The Francis E. Ulmer Collection at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Framed photograph portrait of a man in an Army uniform
Francis Edgar Ulmer after his promotion to sergeant, ca. 1912.

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By Meagan Huff, Assistant Curator

While many of us have trunks holding collections of family heirlooms stored away or on display in our homes, the descendants of Francis Edgar Ulmer donated his trunk and collection of photographs, letters, and souvenirs to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site museum collection. As part of this collection, it will be preserved and shared with our Pacific Northwest community.

Francis Edgar Ulmer (called Edgar by his family and friends) was born in 1893 in Merchantville, New Jersey. Though his initial ambition seems to have been to become a teacher, in 1910 he graduated from Peekskill Military Academy in New York. The next year, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 21st Infantry, Company A. It was the start of a long military career that would bring him around the world and to Vancouver, Washington.

In 1912, Ulmer's unit likely passed through Vancouver Barracks on their way to the Philippines, where many troops from Vancouver Barracks served. With the Philippine Insurrection of 1898-1902 long over, the 21st Infantry performed guard duties from their post at Ludlow Barracks. The year 1912 also brought Ulmer two promotions: first to corporal in March of 1912, then a promotion to sergeant in September.
Three soldiers in field uniforms lie on their stomachs on a hill, their backs to the camera, pointing guns. A sparse forest is seen in the background.
This photograph from the collection shows Ulmer and his fellow soldiers training at Camp Bonneville, north of Vancouver Barracks, ca. 1912.

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In a barracks building with a row of beds, a group of men sit on a bed in the foreground dressed informally in shirts and slacks.
This photo from the collection shows Ulmer (far left) and his comrades in their barracks in the Philippines.

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Round aluminum dog tag with engraved writing: Francis E. Ulmer, Sup. Sgt. Co. A. 21. Inf. U.S.A.
Francis Edgar Ulmer's World War I-era round aluminum dog tag.

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Ulmer returned to Vancouver Barracks in the fall of 1912, and married his wife, Betty, in 1913. He was discharged in 1914 and moved to Texas, where the couple welcomed their first son, Francis Edgar, Jr. During this time, he earned a Second Grade Teacher's Certificate.

Ulmer's break from the Army didn't last long, though. In 1916, he re-enlisted with the 21st Infantry and returned to Vancouver Barracks. Along with the rest of the 21st, he transferred to Camp Kearny near San Diego, California. There, his unit patrolled the U.S./Mexico border against Pancho Villa's revolutionaries. In the winter of that year, Ulmer requested to take the examination to become a Sergeant Schoolmaster for the Quartermaster Corps at Camp Kearny, but whether or not he was successful is unknown. The Ulmers, now with two sons, remained in California until 1921. By that time, Ulmer had transferred to the 32nd Infantry and ranked as a Battalion Sergeant Major.
Photo of group of seated soldiers indoors. Behind them is a large American flag. Hanging above is Christmas greenery and banners that say 1912 and 21st Infantry.
This photo from the collection shows Ulmer (seated in the center) with the 21st Infantry, Company A, at Vancouver Barracks during Christmastime, 1912.

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Framed photograph of a man in uniform with four medals attached to his uniform tunic.
This photo shows Ulmer in his dress uniform with medals, including a World War I Victory Medal.

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In 1921, the Ulmers returned to Vancouver Barracks for a third time, where Ulmer served with the 32nd and, perhaps, the 59th Infantry. During this time, Vancouver Barracks was seen as a highly desirable duty station, and the Ulmers' interest in returning seems understandable. A 1924 account written by a lieutenant stationed at the barracks describes the post as "modern in every way, [it] is provided with an excellent gymnasium and athletic field, tennis courts, hand-ball courts, and a splendid golf course. In addition a service club and a picture show are maintained for the enlisted men." In the later 1920s, Ulmer joined the Army Reserves, serving as an officer in Portland, Oregon.

With the exception of a brief return to active duty at Fort Leavenworth during World War II, the Ulmers remained in Vancouver for the rest of their lives. In 1933, Francis Edgar, Jr., appears in records as a Private in the 7th Infantry at Vancouver Barracks. Younger son Julian served in the Citizens Military Training Camp at Camp Bonneville, just north of Vancouver Barracks.

Francis Edgar Ulmer's story, as told through the artifacts that he collected and kept over the years, shows the importance of Vancouver Barracks to the geopolitics of the early 20th century. However, Vancouver was not just an important place for the army; it was also an important place to the people who lived here, like the Ulmers who returned again and again to this historic post along the Columbia River.
Document titled "Identification Card Officers' Reserve Corps" for Francis E. Ulmer with attached photo of Ulmer in uniform.
This identification card was used by Ulmer when he was part of the Officer's Reserve Corps in Portland, Oregon, ca. 1922-1925. It is now in the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site museum collection.

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