Fort Hays Prisoner of War Camp

Did you know that the Fort Hays Experiment Station, located south of Hays, was once used as a German prisoner of war camp? Farmers in the area were facing a serious farm labor shortage around August 1943 due to many of Ellis County’s young men being at war. Arrangements were made to contract for labor using prisoners of war at the Concordia camp beginning in September 1943. Before the men could be brought to the Experiment Station, modifications to the buildings had to be made. A large feed barn was converted into barracks and a meeting house was made into a mess hall. The two buildings were enclosed in a 6 foot high fence with floodlights around the area.

A farm labor association was set up to assist the farmers in getting men from the camp to do labor. L. C. Aicher, who was superintendent of the Experiment Station, was named chairman of the association. The Experiment Station was also needing labor for the work around its grounds.

Guards from the military and the prisoners arrived on September 11. The men began working on September 13, and farmers were charged $3.25 a day for each man. The cost to the association was $2.82, and the extra monies went to help pay for the modifications and transportation costs. Most labor was used by farmers, but there were some businesses and schools that also had the prisoners work for them. Fort Hays Kansas State Teachers College was among the schools which hired the prisoners to do labor.

Two German prisoners working with a college employee on removing trees south of Picken Hall in the autumn of 1943.
Picture from the University Archives – Wooster Photo Collection.

The German prisoners of war were used as laborers in Ellis County up to the end of the war in 1945. The camp closed in November 1945.

The Special Collections and University Archives received a collection of pictures that were taken by L. C. Aicher during the fall of 1943. The collection of 17 photos was donated to us by Tom Osswald, whose father served as a military guard at the camp in September-November 1943. These photos are donated in memory of Lawrence E. Osswald (Corporal US Army 480th MPEG Company, Ft. Hays, Kansas, September-November 1943) by his son and family. Corporal Osswald was from Wilmington, Delaware.

The photos have been added to the library’s digital collection and you may view them at http://contentcat.fhsu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15732coll14

Much of the historical information in this blog was found in “At Home in Ellis County, Kansas 1867-1992 Volume 1.”

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University Archives Tidbits – Picken Hall before the columns

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This is a photo of Picken Hall in 1908 shortly after the two wings were added. This is looking at it from the southwest. Martin Allen Hall, which was the gymnasium at the time, is seen in the background. 

An auditorium was in the south wing of the Academic or Administration Building, as it was called at that time. The library had been in the north wing for a short amount of time before moving over to the gymnasium after Sheridan Coliseum was built. The Administration Building was named Picken Hall in 1909 after faculty voted to recommend the name change to the Board of Regents. The Board approved and on May 28, 1909, a bronze plaque with the new name and date was placed in a corridor of the first floor. 

Information from “A History of Fort Hays Kansas State College 1902-1961” written by Lyman Dwight Wooster, President Emeritus.

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D-Day – June 6, 1944

The Cecil B. and Laura G. Currey Archive of Military History, located in the Special Collections, has many interesting files, records, memorabilia, photographs and uniforms. Among the items is a pebble from the beaches of Normandy, Utah Beach, France. It was given to Dr. Currey by Robert Fernandez on April 22, 1997. The note with the pebble says “scene of D-Day”, so this probably was not picked up from the beach that day.

The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia. http://www.dday.org/

Thank you to the brave men who stormed the beaches seventy years ago and may we always remember the ultimate sacrifice of 9,000+ Allied soldiers.

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63 Years Ago Today, May 22

Students and Faculty at Fort Hays Kansas State College were preparing for the last days of classes before finals began during the week of May 20 in 1951. The evening of May 22 changed their lives forever when Big Creek, which flowed through the campus, flooded the campus and the southern part of the city of Hays. Many homes and businesses, including the Post Office and the campus, sustained damage from the flood waters. Three people died when their car was swept off the highway west of Hays – 18 year old Gerald Gipson of Napa, Idaho, 19 year old Joanne Donham and her sister, 17 year old Treva, both from WaKeeney. Robert Ripperteau, the 14 year old stepson of President Emeritus L. D. Wooster, was killed in the basement of his home after a wall collapsed when the water broke through. Dr. C. F. Wiest, 75 year old retired faculty member, was also killed in his home. Hays resident June Bissing Herman, 24 years old, was killed when a tree came through the wall of her basement apartment allowing water to come into the basement.

From the book written by Dr. Wooster titled “A History of Fort Hays Kansas State College 1902-1961”, he writes The campus was inundated, and damage to the buildings and campus made it impossible to continue with classes or to house the students. The college year ended without the usual final examinations and commencement. Faculty members prepared grades for students, degrees were granted in absentia, and the graduates were honored at summer school commencement. (pg. 144) Little did they know that one month later, on June 21, another flood would hit the area and do some more damage. The only good news was there was no loss of life from the second flood.

There is now a 1.8 mile levee between Big Creek and the campus which has served its purpose well up to the present day.

Forsyth Library’s front doors the day after the flood. Today this is McCartney Hall.

Looking at the Cody Commons from Picken Hall the day after the flood. Cody Commons was located where the south part of the Memorial Union now stands.

 

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May 5, 1864

 

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Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of General Alexander Hays at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia during the Civil War. Alexander Hays, a Union General, died on May 5, 1864. Fort Hays was named after General Hays, and the city of Hays and the university took their names from Fort Hays.

Fort Fletcher, located 14 miles southeast of the present city of Hays, had been established in October 1865. After being abandoned on May 5, 1866, Fort Fletcher was reactivated on October 17. A month later, its name was changed to Fort Hays by General Winifield Scott Hancock to honor his classmate at West Point.

The military headquarters wanted to move Fort Hays to be closer to the railroad that had reached Ellis County by 1867. Before they made the decision to do so, a flood hit the post on June 7 and killed seven soldiers and two civilians in the process of destroying the fort grounds. On June 23, 1867, Fort Hays was occupied at its new location about one mile south of the railroad near the now extinct town site of Rome. Just north of Rome, there were three sections of land that had been purchased by the Big Creek Land Company from the railroad. That land was registered on July 23, 1867 at Ellsworth County; at the same time, the Big Creek Land Company made an agreement with the railroad to provide a station and a depot in the new town called Hays City. 

Sources:

Oliva, Leo C. “Fort Hays: Keeping Peace on the Plains”. Topeka, KS: Kansas State Historical Society, 1996.

Mahood, Wayne. “Alexander “Fighting Elleck” Hays: The Life of a Civil War General, From West Point to the Wilderness”. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005.

“At Home in Ellis County, Kansas 1867-1992.” Hays, KS: Ellis County Historical Society, 1991.

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Genealogy – Prologue

Prologue magazine is a quarterly publication of the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA).  Along with the many historical events covered in the publication, there is a monthly feature called Genealogy Notes in every issue.  Genealogy Notes was published for the first time in the summer of 1989 and has covered many topics over the years.

I have listed some sample article titles from recent Genealogy Notes below.

v.45: no. 3/4 2013 – Ancestors from the West Indies: A Historical and Genealogical Overview of Afro-Caribbean Immigration, 1900-1930s

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v.45: no. 2 2013- “We’re still alive today” A captured Japanese Diary from the Pacific Theater

v.43: no. 3 2011 – Leaving the Army During Mr. Madison’s War: Certificates of Discharge for the War of 1812

v. 42: no. 2 2010 – 68,937 and Counting: Searching Inmate Case Files from the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Some articles may be read online or the print issues are available in the Government Documents Department at Forsyth Library. There is also at least a partial online index to the online Genealogy Notes available.

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