John Bartlett to Lanham, August 17, 1906
An outbreak of violence in Brownsville between African American soldiers and white townspeople became a national controversy in 1906. On July 28, black soldiers from the 25th United States Infantry had arrived in Brownsville from duty in the Philippines and Nebraska. The soldiers suffered slurs and abuse from storekeepers and customs collectors, and on the night of August 12, a rumor swept the town that a black soldier had attacked a white woman. Mayor Frederick Combe declared a curfew the following night to try to head off trouble.
Around midnight on August 13, a shooting spree resulted in the death of a bartender and the wounding of a police officer. Afterwards, many soldiers were said to have run through the streets shooting. Others maintained the shooters were white citizens trying to cause trouble for the soldiers. In any case, in the investigations that followed, the collective guilt of the soldiers was assumed without any attempt to determine the individuals involved. This letter from a citizen's committee calls on Governor Lanham for removal of the troops and their replacement with white troops.
For their part, the men denied any knowledge of the shooting. The Texas Rangers traced the incident to 12 enlisted men, who were arrested but not indicted due to lack of any of their fellow soldiers being willing to testify against them. In retaliation for this lack of cooperation, on November 5, President Theodore Roosevelt gave dishonorable discharges to all 167 enlisted men.
Roosevelt had previously been known as a supporter of civil rights for African Americans, and his action touched off an outcry and various Senate and military investigations of the incident. In 1910, 14 of the men were given an honorable discharge. The remaining troops did not receive justice until 1972, when the Nixon administration awarded honorable discharges to all the men dismissed at Brownsville.
John Bartlett to Lanham, August 17, 1906, Records of Samuel Willis Tucker Lanham, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.