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Kansas Historical Quarterly - Supplying the Frontier Military Posts

by Raymond L. Welty

May 1938 (Vol. VII, No. 2), pages 154 to 169
Transcribed by Larry E. & Carolyn L. Mix; HTML editing by Tod Roberts;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets refer to endnotes for this text.

THE efficiency of the frontier army which averaged about 20,000 men in the period 1855-1875 depended on the food, clothing, ammunition, forage, shelter, livestock and other supplies furnished by the government. The frontier military post, usually at some distance from the settled areas, was almost solely dependent upon supplies brought from a great distance. Gen. W. T. Sherman Reported in 1869:

If the army could be concentrated and quartered in the region of supplies, the expenses could be kept down to a comparatively small sum; or if we had, as in former years, a single line of frontier a little in advance of the settlements, the same or similar would be the result; but now, from the nature of the case, our troops are scattered by companies to posts in the most inhospitable parts of the continent, to which every article of food, forage, clothing, ammunition, &c., must be hauled in wagons hundreds of miles at great cost. For the same reason this department [quartermaster] is heavily taxed by the cost of fuel and materials for making huts, sometimes at a distance of one or two hundred miles from a place where a growing twig as large as a walking stick can be found.

While the pay and allowances of a soldier remain the same in all parts of the country, the cost of his maintenance in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska, is two and three times as great as on the Kansas and Nebraska frontier. [1]

The military stores were usually purchased from the large markets. Clothing, blankets and other quartermaster supplies were purchased in the East, or on the Pacific coast, and then were shipped to the numerous depots and posts. Large quantities of grain, hay, lumber, wood and commissary supplies were bought from the local markets near the posts, if they could be procured more economically. [2]

Many military authorities agreed with Gen. John Pope who condemned the practice of making contracts for military stores at a great distance from the posts to be supplied. The objections to this method were that the officers in charge of letting the contract were totally unacquainted, in many cases, with the resources, people, manner of doing business, prices, or anything else in the districts to be supplied, and were without experience or knowledge of the peculiar service on the frontier. All these factors resulted in unnecessary and additional expense, and the needs of the service were not satisfactorily met. [3]

Several depots were established on the frontier from which its dependent military posts were supplied. Fort Leavenworth was the great supply depot for the posts on the Plains and along the Missouri river. [4]

Fort Vancouver on the Columbia river and San Francisco served a similar function for the posts in their respective regions. The posts in the territory of Arizona, as a rule, received their supplies from San Francisco. In addition to the great supply depots there were minor depots located on the important routes of communication, as Fort Union in the territory of New Mexico, Cheyenne, Denver and Walla Walla. [5] These depots supplied the nearby posts with the necessary military stores. It was necessary to keep large stocks on hand so that in case of delay in shipments, campaigns or expeditions need not be postponed. [6]

The vast majority of the army stores were transported by contractors to the various depots established on the great routes of overland travel. These contractors or freighting companies were the merchants of the overland trade. [7] The freighting companies carried on a great amount of business, not only by carrying government freight, but also private freight. The Russell, Majors & Waddell company at one time had 6,250 wagons and 75,000 oxen engaged in freighting. [8] The height of the freighting business on the Plains was from 1863 to 1866. Between May and November, 1864, sixty-three million pounds of freight were carried over the Plains and in 1865 about two hundred twenty-four million pounds. [9] This freight was carried in large strongly built wagons capable of carrying three or four tons over rough roads. The "J. Murphy wagons" were commonly used. The large room-like wagon boxes were covered with two heavy canvas sheets to protect the merchandise from the rain. Each wagon was drawn by several yoke of oxen in charge of one driver. Twenty-five wagons made a train and were in charge of a wagon master and an assistant. At night the wagons were arranged in a rough circle to form a corral for the stock, which prevented it from being stolen by raiding Indians, and also made a rude fortress in case of an Indian attack. [10]

The quartermaster department of the army made all the contracts for transportation. Bids were received for the transportation of 100 pounds of goods over a certain route at a certain rate per 100 miles. The transportation of supplies from the army depots to many of the larger and more permanent posts was more economical and satisfactory when done by contractors than by the use of military trains. [11] The contractors generally used ox teams on the Plains because there was less danger of stampedes from thieving Indians (for the Indians did not care for oxen), and the oxen were better able to subsist on grass alone than mules or horses.

