State Historic Site
ONE OF SHERIDAN'S "leading young men," John Donald Garbutt was the second oldest of four sons born to Sheridan postmaster Cameron Willis Garbutt and his wife Anna May Loucks (daughter of Sheridan founder John David Loucks).
The eldest Garbutt son, Earl Edward, enlisted before war was declared; he became an Army pilot who served as an aviation instructor for the French Air Service. Following in his footsteps was John Donald, who enlisted in the Army Air Service in October 1917. By January 1919, the twenty-two year old was serving as an aviation instruction at Carruthers Field near Fort Worth, Texas.
Before he could reach that exalted post, however, he had to undergo endless hours of flight training. In this letter sent to his mother from Texas in September 1918 - published in The Sheridan Post - Garbutt talks about the training, the weather, and how the two could combine in a number of life-threatening ways.
Dear Mother - Last week our class was held back on account of rain so I am still doing cross country formation flying. Cross country formation flying is lots of fun at first but it soon gets old and becomes work instead of play. Day before yesterday I took a trip of a hundred and twenty miles and back. We started early in the morning and upon reaching our destination were welcomed by a big crowd of people who took us in big cars out to their country club. We had breakfast there; danced awhile and then started back. We got back in time to have a little nap and shave before dinner.
Last week we had one of the worst rain storms I believe I ever saw and I came very close to being caught in it. We had just left the field and formed in a V formation. The sky was covered with heavy black clouds and as it was only 6 a.m. it was not yet very light, but our leader thought we could climb through the clouds and make it all right. After reaching the clouds we immediately lost sight of one another and also the ground and most everything else except the closer parts of the plane. Not one of us got through the clouds although some went up over a thousand feet.
It is rather hard to explain the way one feels after flying for several minutes through clouds so dense you can barely see your radiator cap and not always even see it. I don't know how the rest of the bunch felt but I know I was getting rather anxious to see either the blue sky or the ground again as I kind of had a feeling as though I was going to smash into a telephone pole or a silo although I [saw] by my altimeter that I was up about 2,600 feet. I had had plenty of the clouds and as I knew our formation was broken up for good, I nosed the plane down. When I came out of the clouds my shirt was wet, my goggles so wet I had to keep wiping them off.
After coming out of the clouds I started for home but it started to rain and I began to doubt whether I would reach the field or not. However I managed to get back O.K., but the wind was blowing so hard I could hardly land. Three of our men crashed and a number of other men broke undercarriages and various other parts of their planes.
... One of our men today who was flying for the last time before getting his commission crashed, broke both legs and smashed himself up considerably, so he won't get his commission for at least five or six months more - tough luck. ...
If I can get through the next three weeks without a crash or something else happening, I will try and get home for a couple of days about the first or second week of October. ... If I get a leave it will only be for ten days, so I don't have much time to loaf, but ten days is better than nothing.
Garbutt received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in September 1918, two months before his Thanksgiving leave in Sheridan. On January 13, 1919, an airplane piloted by Garbutt went into a tailspin and fell 5,000 before crashing near Carruthers Field. Garbutt and his passenger - the plane's mechanic - were killed instantly.
(From "In the World War")