Bay City WWII German Prisoner of
War Labor Camp
War Prisoners On Way To County; Camp Begun Here
F. O. Montague was informed Monday night that the first contingent
of German prisoners of war was brought into Matagorda [County]
Tuesday with their escort of guards. It was expected that the group
would number 150.
Matagorda [County] is transforming the fair grounds into a prison
camp where the men will be housed.
Work has been begun in Bay City on the construction of a tent city
where the prisoners who will work in the local rice fields will be
cared for. One of the first things to be done is the erection of the
wire barriers around the enclosure, located northwest of the Bay
City Veneer Mill.
The project is being carried out by the volunteer labor of the
farmers and their men under the direction of Mr. Montague, county
The Daily Tribune, September 28, 1943
Prison Labor Camp To Be Ready Here By End Of Week
Matagorda county rice farmers and F. O. Montague, county agent, are
looking forward to the arrival of this county's contingent of German
war prisoners not later than Monday, October 11 and possibly at the
end of this week, it was announced from Mr. Montague's office
This means that the desired priorities on copper wire came from the
State War Board early Monday and work on wiring the encampment was
begun at once. Supplying the tent city with flood lights was one of
the big problems, particularly until priorities were secured on the
While waiting for the Matagorda county group of war prisoners, Mr.
Montague has learned from Wharton, where these laborers arrived two
weeks ago, that the farmers there are more than pleased with the
quality of work in the rice harvest fields the men can do and are
doing. They follow directions intelligently, the farmers report.
Wharton county received 150 prisoners with 75 guards. They are
housed in the county fair buildings on the fair grounds.
A tent city for the Matagorda county prisoners is being erected
northwest of the Bay City Veneer Mill. Construction is being done by
rice farmers and the men from their plantations.
The Daily Tribune, October 5, 1943
Prisoners Are Here!
German war prisoners for work in the rice fields arrived
in Bay City Friday about 1:00 p.m. in nine Bowen Trailways busses,
marked "Special Party." They were preceded in the forenoon by some
of the guards and Army personnel who immediately began the erection
of the tent city where the prisoners will be housed.
The Daily Tribune, October 8, 1943
Number of German Prisoners At Bay City Camp To Be Increased By
Arrival of 100 This Week
Patience And Cooperation Of Farmers Asked
To meet the growing demand for German war prisoner labor among the
rice farmers of Matagorda county, an order for 100 more prisoners of
war has been approved by Colonel R. G. Saxon of Camp Swift and the
office of the county agent, F. O. Montague, is expecting their
arrival Wednesday or Thursday, according to announcement.
This number will make a total of more than 400 men in the Bay City
prison camp, located in the northwest part of town. They have been
assigned to rice farmers for assistance in the harvest since
Saturday, October 9, and their work is of such quality that the
demand each day exceeds the supply. However, it is believed that the
100 new men will meet the demand satisfactorily.
Count Agent Montague continues to ask patience and cooperation from
the farmers, as the arranging of a daily schedule for so many men is
an intricate proposition, particularly because of changes from day
to day in the farmers' needs and orders for details.
Farmers are requested to contact Mr. Montague's office at least by
2:00 p.m. the day preceeding the day when they will need men and
their orders will be filled as the number of men available allows.
In some cases, Mr. Montague has told farmers, "Take a chance and be
at the stockade at 8:00 a.m. and some last-minute change may get you
a crew." This has worked in a few instances and is deemed worth
The Daily Tribune, October 19, 1943
New Prison Labor For Rice Harvest Arriving Tuesday
The latest word on the arrival of the new contingent of 100 German
war prisoners for labor in the rice harvest was received Saturday
when F. O. Montague, county agent, was informed that the detail
would be transferred from Camp Swift, Tuesday forenoon, arriving
here about noon.
The exact number expected is 114 prisoners with 21 guards, Mr.
The request for this auxiliary contingent to supplement the
approximate 300 new stationed here was made Thursday, October 14,
when it became apparent, that the present number was not large
enough to meet the demand of the farmers for this labor. After some
delays at various offices in Houston, Austin and Dallas, it was
thought they would arrive almost any day after the middle of last
week. Further hold-ups occurred, however, and it was not until
Saturday that Colonel R. G. Saxon of Camp Swift was given the green
The Daily Tribune, October 23, 1943
Citizens Must Remember Germans Here Are Prisoners
Treatment of Sons of Hitler Is No Social Matter
Germans' Status Discussed by Authorities Here
Bay City is learning a lesson that most towns of the nation will not
have the opportunity to learn: namely, how to live with war
prisoners in the midst.
One of the first things to remember, it is pointed out by
authorities in charge of the camp, the prisoners and their daily
routine, is that every arrangement is made in accordance with the
rulings of the Geneva conference in regard to prisoners of war. This
includes food served, which, the rulings say, should be the general
run of diet of the people of the country in which the prisoners are
Further, no prisoner may be forced to work and the men now in
Matagorda county are volunteer laborers. In this capacity they are
to be paid and here is a point that is not generally understood in
this vicinity: these men are being paid 40 cents an hour of what
amounts to $3.20 a day, but not a coin of the realm finds its way
into the pocket of the prisoner. Instead, he received 80 cents a day
in scrip if he had worked and ten cents a day in scrip if he has not
been out in the fields that day. This amount in exchange is good
only at the camp store where he may buy such things as tobacco and
beer (daily maximum two bottles).
