by Mike Cox
who knows anything about the history of World
War Two has heard of Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright. Far less known, however,
is the story of the last skirmish in which he was ranking officer, a brief engagement
that occurred on a West Texas ranch
in the late 1940s.
A soldier’s son born at Fort Walla Walla in Washington
State, the general did three separate tours of duty in Texas
over a 40-year period that saw him rise in rank from second lieutenant to four-star
general. He liked Texas so much that when he retired,
he stayed here, living out the rest of his life in San
Freshly graduated from West Point in 1906, Lt. “Skinny” Wainwright
was assigned to the 1st Cavalry and got orders for the distant and at that time
peaceful Texas-Mexican border. Via Fort Sam Houston in San
Antonio, Wainwright spent time at Fort Clark in Brackettville
and later as the sole caretaker of recently deactivated Fort Duncan in Eagle
Wainwright left Texas in 1908 for
the first in a succession of other posts, including combat in the Philippines,
before returning to the Lone Star State in 1938 as brigadier general in command
of the 1st Cavalry. He lived in the most imposing of the officer’s quarters at
Fort Clark, staying there until new orders sent him once again to the Philippines
Prior to Pearl
Harbor, though Wainwright had been a crackerjack cavalry commander known for
his tough-as-a-horseshoe spit and polish, he was just another officer and gentleman
in a peacetime Army. Oh, he also had a taste for whiskey, but so did most of the
polo-playing horse soldiers who sat an officer’s club bar stool as gracefully
as a saddle.
But when he became the highest ranking officer in the history
of the U.S. Army to surrender a command, which is what happened after he realized
he could no longer hold off a Japanese onslaught at Corregidor, his name became
a household word. Surviving the infamous Bataan death march, he spent the rest
of the war as a P.O.W.
After the war, “Skinny” once again got orders for
Texas as commander of the 4th Army at Fort Sam. This
time he arrived as a hero, having been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
was only a few months after his retirement in August 1947 that the general and
his long-time aide, Col. O. I. Holman, left the Alamo City on a less-than-squad-level
mission. Their objective was to harvest a couple of white tail bucks on the Wheat
Ranch in Sutton County. Holman’s wife owned the ranch.
The Wheat property
adjoined a ranch about 30 miles southeast of Sonora owned by Jack Turney. In fact,
anyone going to the Wheat Ranch had to drive through the Turney Ranch to get there.
heading toward the Turney Ranch that fall day were 14-year-old John Stokley and
his cousin, Friess Turney. Friess’ granddad owned the ranch.
As the two
teenagers drove along a two-rut road toward the Turney ranch headquarters, they
spotted a beautiful, big-racked buck standing broadside to them on the side of
a hill about 150 yards from their vehicle.
“We piled out with a .300 Savage
and a .30-30 Model 94 Winchester and cut down on that deer,” Stokley recalled.
“After five or six rounds, it dawned on us that Jack Turney, who was a notorious
practical joker, had put a fake deer up there. We walked up the hill and found
it was just an old hide with a bunch of bullet holes in it attached to a big set
Indeed, the placing of a faux buck to attract the bullets of
over-eager hunters may well be the prime prank among deer hunters, the hunting
equivalent of surreptitiously cutting the barbs off your fishing buddy’s hooks.
the trigger-happy boys reached the ranch headquarters, everyone had a good laugh.
one, two and then three distant rifle shots cracked the air. --
a dead silence for about a four-count, we heard another ‘kapow,’” Stokley said.
short time later, a late model car pulled up outside the ranch house where Stokley,
his cousin and Jack Turney were still chuckling over Turney’s joke. The Hero of
Bataan and Holman emerged from the car to join in the laughter, apparently thinking
they were laughing at the fact that Wainwright had been suckered in by the phony
When Turney realized the general had also fallen for the fake
buck, he started laughing even harder. “Hunters,” Stokley summarized years later,
“have creative imaginations.” So, apparently, do old soldiers hankering for some
© Mike Cox
10 , 2009 column
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