To illustrate the vast amount of transportation required for the army on the frontier a few statistics will be of interest. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 1865, the cost for the transportation of supplies to the posts along the Overland trail to Utah, the territory of New Mexico and on the Santa Fe trail was $6,187,526 by contract, and the cost by government trains $201,300, making a total of $6,388,856. [12] In 1866 the rates for transportation per 100 pounds per 100 miles ranged from $1.38 for Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico posts to $1.79 for posts in the territory of Arizona and western Texas. The amount transported was 40,774 tons at a cost of $3,314,495. [13]

The rates for wagon transportation between the years 1867 to 1870 ranged from $1 to $4 per 100 pounds per 100 miles. The difference in the rates varied according to the time of year, the distance the stores had to be transported, the route, and the quantity. The volume of stores transported and the cost for the transportation were 22,645 tons in 1868 at a cost of $2,530,591; 27,316 tons of freight and 3,839 persons in 1869 at a cost of $1,673,508; and in 1870, freight to the amount of 19,441 tons and 1,934 persons were transported at a cost of $1,036,803. [14]

The completion of the Pacific railroads in 1868 diminished the cost of wagon transportation. The posts north and south of the railroads were supplied by wagons on the trails leading from the nearest stations. But the cost of transportation in the territory of Arizona was enormous. In 1869, because of the expense of transportation, a barrel of flour bought in San Francisco for $5 was worth $25 at Camp Goodwin in the territory of Arizona. The cost of feeding one soldier in that territory was five times as much as in San Francisco. The army of 2,100 troops, with their 3,300 horses and mules, in the territory of Arizona in one year cost the government $3,000,000. [15]

The principal posts maintained military trains to meet emergencies such as the failure of the contractor to fulfill his contract, and to accompany marching bodies of troops. [16] In the mountain regions, especially in Arizona, owing to the lack of facilities by contractors and the great cost of transportation over the mountainous trails, the army used their own trains in transporting supplies to many of their outlying posts. [17]

The amount of goods carried by the government trains from the railroads or centers of supply to depots far out on the frontier was comparatively small. During the fiscal year ending 1865, the military trains transported about three percent of all the military stores at a cost of $201,330 compared to $6,187,526 for private companies. [18]

The army used mules instead of oxen for its trains. The number of mules to a wagon was either four or six. The driver rode the near-wheel mule and guided the six mules with a single jerk line which divided over the shoulders of the lead or pilot mule and fastened to the bit on either side of his mouth. The leaders were separated by a jockey stick about five feet long. One jerk of the line caused the pilot to turn to the left, pulling his mate with him and guiding the teams behind; two jerks meant to the right and the pilot mule pushed his mate accordingly. The mules soon became trained and the ponderous wagon and its six mules were easily guided. "The most spirited mules," wrote Mrs. Elizabeth Custer, "are selected from the train for leaders. They cannot be reached by the whip, and the driver must rely upon the emphasis he puts into his voice to incite them to effort." [19]

The teamsters were commonly civilians, sometimes Mexicans, but usually frontiersmen. They received a definite wage; about a dollar a day and board was customary. If enlisted men were detailed as teamsters they received twenty cents per day extra pay. As a rule the quartermaster department preferred the civilian teamster, as lie knew the work better and took better care of the mules and equipment, so that there was less apt to be extra cost for breakage and delay. The soldier seldom enlisted to be a teamster, and if forced to be one his dissatisfaction resulted in inefficient work, and also tempted him to desert and sell the government property in his charge. The mules would furnish the deserter means of transportation for escaping. [20]

The drivers or teamsters usually took great pride in their mules and decorated their bridles with fox or small coyote tails and other marks of distinction that they could afford. The mules' tails were clipped and shaved in accordance to all the rules of mule-dudeism. [21] Mrs. Custer makes the following comment on the army mule teams and their drivers:

The old reliability of a mule-team is the off-wheeler. It is his leathery sides that can be most readily reached by the whip called a "black-snake," and when the descent is made into a stream with muddy bed, the cut is given to this faithful beast, and on his powerful muscles depends the wrench that jerks the old schooner out of a slough. The nigh or saddle mule does his part in such an emergency, but he soon reasons that, because he carries the driver, not much more is expected of him. [22]

But sometimes the off-wheeler failed, and then:

The soldiers may be directed to "man the wheels," and after fifty are tugging at the ropes that are fastened to the axles, calling out "Heave ho!" as sailors do at each new struggle, the teamster's voice rise above all in invectives that are startling to every one except the mules. [23]

The stage was used by the army for the transportation of persons, mail, and to a slight degree in times of emergency for munitions or other absolutely necessary articles. In 1870 only 820 persons and fifty-six tons of freight were carried by stage, at a cost of $49,192. [24] In 1868 the quartermaster general Reported that $33,110 had been paid for the transportation of 919 troops by stages during the fiscal year. [25]

