LIFE IN FRONTIER POSTS

From:
ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.

IWIn the frontier posts the soldier found his time occupied by many duties. First of all he must be well drilled, then he must learn to be a good marksman. In the smaller posts guard mounting was the only form of ceremony, and was the main event of the day in the soldier’s life. Those going on guard spent much time getting ready, as they must clean and polish their rifles, brush their clothes, and clean their shoes. In addition to their military duties, the enlisted men often chopped the wood, repaired the buildings, and carried on most of the labor necessary to run the post. In addition to the administrative and fatigue duties, the troops were expected at a moments notice to be able to perform duties in the field. On the frontier the men were escorting, patrolling, scouting, and occasionally engaging in a campaign or expedition against the Indians.

The cavalry was often called upon to do escort duty. It might be an escort for the paymaster who visited the post every two months, or for a military train which brought supplies, or an Inspector General or Commanding General. Other escort duty was for surveyors, stages, and emigrant and freight trains. At many cavalry posts this duty was so common that it became monotonous.

The size of the escort varied from three or four men for a mail carrier to several companies for a large supply train. On the road the escort was scattered along the train to prevent surprise and stampeding the animals. If they were escorting horses, there was a constant struggle to prevent the wily savage from stealing their animals. The hour when most attacks occurred was just before dawn. It was necessary for the commander to be especially alert from this time until the train started on the march. When the Indians tried to stampede the animals, they rushed into camp flapping buffalo robes, dragging hardened hides behind their ponies, and yelling in a most weird fashion. If the herd guard was alert, very little damage was usually done, but sometimes the savages succeeded in driving off all or part of the horses or mules.

In patrolling, the troops marched back and forth along the routes of travel, keeping them open. This work was more interesting to the soldiers, as they were not tied down to a wagon train. Usually the presence of troops along a road prevented Indians from committing hostile acts. This work gave the soldiers more opportunity for fighting Indians, hunting buffaloes, and other adventures.

Scouting parties were continually in the field to keep in touch with hostile Indians, and to attack small bands of them. The main object of the scouting parties was to seek out the Indian villages and attack them in order to force the warriors to stay at home instead of raiding the white settlements. These troops usually stayed out all summer. In addition to serving to check the Indians, this policy also hardened and trained the troops for war, and broke the monotony of frontier post life.

In campaigns much latitude was allowed the trooper in the amount of equipment he was allowed to carry. He was armed with the carbine, pistol, and saber, and carried about a hundred rounds of rifle and ten rounds of pistol ammunition. There was a lariat and picket pin to tether the animal when he grazed at night. The soldier also carried an overcoat, two blankets, and a shelter tent in cold weather. He had a canteen for water and a haversack for food. He was generally allowed to carry extra articles, such as a frying pan, tin cup, and butcher knife.

On the march the staple articles of food were coffee, bacon, and hard bread. If the train arrived at camp the men might have such articles as onions, potatoes, beans, dried apples or peaches, and flour for fresh bread. Often, when conditions such as the proximity of the enemy permitted, fresh meat was obtained by hunting. This consisted of buffalo, venison, and smaller game, which generally abounded on the frontier.

On the march there was little protection for the soldiers in inclement weather, either from rain, hail, or snow. While in hostile country, they were not permitted to build fires or to make unnecessary noises. In winter campaign the cold caused great suffering to both men and animals. Often it was necessary for the troopers, after marching all day, to stand on their feet all night, for fear of freezing to death if they lay down. The poor animals stood on the picket lines without covering, and suffered intensely, often uttering during the night melancholy moans.

But not all marches were made in cold or inclement weather. When the air was warm and the sky clear, the men often lay awake at night looking up at the heavens, and talking in low tones, while they enjoyed the inspiring spectacle of the starry sky far from human habitation. And when conditions would permit, they sometimes sat about camp fires singing songs and telling stories. There was undoubtedly a fascination to the soldier’s life along with its heartaches and woes.

In January, 1870, the regiment was located as follows:

Regimental Headquarters, Band, and Companies A, B, C, E, I, K, M; Omaha Barracks, Neb.
Company D; Fort Bridger, Wyo.
Companies F, G, H, L; Fort Ellis, Mont.

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