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Sunday, April 12, 2020

Five Brothers, Soldiers from Kerrville, 1917

Sidney, Leroy, Claude, Frank and Iva Baker from Kerrville, photo from about 1917.
Click on any image to enlarge.
A little over a century ago, around 1917, five young American soldiers had their portraits made. One is shown in a jaunty pose, arms akimbo, with an engaging smile on his face. Three others are in a group, standing awkwardly together. The last is standing alone, in a slightly more formal pose. 
If it wasn't for the writing on the back of the photograph I'd have no idea about their identities, or even if they were from Kerr County. Even with the writing, I'm not completely certain who the young men are, but I have a strong guess. There's a good chance all five are brothers.
The photograph is not in great condition, but is still clear -- even though it was taken around 1918. The soldiers in the photograph are very young, as soldiers so often are. They could be any group of American Doughboys from World War I.
A handwritten clue.
It's a clue on the back, however, that really intrigued me. Though the writing has faded, and in some places the paper is torn or is missing, I can make out a name: "Mr. B. F. Baker"
The next line seems to say "...way street east of Lake Side Park." The rest of the lines are notes to the photographer, telling him how to color the photograph. In those days, black and white photographs were often slightly tinted by hand, mainly eye color or hair color. In this case, the color of the uniforms.
There was a Benjamin F. Baker who lived in Kerrville with his wife, Elizabeth Baker, at the time the photograph was taken. He was a farmer and carpenter.
In 1882 he and his wife moved to Kerrville for the first time, then moved back here again in 1904. If I'm counting right, they had twelve children, including eight sons. Of the sons, I learned at least five of the Baker brothers served in the military.
All eight Baker brothers, from
the Kerr County Album
One was Iva Wright Baker, who was born in 1890. According to the Kerr County Album, he was "in AEF, WWI in France." Another was Benjamin F. Baker, Jr., born in 1894, who was "drafted in World War I." Claude Peterson Baker served in both World War I and II; he was born in 1900. And there was also Leroy Clyde Peterson, born in 1898.
There was another Baker brother who served in World War I: Sidney Walter Baker. It was for this soldier, who died in battle during the last month of World War I, for whom one of Kerrville's streets was named. We've said his name thousands of times, and sometimes it's easy to forget "Sidney Baker" was actually a young person who lived here long ago.
Sidney Baker signed up for the Army on the advice of his brothers, Frank and Iva, joining the new Company D of the First Texas Infantry, which was formed here in Kerrville in 1917.
Sidney Baker, 1917
Sidney Baker left New York in July, 1918 on the Finland, the same ship that carried Francisco Lemos to Europe. Baker was killed in the Argonne Forest in France on October 16, 1918. The street was named in his honor in 1919, his name replacing the street's former name, Tchoupitoulas Street.
Here's my guess on the names of the soldiers in the newly found photograph: the first soldier is Sidney Baker; the three soldiers together are Leroy, Claude, and Frank Baker Jr.; the fifth soldier is Iva Baker. All were brave soldiers who served our country.
However, take a look at the image of Sidney Baker, the lanky young man with a winning smile. If this image is actually of him, I think it makes his sacrifice even more poignant. The photo somehow makes him more relatable; it's not a stiff, formal portrait. In the image, Baker is seems relaxed and outgoing. It's more of a snapshot than a portrait.
I'm thankful to the kind reader who shared this photograph with me.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects old Kerrville and Kerr County photographs. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 11, 2020 -- which happens to be my kid sister's birthday.

Two Kerr County history books available, filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

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