The balance of the $3.20, amounting to $2.40 a day for the working
prisoners, goes to the Army for running expenses of the camp and the
food and clothing for the men.
In other words, the prisoners are not actually being paid.
Call It Etiquette
A further important lesson being learned here affects some of the
women of the city, who are of the opinion that it lies in the path
of their duty to take refreshments of coffee and cake to the
prisoners of war, it is reported this week.
This is absolutely out of line with all rulings, international or
otherwise, authorities state for the reason that these men are
prisoners, soldiers of the nation that it taking the lives of our
own boys. Army regulations state specifically that no one shall
communicate with them in any way even on the farms where they work
except through their guards. Regulations point out that they are
enemies. Women's parties admitted to the stockade not only would be
out of place but would be in danger. Were such visits permitted,
those in charge point out, camp authorities and the local management
of the project here would be in the wrong and the whole plan for
keeping the labor of these men for harvest might be endangered.
"There can be no place for sentiment in handling war prisoners," it
was stated Thursday.
Incidentally it is suggested that there are some 80 to 100 American
soldiers guarding the prisoners. They are far from home, many of
them. They are outside the prison camp and permission may be
obtained to serve them refreshments if desired.
Tribune, October 28, 1943
German Prisoners In Rice Fields Number 300 On Thursday
The number of German war prisoners in the rice harvest fields
reached a maximum to date Thursday when 300 were detailed to the
farmers. F. O. Montague, county agent in charge of the labor
problem, said that he could have used 60 more. Tuesday's demand, he
said, was for 297 but only 228 were available.
The entire number billeted here never is available for any one day's
work, Mr. Montague explained, for the reason that some are kept in
camp for work there and some are incapacitated. War wounds trouble
some and a couple have been sent back to Camp Swift for this reason.
The Daily Tribune, October 28, 1943
Capt. Fontaine Is Placed In Charge Of Prison Camps
A visitor here Monday was Capt. Henry L. Fontaine who has just been
named officer in charge of the German prison camps in this district,
succeeding Capt. J. C. Richardson.
Capt. Fontaine, for many years with the U. S. Army, was making a
tour of inspection of the camps in Bay City, Wharton, Rosenberg,
Angleton and Alvin. He expressed himself as well pleased with the
administration of the local camp.
He is making his headquarters in Wharton.
The Daily Tribune, December 21, 1943
Late Rice Harvest Delayed By Bad Weather In Dec.
County agricultural offices estimate that between 12,000 and 15,000
bags of rice still are in the fields of the county, due to the bad
weather conditions during most of December. They report that
December offered the farmers only seven or eight good working days.
Rice now unharvested was planted late, the experience of many rice
farmers in 1942 forming a precedent, it is pointed out. In 1942,
rice planted in June missed the ill effects of the fall hurricane;
therefore some tried the same plan in 1943 but the stormy December
caught up with their harvest period and the result has ruined many
sacks of the grain.
It is understood, also, that great damage has been done this season
by the rice birds which are present in greater numbers than for
several years. "The potential threat of the rice birds has been
underestimated by the farmers for the past five or six years," the
county agent comments.
Farmers have continued to use German prison labor throughout the
season. Crews of the prisoners assisted a number of farmers,
including the Bunk brothers, in ending their harvest on the last day
of 1943. Other crews have been at work this week.
The Matagorda Sales company expects to hold a sale Tuesday, January
The Daily Tribune, January 4, 1944
Use 'Em Or Lose 'Em Is Order on War Prisoners
Captain W. N. Peck, officer in charge of the local prison camp has
received the information that the German prisoners billeted here
must be given employment or they will be returned to Camp Swift,
according to F. O. Montague, county agent.
These men are here for employment in heavy work, all kinds of
farming and agricultural pursuits where they can be used in crews of
not less than five to each guard. They will be sent to any point in
the county, Mr. Montague explains and it is the hope of those in
charge that employers will contact Mr. Montague's office for further
Crews are being employed by the city this week on the drainage
project at the county courthouse.
Seventy-nine were detailed Monday to points around Bay City. But the
total personnel is 230, leaving a wide margin for other employers.
Tribune, February 7, 1944
According to C. J. Lee:
I was working for E. L. McDonald at the time on his ranch and it was
my duty to go by the prison camp at 7:00 A.M. and pick up the
prisoners. We hauled them on flat bed trailers with seats along the
sides for the men. The guards marched the prisoners out and we would
go to the river bottom to clean out brush, build fences or whatever
was needed. The prisoners worked eight hours and were taken back to
camp in the afternoon.
The first group of prisoners I used were young blond teenagers, some
in their early twenties and they were called "Hitler's Youths," as
they were taken from their families at an early age and placed in
Each group of workers had a spokesman and one morning shortly after
they went to work, I was approached by the spokesman with this
demand that they be allowed ten minutes out of each hour to drink
water and sing Hitler songs. I immediately called the guard that I
was taking the prisoners back to camp. When we arrived back at camp
about the middle of the morning, the camp was alerted and the
corporal of the guard was called. The commanding officer had
instructed me that if the prisoners made a "break," to bring them
in, and he thought this was what had happened. When the captain
found out about the demands that the prisoners wanted, he told them
I had done the right thing. He said if the prisoners wanted to drink
water and sing Hitler songs, they could do it right in camp and be
deprived of their privileges--"No work, No play!"
The next day the captain gave me a crew of older men who had known
Germany before Hitler took over. They were good workers and we had
no trouble with them.
C. J. Lee to
Samuel Spiller, interview, February 19, 1972