Did you know…

Lt. James Higley, c.1918

A few years ago, we were the lucky recipients of boxes of pictures, letters, and other personal pieces of history from the Higley family – the third family to own the Rosson House (1907-1914). This represented an amazing opportunity for us to see what this family actually looked like over time, and to read letters written 100+ years ago by their hands, to see the clothes they wore and the places they went, and to see their children grow up.

In the boxes, we found pictures from as far back as the earliest forms of that technology go, before the American Civil War. Most of the letters, however, were from a war almost 60 years after that – the First World War. Half-brothers Tom and James Higley (pictured here) served with the U.S. forces during the “War to End All Wars” (1917-18). Tom served as a Warrant Officer and Sergent with Marine Corps. James went through officer training, began active service as an Army First Lieutenant in B Company of the 364th Infantry, 91st Division, and was later promoted to Captain.

In reading the letters, we found several from James to his family during training and on his way overseas, but many are from the soldiers who served with James, and which unfortunately detail the circumstances surrounding his death on September 28, 1918, only four days after his arrival in France. He was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in battle. The following January his family received an official telegram confirming his death (pictured below), though they received unofficial word earlier, as reported in the article below, from the November 17, 1918 Arizona Republican.

A World War I officer’s uniform, on display during our former Dressing Downtown exhibit, along with James Higley’s picture and Distinguished Service Cross (also pictured in greater detail at the top of the page).

In the absence of official word, a friend and fellow officer wrote to tell the Higleys how James died, dispelling their hope that the rumors of his death were wrong:

“Early on the morning of September 26 a captain commanding part of B company became lost in the fog and confusion incident to heavy shell fire and did not find the company until about two days later. As a result Jim was in command of the entire company until his death. His conduct throughout was of the finest and all that any mother could wish. He kept the company together when many others under the same circumstances were hopelessly scattered – and ever led the men, thereby giving them confidence.

I saw him for a moment in the afternoon of September 26. He was then leading the company forward. He shouted a greeting to me and we waved encouragement to each other. I did not see him again.

At the time he was struck by a fragment of a high explosive shell, I was a few hundred yards to his left, and did not hear of it until the following day. He was hit while leading his company forward under very heavy artillery fire. He remained conscious and gave orders to the next in command to ‘carry on’ with the company. One of the non-commissioned officers who helped dress the wound, told me that Jim ordered him forward, unwilling to permit him to further endanger his life by remaining exposed to the shell fire while dressing the wound. The man refused to leave, however, and remained with Him until stretcher bearers were found who carried him to the rear.”

His superior officer, Capt. W. N. Simmons, included these words of condolence:

“We officers deeply loved and respected your son, and the men of the Company would, and did, gladly follow
him anywhere. In every way he lived and died, an example of the highest ideal of a gentleman and an officer… I am glad to inform you of the magnificent manner in which Jim conducted himself when the great test came. I shall always revere him in memory… I extend my deepest sympathy to you in your great loss.”

On this the anniversary of Armistice Day – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – we remember and honor those who, like James and Thomas Higley, served in the Great War, and the 116,708 Americans who (like James) died there.  We are thankful to them, and to all Veterans who serve our country and the cause of freedom.

Learn more about Arizona and the War to End All Wars from our July 2023 blog article, Arizona at War – World War I.