Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Did Native Americans Anticipate Camouflage?

Comparative camouflage photo by Abbott H. Thayer
Above American artist Abbott Handerson Thayer believed that modern military camouflage had been anticipated by the battle dress (both "war paint" and clothing) of Native American warriors, as well as other "savages." In this demonstration photograph, Thayer has positioned a model (it may be his son and co-author Gerald Handerson Thayer), dressed like a Native American in a forest setting. To the right of the model is a cut-out silhouette of a WWI-era foot soldier, in a single continuous color. It was Thayer's contention that the multi-colored disrupted attire of the Native Americans provided better camouflage than continuous khaki. This photograph was published in an article by Thayer, titled "Camouflage" in Scientific Monthly, Vol VII (1918), pp. 481-494.


Anon INDIAN SPORTS CAMOUFLAGE: Princess Astonishes Army Officers by Keen Sight and Quick Discernment, in Celina Democrat (Celina OH), February 22, 1918, p. 2—

Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg SC—Camouflage training at the military camp here was quickly detected by Princess White Deer [Esther Louise Georgette Deere], great-granddaughter of Chief Running Deer, the last of the Mohawk tribe of chieftains.

The princess was a guest at the camp during camouflage work and easily detected the men as they squirmed their way to a post held by an imaginary enemy. Army officers were greatly surprised by the girl's keen sight and quick discernment.


Associated Press INDIANS FIRST TO PRACTICE CAMOUFLAGE in Ada Weekly News (Ada OK), February 20, 1919, p. 1—

Chicago—"Camouflage is as old as the storm God of Indian folklore," said Chief Strongheart, who recently returned from France where he is credited with having done more for the fighting traditions of his race than any other American Indian.

"The Indians were the true inventors of camouflage," said the chief, who will go to his Yakima reservation in Washington State after a brief eastern visit. "They discovered its advantages in their earliest conflicts. When a battle was to take place in a forest in the summer months, the warriors would paint their bodies green, with a dash of other colors to produce the exact blend with surroundings. They even sketched birds and small animals on their bodies to make the effect more realistic. If the battle was to take place when autumn had withered the leaves and touched them into gold, splashes of brown and yellow made the warriors blend with the setting.

"The trick, when artfully turned, resulted in great victories. Many early settlers were taken into captivity by use of camouflage.

"The French were quick to visualize its enormous advantages in the war just closed and promptly carried the art to its peak."

Chief Strongheart was rejected by the army because as a leader of Indian scouts in the service of the United States in Mexico in 1910, he received a shot in the leg in a skirmish with the Mexicans. Before being wounded he killed two Mexicans and took seven prisoners.

Realizing his unfitness for military duty, the chief toured America for army recruits. After an address in the front of the New York Public Library one day 233 men enlisted. Two hundred more volunteered in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Heading due west from New York, he spoke in large cities for the Liberty Loan and War stamp drives. During his campaigns he wore his native dress, including the headfeathers.

Chief Strongheart said that 18,000 American Indians went to France with the American Expeditionary Force, most of them serving as scouts. He cited an incident where five Indians enabled the Americans to capture 13,000 prisoners.

Running Elk, Strongheart's father, was scout for General O.O. Howard in the Nez Perces war and aid to Colonel [Theodore] Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War; and Strongheart, when a baby, was carried about on the former president's back. His grandfather was Chief Standing Rock, who took part in "Custer's Last Fight," and who died at the age of 109 years.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Camouflage as an Agricultural Food Source

WWI workers applying ship camouflage (c1918)
Above Over the years, we've located perhaps a dozen World War I-era photographs of dazzle-camouflaged ships in the process of being painted. Here is yet another (source unknown), in which workers are shown applying various paint colors to large areas, as designated by chalk lines and, in this case, even the name of the paint color.


The following are edited excerpts from a humorous question-and-answer column, called ALL SORTS by Newton Newkirk, published in the Boston Post, September 17, 1917, p. 8. It begins with a spurious inquiry from an anonymous New England farmer and is followed by an equally fraudulent answer from the column's author—

QUESTION: …Is camouflage raised from seed or settings? How does camouflage compare in nutritive value with other vegetables? Can camouflage be canned and how? When is the best time to plant camouflage? Please tell me the etiquette of eating camouflage…

ANSWER: …It has been a long time since I sat down to a mess of succulent camouflage like mother used to cook. Your ignorance concerning this well-known vegetable amazed me—I was of the opinion that every agriculturist was familiar with camouflage.

