Monday, June 7, 2010

Harry E. Wright – Chasing Bandits on the Border!

My family history research has uncovered many ancestors who served in the military from the Revolutionary War on, however there is one veteran I am particularly interested in--Harry E. Wright, born in October of 1895 in Springfield, Missouri to Henry E. Wright and Pearl Davis. I recall my maternal grandmother, Louise (Fisher) Slack (Pearl’s daughter) speaking fondly of her half-brother throughout the years, but I unfortunately didn't ask many questions while I could.  From what I have learned, Harry led a fascinating life, but one that’s still a bit of a mystery to me. So here's what I do know about Harry.

A few years after my Grandmother, passed away in 1998, I inherited a box of photos that included among other things, a small batch of military photos of Harry and his buddies. I really like the one shown above, and I suspect it was taken somewhere in and around Ft. Bliss and/or Marfa, Texas. I know Harry served in the West Texas area because of three pieces of information. The first is the letter (below) dated January 4, 1918 written by Harry to his mother, Pearl. It clearly places him in Marfa, Texas:

Regrettably, I only have the one page, but it’s a fascinating letter nevertheless. I marvel at how meticulously it was typed in an era when most letters were hand written. Incidentally, I am not sure what the "raid" was that Harry wrote about, but I did find an article from Page 2 of the El Paso Herald, January 4, 1918 that helps put this in context: "Marfa Reports Another Bandit Raid at Brite's". I suspect Harry was talking about the Christmas raid the article mentions.

Having served at Ft. Bliss as a Cavalry Officer, I am particularly drawn to the photo below, and the second item that ties Harry to this part of the country. Someone has placed an “X” (I think it was my Grandmother or another relative) above the cavalry trooper in the center of the photo. That may be Harry passing in review for General John J. Pershing at Ft. Bliss, Texas, but the quality of the photo makes it impossible to know for sure. It could very well be one of the Ft. Bliss parade grounds that I was to march on 68 years later.  During my time with the Cavalry, we used tracked vehicles not horses! 

The third item I have uncovered connecting Harry to far West Texas is the 1920 U.S. Census for Marfa City (below). The Census (lines 7-9) shows Harry living in Marfa, Texas with his wife Dorothy and their new daughter “Dorothy E.” in 1920. His letter to Pearl in 1918 did indicate the couple might sink roots in Marfa, and apparently they did at least for a short period of time. Additionally, a review of the Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997, published by the Texas Department of State Health Service produced an entry for the birth of Dorothy Eloise Wright in Presidio (County), Texas on September 15, 1918 which most likely is the “Dorothy E.” listed in the Census. The Census also shows the child’s age at 1 3/12 years old, which aligns with the Texas Birth Index record. Securing a copy of Dorothy’s Presidio birth certificate should help verify this.

The Census record also shows Harry was a retail grocery clerk in 1920. Of interest is the person listed on the first line of the form—Hans Briam, “EM” or “Employer” of a Retail Grocery. Harry and his family apparently lived in close proximity to Hans, or even next door. The “Place of Abode” comprising the first four columns of the form clearly shows this. Given the size of Marfa at the time, it’s very possible Hans was Harry’s employer.

All that I recall hearing from my Grandmother about Harry and Dorothy was that Dorothy lived in Dallas, and Harry travelled back and forth between Washington D.C. and Dallas for many years. I don’t recall her mentioning the time the couple lived together in Marfa. I do however have a photo of Harry and Dorothy, probably taken at some time in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s. Dorothy appears to have been a nurse at that time.

According to “My Heritage”, Louise (Fisher) Slack’s handwritten family history document, dated August 22, 1984: “Harry, the doctor, died of a heart attack. He was an army doctor and a colonel was his title at the time of his death.” I know my Grandmother did know Harry in her younger days, so I have every reason to believe he was a physician and an Army doctor.

The photo below of Harry in a laboratory in front of a microscope is another indication that he was, at some point in his life, involved in the medical field:

I have uncovered one other tantalizing clue from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Gravesite Locator web site that could be about Harry. There is an entry on the site that reads: “Wright, Harry Elbert COL USAFR MC, Date of Birth: 10/24/1895, Date of Death: 02/11/1952, Buried at: Section 3, Site 4546-B, Arlington National Cemetery….” The birth year and the name are very close matches to information I have, and my Grandmother did refer to him as a Colonel and a doctor. Harry’s middle initial “E” is consistent with “Elbert” as the VA entry indicates. Furthermore, the “MC” in the entry refers to “Medical Corps”, and the “USAFR” stands for United States Air Force Reserve. It’s possible Harry could have been a U.S. Army Air Corps physician, and he may have transitioned into the Air Force Reserve upon its creation in 1947. If this is Harry, then I have an accurate accounting of his of his birth and death, but I will need to confirm it.

The next goal in my investigation of the life of Harry E. Wright is to request a copy of his military records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Since I am not directly related to him, the request may be denied, but it’s worth a try! Rest assured I will post any and all results as soon as I learn more.


  1. Great job finding the clues. Very interesting.
    Welcome to the geneabloggers family!

  2. Thanks! It's been fun researching the story of Harry Wright, but more research remains.

    1. Hi Andrew, I came across your blog as I was searching for info surrounding the Brite's ranch raid. I live in an old house in Ontario Canada and a few years ago discovered in my attic a cache of old letters written around 1918. There is one from a Lavengne Liach who apparently was serving with the 8th Cavalry in Marfa, and he describes that Christmas raid. If you are interested I could send you a scan of the letter and a transcript. Maybe he knew your ancestor Harry. My name is Paul Young and you can reach me at

  3. Hello,
    I believe we are related.
    My name is Dick Wright and I am the younger son of Colonel (Dr.) Harry Elbert Wright. My brother is Harry Elbert Wright III.
    We really need to talk, as I am sure I have info. and pix about my dad that you don't have and I know you have stuff that I don't know about. The pix on your blog are new to me!
    I have never heard of anything about my dad's mother--just that she gave my dad to her parents after my dad's father died. Apparently she had a second family (?).
    I live in the Washington, D.C. suburbs but still have family in Texas.
    I really hope you read this and get in touch. E-mail is .
    What are we, step second cousins?
    Hoping to hear from you.

  4. Hello Dick,

    I would be more than happy to fill you in on Henry Wright's wife Pearl Davis and her second family, and I have a bunch of questions myself, as you might imagine. Feel free to contract me at

    I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

    Thanks for the reply,