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Henry Hutchings - A Long Way from Somerset

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about a German immigrant to Texas and an Irish immigrant to Texas. Out of curiosity, I decided to search for any English immigrants to Texas and ran across Henry Hutchings. Unlike William Eberling or John Fay, Hutchings wasn’t a Civil War veteran. He was born in 1865 in Somerset a county on the southwest corner of England. Before he was one, the family moved to America, eventually settling in Iowa. Henry Hutchings joined the Iowa National Guard when he was 19. He moved to Texas in 1885 and joined up with the Texas National Guard. Military service would be his calling for the rest of his life, but he did have outside interests. He founded the Austin Evening News in 1890 and published the Austin Statesman for a time.

He was appointed Adjutant General of Texas by Governor O.B. Colquitt in 1911 and was instrumental in the fight against Mexican bandits along the border. It was a turbulent time in Texas and the World. Mexico was in the throes of revolution and the Texas National Guard, the U.S. Army and the Texas Rangers tried to keep the violence from crossing over the border with limited success. Colquitt gutted the rangers when he took office, a campaign promise to clean up the police force, but was forced to bring them back up to some kind of strength. Colquitt ordered the Rangers to the border twice to pursue bandits. In 1915, a gang of bandits struck the King Ranch in force, intending to rob the ranch store and burn down the ranch house. Hutchings and two Ranger captains were in Harlingen and sped down to the ranch. In the end, 55 bandits hit the ranch and killed three men; five of the bandits were killed. In the ensuing outrage, the U.S. Army moved in to keep the peace. A familiar name to many Texans, John J. Pershing, was about to influence Hutchings life in an unforgettable way. Pershing was already in Texas in 1914 commanding at Fort Bliss. He, along with the Texas Rangers and the Texas National Guard, were attempting to keep a lid on the border violence. Pershing met with another man known to many Texans, Pancho Villa, before the outbreak of World War I. Pershing and Pancho Villa met at Fort Bliss in 1913 and the meeting was fairly amicable, amicable enough for the men to take a picture together. Notice a young officer named George Patton directly behind Pershing in the picture below.

Hutchings continued serving in the adjutant general’s office until 1917 when World War I broke out. Hutchings served two years under James “Pa” Ferguson, the infamous Texas governor. Ferguson and the Texas Rangers were particularly at odds and Hutchings found himself on the wrong side of the argument as far as the Rangers were concerned. It was a dark time for the Rangers and they were almost disbanded. However, Ferguson was impeached in 1917 and Hutchings was preparing to be thousands of miles away in Europe. He organized the 71st infantry brigade, which was part of the 36th Infantry Division, otherwise known as the Texas Division or the Panther Division.

Pershing, now the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, ordered that no American general over the age of 50 was allowed to command in the field and Hutchings was relieved of command in France. His unit went on to fight in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the last big Allied advance of the war which forced the Germans to surrender. Hutchings could only watch on the sidelines. This was particularly tragic for Hutchings because his son, Major Edwin G. Hutchings, was killed in some of the 36th’s first actions of the war. Hutchings was the first large unit commander to die in the war. He personally reinforced an infantry position when he ordered a lieutenant to advance, taking the man’s place when an explosive artillery shell hit his position. He was instantly killed and his personal staff took heavy casualties. The 36th took many casualties, but also reaped its fair share of glory, two Congressional Medals of Honor, 30 Distinguished Service Crosses and twenty-nine Croix de Guerre, a French military decoration.

After the war was over, Hutchings was quoted in The West Australian, the newspaper in Perth, Australia.

“There were a few of us who got by with it for a while,” he said. “I guess that I stayed in service longer than any other general approaching my years.”

After hostilities ended, Hutchings was given command of the 71st and they went home to Texas. He kept command of the brigade until 1927 when he retired. That didn’t keep him from public service. Mrs. Ferguson ran for governor in 1933 and when elected, appointed the old general back to the Adjutant Generals office. He served in law enforcement until his death in 1939. He was head of the narcotics division of the Texas Department of Public Safety when he died. In all, he had eight children and had been married twice and had come a long way from Somerset; just as long a way as John Fay came from Ireland and William Eberling came from Germany, if not longer.

-                            Will Erwin