LIFELONG SHERIDAN COUNTY resident Ralph Clayton Ferren was born in Sheridan in 1897. As a child, he lived in Big Horn and on Murphy Gulch, but by the time he was a teenager, he was living back in Sheridan and working at Fred Schroeder's bottling plant.
Ferren enlisted in the Army Air Service in January 1918, and was assigned to the First Balloon Section. The bulk of his training was in Camp Sevier, South Carolina, where he spent a good amount of his time in quarantine. His letters from camp, written in March 1918 and published in The Sheridan Enterprise, relate some of his experiences.
After going to France and seeing action at Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, Ferren returned to Sheridan. He went to work as a machinist for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad; a job he had until his retirement in 1965. Ferren died in 1974 and is buried in the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery at Crow Agency, Montana.
(From "In the World War")
Undated; published 1 March 1918
There are ten or twelve of our bunch in the hospital, and one of them died last night. I think he had pneumonia. One of the boys out of our tent is in the hospital. He went there the next day after we got here, and we have not heard a word about him since we can not get away to visit him and can not find out any other way. They say the hospital is carrying about twice its capacity now. That is, they have about twice as many in it as it is supposed to handle. Well, the guard just went by and said “lights out,” so I will have to close and finish this tomorrow.
Will try to write a little more this morning, but don’t know how far I will get. A person never can tell during the day when he is going to have a little time to himself. We just got back from our morning measles inspection and, as it is raining most of the time, we may not have to do much today. ...
We got a floor put in our tent yesterday, and it sure makes things much better as this ground was awful damp. We are going to get electric lights in our tents too. They are going to work at it today, but I don’t suppose they will get around to ours. That will be another big improvement. I really like this living in tents better than buildings because in buildings there are so many in one room. Up at Fort Logan there were about a hundred of us in one room, and it was always noisy and smoky and not as homelike as these tents. Of course, if it was cold here, would nearly freeze the way we are fixed up, but it don’t get cold down this way. Except when it rains, it is nice and warm and we run around in our shirt sleeves. All nice days we have to furl our tent around the center pole and let the sun in on our bunks.
Well, I have been on guard duty twice since I’ve been here. They have a new bunch of guards every day. A guard is on duty two hours and then off four and on two again and so on for 24 hours. I was on twice during the night and twice in the day time. I was sure sleepy when I had to get up in the middle of the night and go on guard but, believe me, I kept my eyes open.
I heard this morning that we might be out of quarantine in a few days. Sure hope so, as I am getting anxious to look the camp over. They say there are 60,000 men here now and that the camp is 5-1/2 miles long. They have infantry, artillery, cavalry and aviation sections here. I think we will be moved to the aviation section of the camp when we are out of quarantine. We may go some place else, though, you never can tell. ...
Well, I just got back from the mess hall and will try to finish this before dinner. They can’t let us alone here even when it is raining, but call us up to the mess hall to a lecture or something. It is just like going to school, only it does not last but an hour or two at a time. Today we had to memorize a lot of general orders for guards. I knew mine already, so they put me in as teacher over some of the rest.
Camp Sevier, South Carolina, 3 March 1918; published 15 March 1918
Well, we got out of quarantine all right, but it did not last long. A week ago today the quarantine was lifted at one o’clock in the afternoon. We boys hit out and took in some of the camps that afternoon. ... That night we went over to Paris and took in a show. Paris is a small sort of town by the railroad station. There are two show buildings that must hold about 2,400 people apiece.
The next morning at nine o’clock the quarantine was put down on us again for some reason or other. Then they put us to work remodeling the camp: digging ditches, grading streets, etc., and we also built a hog wire fence about 7 feet high around four of the detachments. They are going to use that ground for a sort of receiving place to put new bunches in. ... We were expecting to go out any day, but one of the fellows in our detachment came down with spinal meningitis and now we are in isolation, quarantine.
Friday night at 10 o’clock we were routed out of bed and told to pack up and be ready to move at 3:30. We got up and put everything in our bags except our bedding and then went to bed again. At 2:30 we were called, and the work of moving camp began. We first had to go down to the mess hall and carry all the supplies up here. (We are isolated on a hill about half a mile from our former position.) Then we moved our own belongings including everything but the floors in our tents. It was sure some job tearing up and moving in the dark, but we got everything out by daylight. It sure looked foolish to have to move at night, but when one of these doctors orders a bunch to be isolated, it has to be done. I think our officers received orders some time during the night to have us moved by daylight. Anyway they made us rush things, and we first just moved our stuff to the edge of the old camp, or I mean across the line which was about a quarter of a mile and then moved it on up here later. As soon as we got up here and before we ever had all our stuff here, they set a bunch lining up and pitching tents and put the rest of us to digging ditches and fixing up for a new camp. I swung on the end of a pick all day yesterday and all day today. Our camp is in a square and all the streets have to be graded up and ditches dug down both sides and around the entire outside of the camp and also around each tent. The grading is all done with a pick and shovel, too, no teams. When you get 125 men to work, though, they can do quite a bit. We have most of the work done now. The work all has to be done just so, too. The streets are rounded up like a pavement and all sticks, etc., picked off. We have no mess hall here, but the kitchen is right out in the open and we have to use the ground for a seat and table. They will not allow us to bring our meals into our tents to eat. No eating in tents allowed. This is more like real camping out, just like we were out on the road on a hike.
I expect we will leave here shortly after we get out of this spinal meningitis quarantine, but for where I have no idea, but the lieutenant said he thought we would go towards New York. None of our officers knows what we are going to do. Everything is done from Washington and, when they receive orders to ship us some place, we will be shipped. ...
We had quite a dinner today. Had chicken, dumplings, cranberries and brown gravy. It sure tasted good for a change, believe me. Last night nine of the fellows that were on guard deserted their posts and got into the supplies and ate a lot of cookies, raisins, canned milk and other things. They had a good feed, I guess, but they were sure foolish. The cook missed the stuff first thing this morning, and as one of the guards was supposed to watch the supplies they were all called up. Those that were in it owned up, so it did not go so bad with them, but they could have been court-martialed three times because they broke three articles of war. They made them go without their chicken dinner today, and all they got was a slice of bread and a cup of coffee. To make it worse, they lined them up and made them stand where they could see all the rest of us get our good dinner, and we were making fun of them all the time.
Well, I am on kitchen police again tomorrow and have to get up at 4 o’clock, so I guess I had better go to bed.
Monday Night, Mar. 4. - Well, I just got off of duty a few minutes ago and will write a little more. ... We sure had a nasty day of it in the kitchen today. Just as we got everything out ready to serve, it started raining, and it sure made things nice. We got an old tent that had been about half burned up and stretched it up over in front of the stoves so it gave a little shelter, but we had to serve the line out in the rain. I made a run for my rain coat, so did not get very wet. It made things awful nasty to try to wash the pans and vats, and cook supper, but we got a pretty good supper fixed up. We had cocoa and I drank about two quarts.
State Historic Site