Of course you know what ensilage is? Yes? Well, it will perhaps give you some idea what camouflage is when I say that ensilage bears no resemblance whatever to camouflage—you would never mistake one for the other. Neither does cabbage (accent on the last syllable) belong to the same family as camouflage. Camouflage—at least all the camouflage I have seen—grows more luxuriantly and is much more nutritious than persiflage. Some folks might prefer the flavor of persiflage, but give me camouflage every time.

Camouflage is grown from blubs—I mean bulbs. One pound of camouflage contains more nutrient than half a ton of baled hay. Yes, camouflage can be canned, but I can't go into the canning now. Never plant camouflage until after the frost is out of the ground. If you plant it in January your crop will be a failure. It is good etiquette to eat camouflage until you feel you have had a genteel sufficiency…

Cartoonist Otto Soglow | WWII Tree Camouflage

Otto Soglow (1942)
Otto Soglow (1900-1975) was a New York-born cartoonist and illustrator. His humorous illustrations (especially a comic strip called The Little King) were widely published in magazines and newspapers from 1919 until his death in 1975. In the early 1940s, he produced a series of multiple-panel cartoon ads for Pepsi-Cola, including the above (from Life magazine, December 21, 1942), which may have been the only one that pertained to camouflage. At the time, with World War II on-going, there were countless news stories about military camouflage, including soldiers dressed as trees. We've also published earlier posts on tree-like observation posts and Charlie Chaplin's film on WWI tree camouflaged called Soldier Arms. Author's collection.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Give 'Em Hell | Billy Sunday Camouflaged

Billy Sunday (Wikipedia)
William Ashley Sunday (1862-1935), better known as Billy Sunday, was an Iowa-born fire and brimstone preacher, who played professional baseball in the National League for eight years. He left that profession in 1880 to become a popular, well-known evangelist, whose eccentric preaching style was outlandishly athletic (see photos above and below). He was in part the model for the preacher in Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, and in Lewis' novel Babbitt, he was the inspiration for the boxer turned evangelist named Mike Monday, described by Lewis as "the distinguished evangelist, the best-known Protestant pontiff in America...As a prize-fighter he gained nothing but his crooked nose, his celebrated vocabulary, and his stage-presence. The service of the Lord had been more profitable."

Of Billy Sunday, the poet Carl Sandburg wrote: "You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist and calling us all damned fools so fierce the froth slobbers over your lips...always blabbing we’re all going to hell straight off and you know all about it...Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance. Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your nutty head. If it wasn’t for the way you scare the women and kids I’d feel sorry for you and pass the hat. I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when he starts people puking and calling for the doctors." 

Sunday also wrote a syndicated newspaper column, a newsprint homily of sorts, in one issue of which he warned about the evils of camouflage. It makes sense. What better practitioner of duplicitous sales and deception?

Billy Sunday, THE ART OF CAMOUFLAGE, in The Delphi Journal (Delphi IN), December 9, 1920—

There's a Lot of Chatter, these days, about Camouflage! When your Uncle Bill first Harkened to the Word, he thought it was a New French Dish, probably Cooked in a Casserole, and, being the Kind of Geezer who will Try Anything Once in the Line of Eats, he came Pretty near Ordering it from the Dinge in the Diner.

But Camouflage is not that Sort of Thing, it Seems.

It is the Military Art of Kidding the Enemy—of making things Look like What they Ain't, so to speak!

The French Rig Up an old Tree to Pass for a Cannon, and let Fritz waste his Ammunition on This, while a Little Way down the Line, the Real Seventy-five is Blazing Away from what Appears to be an Innocent Domicile.

They can even Paint a Dummy Bridge on Canvas and Stretch it Across the River, and Fake a Rippling Stream to cover the Real Bridge, and Bunk the Flyers who Lamp it from Above.

