TRICENTENNIAL

Belk­nap Ri­fles As­so­ci­a­tion shot to the top as a drill team.

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - A longer ver­sion of this re­port by Paula Allen ran Sept. 16, 2001.

Founded in 1884 dur­ing a na­tion­wide craze for mil­i­tary drill com­pe­ti­tions, the Belk­nap Ri­fles As­so­ci­a­tion was named af­ter its first pa­tron, street­car mag­nate Col. Au­gus­tus Belk­nap. Ri­fles were supplied by the state of Texas, which rec­og­nized such groups as reg­u­lar in­fantry units in the Texas Vol­un­teer Guard.

Al­though the Civil War, fed­eral oc­cu­pa­tion and In­dian at­tacks were his­tory, “a great deal of en­thu­si­asm in mil­i­tary af­fairs was aroused,” wrote Arthur Storms, one of the Belk­naps’ early of­fi­cers, in the Novem­ber 1932 is­sue of Bright Scrawl, a pub­li­ca­tion of the Ju­nior League of San An­to­nio.

State and in­ter­state mili­tia com­pe­ti­tions were news­wor­thy at­trac­tions dur­ing the sum­mer of

1884, and a Texas group, the Hous­ton Light Guards, won first place in a na­tional con­test.

Barred by age limit from join­ing the es­tab­lished San An­to­nio Ri­fles, called “the Dudes,” the teenage Belk­naps were known as “the Kids.”

Led by fu­ture Judge Robert B. Green, who served as cadet cap­tain, the group met in the old “Bat Cave” mu­nic­i­pal build­ing, the Ar­beiter Verein in back of the Joske’s store and in the Al­bert Mav­er­ick Build­ing. In good weather, they drilled in Travis Park and later in Alamo Plaza.

Col. Belk­nap’s con­tri­bu­tions helped with rent on some of these premises, but the cadets put up the money for their own uni­forms: blue jack­ets, white pants and hel­mets, at a to­tal cost of $150.

The young men put on min­strel shows and pan­tomimes, while their girl­friends and sis­ters staged a “pet­ti­coat broom­stick drill” to raise funds.

A year af­ter their found­ing, they took first prize at drills held in San An­to­nio and Lampasas. By

1889, said Storms, they were “ad­judged the best drilled com­pany in the United States” when they were awarded the world’s cham­pi­onship cup at Galve­ston.

The Belk­naps showed off in a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., drill with “rop­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and other Texas stunts.” They also were in­vited to march in a pa­rade for the cen­ten­nial of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s in­au­gu­ral in New York, where they tipped the Lone Star — the only state flag present — at the re­view­ing stand.

As gilded youth of some of San An­to­nio’s most prom­i­nent fam­i­lies, the Belk­naps trav­eled with ser­vants and shared TexMex home cook­ing with mili­tia men from other states. Mem­ber­ship in the com­pany was “the first rung of the lad­der lead­ing to San An­to­nio’s ‘four hun­dred’ in those years,” said Storms, adding that the mili­tias “were the hub around which the prin­ci­pal so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties ra­di­ated.”

In com­pe­ti­tion sea­son, mem­bers would “go to bar­racks” for weeks in the old Ar­mory, “up be­fore day­light to drill from 6 o’clock un­til it was time for them to go to work.”

When called upon to help quell elec­tion ri­ots in Laredo in 1886, the com­pany boarded a spe­cial train along with the San An­to­nio Ri­fles and a com­pany of Texas Rangers. The fight­ing was over by the time the Belk­naps marched into town be­hind their fife and drum corps, said Storms, “and the sight of the bul­let holes was suf­fi­cient for us.”

When the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War be­gan in 1898, many of the Belk­naps took part. Some formed an in­fantry com­pany, oth­ers formed a cav­alry troop and some fought with Roo­sevelt’s Rough Rid­ers.

Af­ter­ward, some of the for­mer mili­tia men be­came “ef­fi­cient of­fi­cers in the reg­u­lar Army,” said Storms, “and a num­ber were el­i­gi­ble to of­fer their ser­vices in the World’s War (World War I).”

Courtesy Witte Mu­seum

The Belk­nap Ri­fles As­so­ci­a­tion drilled in Travis Park and later in Alamo Plaza.

Courtesy Jan Prusin­ski

The Belk­nap Ri­fles As­so­ci­a­tion was named af­ter its first pa­tron, Col. Au­gus­tus Belk­nap.

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