In depth: 1911 private Stephen Moravyk and the Mexican Border War

Detail of RPPC. 1910 to early 1911. Personal Collection. (Clean up that stain, private!)

Detail of RPPC. 1911. Private Collection.

The pose is great and the young man is the poster boy for a recruitment advert.  So I set to research some more about him. If you want to find out how the process went, keep on reading.

I asked some genealogy enthusiasts at to assist me finding out more about Stephen Moravyk. And they helped confirm the identity of the person I presumed was him.

His last name as spelled on this photo turned up absolutely nothing. Austrian of origin, I was surprised no one in the U.S. has the exact spelling of it in any record past or present.

So I tried a few variations of his name and a Stephen (Stephan) Moravek matched his timeline and army enlistment. But since I didn’t have full access to genealogy sites I asked for help digging deeper.

Stephen was of Austro-Hungarian origin. An immigrant who changed the spelling of his name on documents.

But as it is there’s much to find out just looking at the uniform. As you’re going to see I enjoyed researching this. The findings confirmed the date of the photo, and that was exciting.

This photograph was taken in the summer of 1911. The uniform tells us he began his military career as a National Guard infantry soldier who most likely participated in the Mexican Border Campaign.

A few notes on his uniform and how it helped date the photo:

Stephen’s wearing the standard dark olive wool uniform issued around the World War I period. Early WWI soldiers who went to France in 1914 wore a similar uniform, but since this was 1911 he defended the Southern States against the Mexican guerrillas.

The dye of Stephen’s uniform faded under the sun (see group photo below). His is still dark. Somebody took this photo of him when he first came out of basics or was about to leave on his first deployment. Stephen was a private at the time: he wears no rank on the arms or collar, but he’s wearing his army issued black tie tucked into the straight flap shirt.

While all soldiers of this conflict wore campaign hats with the Montana peak (again, see below) Stephen is wearing a two crease stetson because this photo was taken before the Army officially adopted the hat sometime in the second half of 1911. The research confirmed he was first enlisted July 17, 1911. He must have had to replace his hat a few months/weeks later. Bummer for him for privates had to buy their own…but good for me because I can help confirm the date of this picture.

Although this photo is in sepia, the color of the acorn on his hat would have told us if he were infantry (yellow), cavalry (blue) or artillery (red). Officers wore them in gold. His acorn is so light on the picture I guessed it was yellow: infantry. The records confirmed as much.

stephen-moravyk-shoesStephen’s shoes are 1905-1911 russet marching shoes. They had a box toe and were made of grain calf leather. He’s lucky he didn’t have to wear those for long; they didn’t breathe and he was headed south (yikes!), but the next model in 1912 fixed that.

His riding breeches have laces to the front below the knee, and enlisted soldiers of this conflict wore laced-up canvas leggings over them (officers wore leather puttees). The rifle he’s holding is a M1903 Springfield, and he has a short sword hoisted to the side I’ve seen on early photos of soldiers going to France.

Here’s the entire image glued to a black backing with his name written below. This photo is a RPPC.


Now, about Stephen:

Stephen/Stephan was born on July 16, 1888 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (later Czechoslovakia), and then moved to the U.S. He enlisted on July 12, 1911 at 22 years old (around when the photo was taken) and became an infantry soldier and also cook of his garrison. He was honorably discharged and re-enlisted on July 11, 1914 when WWI began, but his infantry unit never made it to Europe and served stateside. He was 5-foot 9.1/2-inch with brown eyes and brown hair (a good 4 inches above average at the time). He finished his military career as a sergeant of the Delta 19th Company 18th Division in 1920.

A later draft card for WWII reveals Stephen had, at the age of 53, tattoos on his chest and arms (probably accumulated during his service). He had settled in Retsil, Washington and married a lady named Susanna. He passed away February 26, 1959 at the age of 70 years old, and is buried at the Washington Veterans Home Cemetery.


Below is a photo of some soldiers from the Mexican border war (1910-1919). Notice their uniforms are fading out from the harsh southern sunlight.

Taken at Henderson Field, McAllen, Texas USA in 1916.

Taken at Henderson Field, McAllen, Texas USA in 1916.

Photo above: The Stout family at Ancient Faces

Blog Note: I’ve added a Military section to the Types of Subjects drop-down menu. This soldier is the only one of my collection but probably not the last.

If you’ve read my blog entry this far, congratulations! I hope it was informative. I confess I knew nothing of the Mexican Border war. Now I know the major events and the uniform down to the button. Thank you, Mr. Moravyk.

And a thank you to Eric from who kindly provided me with his documents.

Stephan Moravek’s documents:

Stephan’s Find A Grave.  If you enjoyed finding out more about him, why not leave (free) virtual flowers on his memorial page?

2 responses to “In depth: 1911 private Stephen Moravyk and the Mexican Border War

  • summertime75

    It’s interesting when you can find more information about the individuals, they become “people” rather than an “interesting” image.

    Using the genealogy and BMD databases can be problematic often due to incorrect spelling by the person inputting the information and often their birth and death information. One of mine had the wrong date of her death which sent me round in circles for ages lol, but fun when you finally reach the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bowlersandhighcollars

      If I find a name I try to research some to find a match, every time. Most often though, the name is too common if there’s nothing else to go with. For him it was the opposite: nobody had his name.

      But yes, to find that the info matched the time of when the photo was taken was an awesome feeling…that “gotcha” moment! lol I wish I could do this more often!

      And yes, records back then were sketchy. The further you go the sketchier. Birthdates are off by a year, names are changing…but like you said when you finally get the person it’s rewarding! I could do this full time if I could lol.


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