The name Crowder is a familiar one around Neosho.
The name Crowder is a familiar one around Neosho.
We have Crowder College and a national guard training facility, Camp Crowder. Local history wouldn't be complete without the original Camp Crowder, a World War II-era signal training corps facility, that grew into Fort Crowder before closing in the early 1960s. There's also the Fort Crowder Conservation Area, Crowder Industries and Crowder Drive. Area residents often call the area that once housed the Army facilities 'the Crowder area' or 'out at Crowder'. But how many are aware who was Crowder and why was the original military post named in his honor?
General Enoch H. Crowder was a Missouri native, born and raised in Edinburg, Mo., so small it's known as a hamlet today, in Grundy County in northern Missouri. Crowder was the second son and third child of his parents, John and Mary Crowder. His father served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Since no organized system of public schools existed in Missouri under after the Civil War, Crowder attended Grand River College in Edinburg, graduating at the age of 16.
After serving as a rural school teacher, Crowder wanted more education and had ambitions to study law. His mother suggested that he apply for an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Crowder placed 2nd out of 26 applicants. Unfortunately, the young man who ranked number one received the appointment, which left Crowder out until the other cadet resigned. Crowder began studies at West Point in the fall of 1877.
He spent four years at the academy and graduated on June 10, 1881, ranking 31st in a class of 54 cadets.
As a newly commissioned second lieutenant, Crowder's first post was with the 8th Calvary at Fort Brown, Texas. Cattle thieves were the main objective at the fort. In 1884, Crowder was assigned to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, then was sent to the University of Missouri where he became a professor of military science. He studied law and earned a Bachelor of Arts law degree.
After a promotion to first lieutenant Crowder again joined the 8th Cavalry in Texas but this time, he faced Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apaches. Geronimo's band resisted the forced removal from their native mountain territory to a federal Indian Reservation. The Apaches later surrendered to Army troops although Crowder was not personally involved.
Crowder's next orders took him to Fort Yates, North Dakota, where the United States Army attempted to suppress the religious Ghost Dance movement. While stationed at Fort Yates, Crowder proved successful in his legal defense in three court-martial proceedings. His actions were noted by Army superiors and after being promoted to the rank of captain, Crowder was reassigned to the Judge Advocate Generals Corps in 1895. In Omaha, Nebraska Crowder served as legal advisor as a judge advocate to the Department of the Platte.
In 1898 during the Spanish-American War, after a promotion which gave Crowder the rank of major, he became a judge advocate or JAG in the Philippines. During his service there, Crowder devised a new set of criminal justice laws which established fair and impartial practices for the Philippines government. Three years later, Crowder became a colonel.
The next career stop for Crowder proved to be Russia during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Colonel Crowder served as a military observer. The health issues that affected Crowder for the remainder of his life developed during his overseas service.
By autumn 1906 Crowder headed for Cuba where he aided in the creation of a provisional government. After the Spanish-American war, Spain sold Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States and in 1902, established Cuba as an independent republic. The U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban government.
Crowder assisted in establishing a government for the new republic and was instrumental in revising law, creating new laws, and also oversaw elections.
In 1911, Crowder became a brigadier general and head of the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps. As such, Crowder's influence on the Army's military justice system became major. Among his other accomplishments, Crowder revised the Articles of War, rewrote the Manual for Court Martial, and worked to improve military prisons.
His largest and lasting contribution to the United States came during the first World War. President Woodrow Wilson saw early in the conflict that the United States would require a larger military if the United States entered the war. He called upon Crowder. With the help of his team, Crowder created the Selective Service Act, known as the draft, and Congress passed the measure.
Because of Crowder, for the first time, the United States government could compel men into military service.
Under Crowder's original plan, men between the ages of 21 and 30 were required to register for military service. Local civilian draft boards controlled the selection process, which was based on a national lottery system. Exemptions could be made based on physical, mental, or religious reasons. Those who avoided the sign-up process could be imprisoned.
The Selective Service Act was unpopular in its' early years. Many Americans wanted to stay out of the world-wide conflict centered in Europe. Others felt that the poor and working class would be forced to serve in greater numbers than the rich.
Wilson appointed Crowder as provost marshall general and as such, Crowder oversaw the draft process during the war. He received the Distinguished Service Medal and served as a judge advocate general until he retired from military service in 1923. Harvard University, Brown University, and Columbia University each granted Crowder with honorary degrees at his retirement.
Crowder's retirement kept him active. President Warren G. Harding appointed Crowder as Ambassador to Cuba and Crowder served as such until 1927.
He then opened a law office in Chicago but ill health propelled him to retire three years later.
During the Great Depression, Crowder, like many of his fellow Americans, was hard hit with financial losses.
Crowder died from terminal liver cancer on May 7, 1932. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
More than eight decades after his death, Crowder remains one of the most influential judge advocate generals in American history. His changes to the Judge Advocate Generals Corps, his contributions to the legal systems in both Cuba and the Philippines, and his role in creating the Selective Service Act make Crowder one of the military's most powerful agents of change.
Although Crowder never married or had children, he often returned to visit his family in Missouri. He had a lifetime relationship with his siblings and their children.
As a noteworthy American, Crowder's legacy lives on in the places named in his honor, including Crowder State Park in Trenton, Missouri, in Camp Crowder in Neosho, and in Crowder College, the two-year community college founded after the military's World War II heyday in Neosho.
A portrait of General Crowder hangs in the college library, located inside the Arnold Farber Building on the Neosho campus. A biography of the man is also available for check out at the Crowder Lee Library.
In Neosho, the name Crowder has been used to refer to more than the camp and the college. His legacy and significant contributions to his country live on in Southwest Missouri and across the United States.