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    Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

    Liberty treated POWs well
    in 1830s and 1940s

    by Wanda Orton
    Wanda Orton

    During World War II, Liberty held German prisoners of war who had fought in North Africa under the legendary Gen. Erwin Rommel – a.k.a. “The Desert Fox.”

    More than a century earlier and only a short distance from the WWII prison camp, Liberty held Mexican soldiers who had fought under Gen. Santa Anna at San Jacinto.

    In both cases, with the Germans in the 1940s and Mexicans in the 1830s, the people of Liberty treated the prisoners humanely and with dignity.

    Miriam Partlow, in her book on Liberty County history, wrote that the German prisoners “received about the same kind of friendly treatment that the Mexican prisoners of 1836-37 did when camped only three miles to the north on the land of Judge William Hardin. In some ways Liberty is an unusual city. Possibly some of its steady and healthy growth is due to a friendly spirit among all races and creeds, including Indians and captured prisoners."

    Mexican Hill, where the Mexican prisoners stayed in Liberty, is the name of the historical marker on the north edge of Highway 90.

    The inscription says, “Here Mexican soldiers captured at San Jacinto were held from Aug. 28, 1836, to April 25, 1837, when all were released. The kind treatment accorded them by the owners of the plantation Judge and Mrs. William Hardin, induced many of them to become citizens of Texas.”

    The highest ranking Mexican officer imprisoned at Liberty was Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos, brother-in-law of Gen. Santa Anna. A street in Liberty is named for Cos and another for Santa Anna.

    Cos and Judge Hardin became friends and Hardin allowed him and other Mexican officers a lot of leeway in Liberty. They were free to walk around the town, and if anyone mistreated them or spoke out of line, they had to answer to Judge Hardin.

    In April 1837 the people of Liberty petitioned to the government requesting that the Mexican prisoners be released – and they were.

    Col. Pedro Delgado, in his book, “Mexican Account of the Fall of San Jacinto,” had high praise for the Hardin family. “Oh, virtuous family,” he wrote. “How great and how many your exertions have been to relieve the degree of our sorrowful and destitute condition. Oh William Hardin! Thy name and that of thy noble wife will be imperishable in the hearts of the Mexican prisoners, who, victims of fate, suffered the unexpected disaster of San Jacinto. … I will never cease to proclaim and praise thy meritorious and charitable conducted towards us.”

    Jeannie Carmody, when she attended Lee College, wrote a research paper on the German POWs in Liberty during World War II. She said the typical prisoner was about 20 years old, tall and handsome. Some of the prisoners were top officers in Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

    Dr. Albert L. Delaney of Liberty served as the prison camp physician and established lifelong friendships among some of the prisoners.

    Located at the site of the Trinity Valley Exposition fairgrounds, the prison camp housed 500 men. Their main assignment was to help harvest the abundant rice crops in the Liberty area. Liberty County Agent Gordon Hart served as the intermediary between the government and the local rice farmers, making arrangements for when and where they worked.

    German prisoners also worked for Elmer Gray, who owned a lumber business in Baytown, and they helped to build houses in the Morrell Park subdivision in Baytown.

    Like others, Gray established lasting friendships among the prisoners, admiring their work skills and their willingness to work.

    “The Desert Fox” taught them well.


    © Wanda Orton
    Baytown Sun Columnist
    "Wandering" September 1, 2012 column

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