WWII Prisoner of War Camps in Texas

At the outset of the war, foreign prisoners of war were not a major consideration for the federal government, but as the war progressed, tens of thousands of foreign prisoners needed to be placed all over the United States.  At the height of the program, Texas had some three dozen prison camps.  They were located from as far north as Dalhart, as far west as El Paso, in the northeast to within a few counties of Texarkana to several on the Gulf Coast.  In all, it is estimated that the United States held between 400,000 and 500,000 prisoners with roughly 20% of them held in Texas camps.  The Geneva Convention provided that prisoners be moved to areas that were close to the climate where they were captured.  Accordingly, many of Texas’ prisoners of war were German prisoners who surrendered in North Africa and Texas was deemed to be an appropriate site for them.

With the exception of watchtowers and perimeter barbed wire fences, most camps resembled military bases, with the average camp housing 3,000 to 4,000 prisoners.  Prisoners in Texas often served as workers on Civilian Conservation Corps projects and more often as agricultural laborers.  Farmers were charged $1.50 per day and prisoners were paid $.80 per day in chits or canteen coupons that could be spent in the camp canteens.  The difference went to offset some of the government costs of the program.  A newspaper article stated that the government was paid $8,000,000 for such prisoners’ labor in 1945.

Although the facilities were clearly operated as prison camps, the prisoners were allowed to organize their own craft and education programs in which they might learn conversational English, play musical instruments, perform theatrical productions, participate in sports, publish newspapers and take college courses.  A great many of the POWs were Germans, followed by fewer Italians and even fewer Japanese.

Camp Brady, near San Angelo, was one such camp and it was referred to occasionally in the news.  In 1944, three prisoners escaped and were being sought by local law enforcement officers and the FBI.  Most escapees were recaptured fairly quickly.  In 1945, an article mentioned that Brady’s German prisoners were back on a normal diet after having been placed on bread and water for a week for failing to comply with an order to abandon the Nazi stiff arm salute.  Another article from the same year reported that Brady prisoners showed no signs of grief upon being told that Adolph Hitler had died.

Following the close of the war, most prisoners were returned to their homelands, although some of whom were required to serve in the rebuilding of the infrastructure of Europe before being finally released.  Some former prisoners relocated in Texas and others returned to Texas to visit the area where they were held during the war.

The former prison camps were decommissioned at the close of the war.  Some were disposed of by sale and others were leased.  In all known cases, the consideration was set at a nominal amount.  For example, the selling price might be $1 or the lease rental was $1 per year.  One by one, the camps were converted to airports, industrial parks, school and university buildings, housing developments and the like.  A Texas newspaper article from 1946 gave several examples.  The Huntsville camp was turned over to Sam Houston State Teacher’s College for veterans’ emergency education and is now incorporated into the university campus.  Camp Brady (consisting of 323 acres of land and various buildings) was conveyed to the State of Texas for the health and education of delinquent african American females, and Ft. Ringgold in Rio Grande City was converted into a tuberculosis hospital and treatment center.  Camp Mexia became the Mexia State School for the Mentally Retarded, and the camp in Bastrop became an adult prison.

In Texas, juvenile criminal justice is currently administered by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, created in 2011 by the Texas Legislature.  The action merged the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.  Youths have been exempted from the adult judicial system since before the Civil War.  Once charged by the court system, they have been confined under the juvenile system then in place.  The Gatesville State School for Boys was opened in 1889 and the Gainesville State School for girls opened in 1916.  Racial segregation was mandated by legislation in 1913,  For example, a separate dormitory was maintained for African American boys in Gatesville.  African American girls, on the other hand, were in practice either held in adult facilities or released back into the community.

In 1927, the Texas legislature approved but failed to fund a separate facility for African American girls.  The condition continued until 1947 when Camp Brady was authorized for use as a reformatory for African American female juvenile offenders.  The facility operated in Camp Brady until about 1951 when it was relocated to a 125 acre farm in Houston County and became the “Crockett State School for Negro Girls.”  This ended the chapter of the former POW camp in Brady, Texas.  Some artifacts from the camp, such as rocks from the old camp guard shack, are now held by the Heart of Texas Historical Museum in Brady, Texas.


Camp Brady Guard Shack

(Image credit: 552 Military Police Company)

for further study:

Texas Historical Commission YouTube link – short video on POW camps in Texas

Texas Historical Commission lesson plan for POW Camps in Texas

Source for TJJD information: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/107652NCJRS.pdf

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4 thoughts on “WWII Prisoner of War Camps in Texas”

  1. In my youth I always heard that there was a prisoner of war camp near McLean Texas in the Texas Panhandle. The prisoners there worked in the fields around the camp and one evening three of them escaped. Well , they didn’t go far because they had spotted a patch of watermelons going back to the camp so they actually escaped went to the watermelon patch and were recaptured eating watermelons out in the middle of the field late in the night. One of the old Barracks was moved from the camp into Shamrock and was used as extra cafeteria space for all the kids when we were young. (1950’s).

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