Marfa, Texas: 1919. Unbound. This 5.5” x 3.5” photograph shows soldiers looking at the wreck of an army airplane that had crashed into a pond at Fort D. A. Russell. It is captioned in the image, “Air Plane / Wrecked / at Marfa Tex / June 26th /1919”. In nice shape with scrapbook remnants on the reverse.
On June 26, 1919, an Army airplane from Camp Marfa, Texas crashed into a pond on the base, killing two young boys, Benito and Agustin Viscaino, who were swimming there at the time.
“The pilot, Second Lieutenant G. N. Bogel reported that after patrolling from Indio to Linitas that he returned to the airfield and that while attempting to land a strong wind caught his plane and forced it into the nearby pond embankment. Although he and his passenger escaped injury, the two boys were struck by the plane and died. A subsequent accident investigation . . . found that the crash ‘was of an unavoidable nature’.” It also found that the Benito and Agustin were part of a group of “six small boys . . . in the path of the plane and that four of these boys found refuge and safety under the bridge on the road and invited Augustine and Benito Viscaina to join them, which they did not do. One of these boys, Benito Viscaina, was blind, and the other, Augustine Viscaina, had but one arm and was said to be somewhat demented, and both failed, apparently, to realize their danger.”. Very good. Item #009919
As violence associated with the Mexican Revolution increased in 1911, the alarmed citizens of Presidio County, Texas began to fear that Mexican forces or bandits would cross the border and raid their communities. To alleviate concerns, the Army deployed two troops from the Third Cavalry to west Texas where they established a tent camp near Marfa to impede revolutionary gun-smuggling and prevent Mexican violence from spilling over the border. Despite the cavalry’s presence, Mexican forces raided the Texas border towns of Glen Springs and Boquillas, killing a young child and kidnapping two store owners. Although these attacks were not a severe as Pancho Villa’s murderous attack on Columbus, New Mexico, they helped convince President Woodrow Wilson to deploy National Guards units from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Pennsylvania along with elements of the Regular Army along the Rio Grande, and Camp Marfa became a headquarters in charge of resupplying 12 subposts by wagon trains.
Although reduced, cross-border attacks continued and more American were killed in attacks on the Brite and Neville Ranches. To increase surveillance of the border, in June 1919, the Army deployed Major Edgar Tobin and 5 De Havilland DH.4 biplanes from the 11th Aero Squadron to Marfa where he established the Royce Flying Field. The planes conducted reconnaissance flights along the Rio Grande, and it was one of these planes that crashed into the Camp Marfa pond. Today, the former army post is the site of the famous Chinati Foundation’s art museum founded by Robert Judd, and Marfa, of course, is renowned for its mysterious desert “ghost lights.”
(For more information, see House of Representatives Report No. 937, “Benito Viscaina and Maria Viscaina”, “Fort D.A. Russell, Marfa” at Chinati.org and Danny Roman’s “1919 Plane Crash: A Paper Presented to the History Department of Marfa High School” in the Marfa, Diversity in the Desert Collection online at The Portal to Texas History, both available online)
One other photograph of the crash is known to exist; it can be viewed online at The Portal to Texas History.