moved from here Doc Munsey, Claude Schlager, Lewis Robbins, and others wrote to them. Even after the war was over and the prisoners were returned to Germany, they still exchanged letters

Baca County, by Baca County Historical Society, 1983/ Pg. 28 

Greg Crane tells us,

My grandparents (Jack and Margueritte Bradburn) had a German POW working for them on their farm in what was the Richards area, south of Walsh. I believe he was captured by American forces during the North African Campaign in late ’42 – early ’43. Not sure of all the details in how he came to work for them, but mom was pretty sure they got him from Elkhart (maybe they had a POW camp there? Guess I should check the Morton County, KS historical archives).  The grandparents said he was polite, efficient, and VERY meticulous in the field. When shocking feed, the field was clean and all the shocks were uniform. I am guessing he’d come from a farming background in Germany. It seems like he was paid a few cents per day (not sure who collected the pay or how it was distributed) and he stayed in the attic of their farmhouse.

Deede Lowery tells us,

The folks said they remember the German POW’s, maybe 300 -500 who stayed at a camp…located where the fairgrounds are now. Momma remembers when they brought POWs down to harvest Orville ‘Red’ Dewese’s broomcorn southwest of Campo. My dad remembers that Red was a little secretive about sharing this fact with my dad since he was a veteran who just came back from the war…he came to my dad and apologized to him.

The county newspapers at the time started the conversation about what seems to be the ever-present farm labor shortage. It was acuter during WWII.  In 1942 you started seeing articles questioning how the situation would be dealt with.  It seems furloughs for soldiers and reductions in broomcorn acreage were at least two of the ideas that had been approached as shown in the following  April 6, 1942, Plainsman Herald article.

Cut your broomcorn acreage April 6 1942

A July 8, 1942, edition of the Plainsmen Herald headline tells us,

Crops are Good but Labor Needs Are Desperate

There were even requests for extended furloughs for enlisted men to come help with the harvest.  August 9, 1942, edition of the Plainsman tells us,

Secretary of War Stimson has denied the request of Senator Nye for a system of extended furloughs in order to permit men in the armed forces to go to particular areas where harvest hands are needed.

A couple of different 1943 Plainsman articles ( June 24, 1943 & August 19, 1943 respectively) provide more specifics. On the effort to relieve the wartime labor shortages.

June 24, 1943 Old CCC camps to be used for prisoner labor

 

August 19, 1943 Effort to get POWs for harvest

 

I will close this with one additional story of the prisoners appreciating the Baca County farmers they worked for comes in the form of a pencil drawing that Kathy Maestas provides us of her Grampa Leonard Schroeder, done by one of the German POW’s   Kathy recalls hearing that they provided meals and clothing for prisoners.  It seems like this story and the other recollections in this post are representative of the POW’s experience in Baca County.  One of the POW broomcorn hands drew the following picture to express appreciation for his experience.  A closeup of the signature is also provided below the main image. 

Leonard Shroeder 1945 done by a German POW

The signature below reads,

Many Thanks to Mr. Schroeder from his broomcorn crew.

MARRUM Oktober 1945

Many Thanks to Mr. Schroeder from his broomcorn crew

The recollections everyone has provided of the POWs are very much in line with what appears to have been the requirements for using them as laborers.  As always thanks for your collective memories. It certainly helps fill in some of the gaps we all have about the Baca County history that so many of us enjoy sharing.

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