As a Military Art, Camouflage is a great  thing!

But there is altogether Too Much Camouflaging being done in Ordinary Life. The Dame that Sails down the Boulevard in a Get-up which is the Last Holler in Vogue—and at the Same Time is Skinning Down on the Old Man's Bats, at Home—is practicing Camouflage.

And the Young Buck who Dolls Up like a Million Dollars and has Little More than the Return Fare in his Jeans, he's Trying the Art, too.

But Worst of Them All is the Old Deacon who Sits in the First Pew on Sunday and Pipes Up Strong in the Hymns and on the Amen Stuff, and then spends the Rest of the Week in the Gentle Game of Nicking the Poor Widow for Twelve Per Cent, on the Loan.

There are Enough Experts on Camouflage of This Sort in the USA to equip a whole Army Corps on the Western Front.

But they don't Get Away with it for Very Long. The World gets their Numbers, and the Big Guns of Honesty and Common Sense soon Shoot them to Pieces.

Leave Camouflage to the Military Men, where it Belongs and Does Some Good!

If you're only an Old Log, don’t Pretend you're a Rapid-Fire Field Gun!

Develop yourself, and Maybe you'll Get to Be One. Don't put yourself Higher up the Tree than you Belong, for there's Bound to Be a Fall—and usually with an Awful Bump.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Boston Common Camouflage | Artist Philip Little

Photo of Boston Common camouflage (1918)
In earlier postings, we've told the story of how members of the American Women's Service Corps painted a dazzle camouflage scheme on a navy recruiting station that had been built to look like a ship. The recruiting station, known as the USS Recruit, was constructed in Union Square in NYC, then dazzle-painted in July 1918. The purpose of the gaudy-colored pattern was the opposite of concealment: it attracted the attention of passersby, set off a storm of publicity, and thereby increased recruitment.

A few months later, a comparable strategy was used in Boston, not for navy recruitment, but for fundraising through the Liberty Loan Program. As before, it involved the application of a dazzle pattern to a building, using a design devised by Boston artist and ship camoufleur Philip Little. The effort was described and pictured (as shown above) in the Woman's Section of the Boston Sunday Post (October 13, 1918), p. 1, in an unsigned article titled THIS IS THE HOUSE THAT LITTLE DAUBED TO CATCH YOUR EYE AND SPARE CHANGE: Remarkable Example of the New Art of Reversed Camouflage, Now Aplash with Vivid Colors, on Boston Common as Aid to Liberty Loan Drive. Here is the entire text—

While common camouflage is more or less of a "now you see it and now you don't" proposition, reverse camouflage is coming into its own, and this time it's "now you see it first, last and all of the time," and hence the glaring structure of heterogeneous color known as Liberty Hall which has come into being on the Tremont street mall of the Common which is exciting the wonderment of thousands who daily pass that way. 

Philip Little, the artist, is the originator of reverse camouflage. Some time ago he was asked by the Liberty Loan committee to suggest a design for a new Library Loan building for the Common with an idea for the same to be camouflaged.

Mr. Little came forward with a new and startling scheme. He figured that since the committee wanted a building to attract all of the attention possible, camouflage, which primarily seeks to hide objects, was not what was really wanted, so he conceived the thought of reverse camouflage, and of having the building painted so that it would be the most striking thing in sight.

How well he succeeded can be by the Sunday Post's color photograph [not shown in color here] which has been reproduced according to the color that have been painted, or by a trip to the building itself.

It was planned to use the allied flags liberally for decoration of the building, but Mr. Little has utilized the color for the colors of his reverse camouflage only. They have been put on in the colors of red, blue, green, orange and black in great curving lines.

Throughout the scheme of decoration can be seen the colors of the five great allies in ever-varying combinations. No two designs are alike, yet it would puzzle one in many instances to describe their difference.

The entire Liberty Hall structure has been deluged with reverse camouflage in the wildest possible style. Inside and outside, Liberty Hall is a thing to look twice at. But with even one glance you can't forget it or evade its tenacious grasp upon your optical nerves.

Liberty Hall may not be a thing of beauty, but it is most certainly a joy to the eye and heart of those who care for bright color and bizarre effects.