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JIM: Joe K. Sparks, U.S. Soldier

Wherein a young Gradyvillian joins the Army to see the world but winds up in half-knee-deep sand, where he writes of meeting up with horned toads and sand burrs; of becoming an eyewitness to the Battle of Juarez; and of standing on the darkling plain of Texas and missing the vastness of Adair County

By Jim

In the January 25, 1911 News (a Gradyville newsletter):

J.K. Sparks left here last Friday for Edmonton, where he expects to enlist as a soldier for the next three years.
[Joseph K. "Joe" was a son of Charlie W. and Laura Akin Sparks of the Gradyville/Keltner area. At the time of this departure, Joe was about three weeks short of his seventeenth birthday; upon enrollment, he stretched his age to 18.]

In the March 29, 1911 News:

Fort Bliss, Tex.

I will try to write a few lines to my old Adair County friends, which I left only a few months ago.

As I have been in the army only a few months and have met lots of Adair County boys, and find them all fine soldiers. Examining myself and I think probably if I keep on improving I will finally be one among them. I am stationed right in a vast plain, but it isn't nothing compared to old Adair.

Well, boys, of Adair County, the army suits me and I will remain just where I am at, and you can join if you want to. I wouldn't advise you to join right now for you are apt to be placed up for a target, and unless you are a sharp shooter, as I am, you are liable to go under the kinks.

I am glad to note today that I am a soldier of the United States of America. I like the soldier life. There isn't much place for Democrats, so if you please, print this so W. M. Wilmore [the long time Gradyville correspondent for the News] will get a hold of it. Say, Mr. Wilmore, we are scarce of drum heads for our band, haven't you got a couple of horse hides on hand? Well, take that joke easy, and if you haven't got them, just step over to Charlie Sparks and borrow a couple.

/s/ Joe K. Sparks, Co. H., 23 Inf., Fort Bliss, Texas

In the April 5, 1911 News:

We want to say to our friend Jo K. Sparks, that we regret very much right at this particular time to say to him that myself nor his brother Charlie, can not furnish him with the material wanted, but if the March snows and cold wind continues much longer, [with] feed scarce, we certainly can furnish all the horse and mule hides he wants, provided he will pay expenses on same. Now Jo, just [to] come down to the truth in the case we are satisfied from the tone of your spicy letter in the News, that you would enjoy living back at old Gradyville, and on the sweet streams of old Big Creek playing hide and seek much better than you are enjoying the life of a soldier boy. We only wish you a long and happy life and that you may live to see the expiration of your allotted time in the service and land safe in old Gradyville, and take charge of Uncle Sam's affairs again from that place to the good old town of Edmonton, and be the same boy you was in days gone by. Success to you, Jo K.

In the May 31, 1911 News:

Kind Editor,

I will now try to write the News again as I think I can give some of the latest news that some of the News readers hasn't heard.

Well, if ever I thought of home and friends it was the other day when bullets flew by me like greased lightning. The battle which I and my companion stood before and watched was one of the greatest battles of the Mexican Revolution.

We were just across the Rio Grande, which is not over one hundred yards wide at this place, and the Mexicans were fighting on the other side of us just across the river.

Well, I guess the News knows about how many was killed in the battle of Juarez, Mexico, but may be some of the people doesn't. There were about 180 killed and close to 500 wounded, that is as close as can be found out. There was stray bullets went far into the city of El Paso, and killed at least 6 citizens and wounded about twelve.

There has been an armistice signed for peace in Mexico for five days, and I think there will be peace within a short time and I sure hope there will be for they are keeping us down here on the border of Mexico, and the sand is about half keep deep. [The armistice mentioned here may refer to the Treaty of Ciudad, signed on May 21st, 1911. "Peace within a short time" was not to be; the Revolution continued through the latter part of 1920.]

Well, news is scarce with me and I will ring off, hoping to hear from some of the Adair county boys soon.

/s/ Joe K. Sparks, Co. H., 23rd Inf., Fort Bliss, Texas.

Ft. Bliss, Texas, Dec., 2nd, 1911

Editor, News:--

As it has been some time since I read the News, I thought I would drop in a few lines.

It is pretty cool down at this place at this time.

Well, we "Old Kaintuck" boys as some of the boys call us, are almost on our heads to go to Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. That is near Indianapolis. If we go there, as it is reported we will go soon, then we Kentucky boys will come in and see our old acquaintances and friends.

We have parade in blue uniform every Friday evening.

Well, I can't study up any good ones now, but I will have to say "antiose" (sic), good bye, in Mexican lingo.

Say, Filmore. Jeff told me to tell you he would pay you that quarter, and said you would find our harness out on Hickory Ridge, and one of your buggies at Glasgow and the other at Roy Walker's.

Well, news is scarce, war is raging, and things look bad, so I guess I had better stop.

/s/ Joe K. Sparks, Co. H., 23rd Inf't.

In the February 14, 1912 News:

Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Ind. Feb., 8th '12

Editor News:--

I will try again to write the News a few lines.

We are occupying the most modern post in the United States, and we old Kentucky boys are all together. I have met more friends here, than any other place I have been. I didn't know I had so many pals until I came here. There are Sam Turner and Walter Tarter, who are both of prominent Columbia families, and my old friend Edwards, of Edmonton, and I could name a great many others of that section of the country, and all I have met are up-to-date first class soldiers.

It makes me feel proud to hear one of my superiors say that old Kentucky is full of good old soldiers. It is thought that we will be rushed back to the border if further troubles arise in Mexico.

I hope that good luck will keep us from having to face those sand hills of Texas, and horned toads, and especially those [ethnic slur].

It has been nine degrees below zero here, but that beats them horned toads and sand burrs of Texas.

Hello, Mr. Wilmore. Who are you going to put in the President's chair this time?

Well, news is scarce in this part of the country, as it is almost too cold to get out. If this letter is O.K. will write again.

/s/ Joe K. Sparks, Co. H 23rd Inf.

PS. I may take a wild goose chase down through Adair county, soon.

In the February 21, 1912 News:

...I want to say to my friend, Jo K. Sparks, who at present is stationed over in the good old State of Indiana, in Uncle Sam's business, that we all love to read his letters through the News, and we will be glad to see his face once more in Gradyville, and hear them call the roll. We must say to him that the election of a Democratic President is sure in November, and if it left for his old friend [L.M. Wilmore] to decide, it will be Dr. Woodrow Wilson, of New Jersey.

A brief epilogue:

In the fall of 1912, Joe was given a dishonorable discharge and (apparently) served almost two years in a military prison, reason(s) unknown. The next mention of him in the News didn't appear until the December 2, 1914, edition, in which Mr. Wilmore of Gradyville noted that

"Jo K. Sparks has engaged in the blacksmith business at Sparksville."
Shortly thereafter, Joe became a citizen of Gradyville but in the late spring of 1916 came the announcement of his intention to join his brother Walton in working in an automobile shop in Ohio. By 1920 he resided in Jeffersonville, Ind., and at the time of his passing in 1970, he was a resident of Texas.

This story was posted on 2011-04-10 07:21:12
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