Pack-mules were used to a considerable extent in the mountainous regions. They could accompany the troops on scouts and expeditions where it was almost impossible for wagons to go because of the lack of good trails. To wage war successfully against the Indians the troops had to adopt many of the methods and ways of the savage. Rapid transportation was one of the essentials for effective service. The pack-mules were only used for such work, and never for the transportation of supplies to the depots or regular posts. The troops were not so skillful as the Mexicans in managing pack trains, with the result that many animals were ruined because of sore backs. [26]

The Missouri, the Columbia and the Colorado rivers were used for transporting military stores to the army posts. The posts along the Missouri were supplied by steamboat, and many of the interior posts received their stores from the posts along the Missouri river. [27] The Columbia river afforded assistance in transporting goods to the inland posts of Oregon and the territory of Idaho. The development of steamboating on the Columbia reduced the cost as well as the time in moving stores to the posts on the tributaries of that river. [28] The lower Colorado river was used as an approach to the Arizona posts and also to supply Fort Yuma and Fort Mojave directly. [29]

The completion of the Union Pacific, the Kansas Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads furnished an artery for transporting military supplies through the heart of the Indian country. By 1870 it was easier to transport supplies to the most remote point in the territory of New Mexico than it had been to Fort Union in that territory before the construction of the Pacific railroads. [30]

The Union Pacific and the Kansas Pacific railroads, between June 30, 1867, and September 30, 1868, transported for the War Department 36,347 tons of munitions and 13,810 persons for $1,601,931. [31] In 1869 the Pacific railroads transported for the War Department 28,738 tons of material and 18,536 persons at a cost of $933,166. [32] In 1870, 17,472 tons of supplies and 13,642 persons were carried by these railroads for $882,235. [33] The rates over these railroads were about twice as high as over the railroads east of the Mississippi river. [34]

The establishment of a military post in a region created a market for grains, horses, mules and cattle. The result was, if the Indian danger was not too great and suitable lands could be obtained, that small settlements of farmers and ranchers would spring up, depending upon the post for a market. Some settlers near the military posts desired Indian wars because the military authorities would need supplies in abundance which would create a market for their products. [35]

An illustration of the military posts supporting the surrounding settlements was the case of Fort Stanton in the territory of New Mexico. The post was established in 1855 to protect the Rio Grande settlements and to encourage large settlements near it. Neither purpose was fulfilled, for the post was too far away for this protection and only about 1,200 people settled near the post. The distance from other markets made the fort the sole market for the settlers. General Pope in his Report for 1870 makes the following comment on this situation:

So far from being self-sustaining, the settlers could sell nothing except to the post, and if it goes they must go also, and that entirely irrespective of Indians.

Whether it be the purpose of the government to keep up a large post in so remote a place and at such enormous expense for such a purpose I do not know, but, speaking in a military view, Fort Stanton is wholly unnecessary. There were no settlers when the post was established, and the few now there must have gone at their own risk and with full knowledge, from all experience, that the post was, of necessity, temporary. They exist now merely by trade with the post, and it seems rather absurd that a military post, once established, must be forever kept up for the protection of a few settlers who live by trading with it. The removal of the garrison, however, (as, indeed, of any other,) will occasion loud outcry and endless petitions and representations. Once establish a post and it seems nearly impossible, without infinite clamor and objection, ever to remove it. [36]

The military authorities encouraged the opening of farms and ranches near the posts. These ranches and farms supplied cattle and grain &emdash; and what was more desirable, fresh vegetables. But as in the illustration given above, the post often became the sole support of the settlers and the only reason for its existence. The numerous posts in Arizona were to a large extent in this situation. According to Gen. E. O. C. Ord, the only paying business in that territory in the late 1860's was supplying the troops. If the paymasters and quartermasters had stopped their payments the great majority of the white settlers would have been compelled to leave. In this territory active operations were largely carried on to protect the inhabitants who were there because of the army. [37]

The soldier's usefulness depended to a large degree upon his health. The free open life of the army tended to take care of his physical condition if his food was wholesome. Under the best conditions the rationing of an army is a difficult problem and it increases in proportion to the distance the troops are stationed away from sources of supply.

The subsisting of the army was under the general control of the commissary department. It was the duty of this department to purchase the subsistence stores. The principal articles of the ration of the soldiers were pork, bacon, beef, flour, beans, and other articles of farm produce. These were purchased by the commissary as near the points of consumption as possible, which not only secured fresher supplies and lessened the expense of transportation, but also built up frontier farming, trade and even manufacturing. [38]

The army ration is the established daily allowance of food for one person. The ration was fixed by the army regulations as follows:

Twelve ounces of pork or bacon, or canned beef (fresh or corned), or one pound and four ounces of fresh beef, or twenty-two ounces of salt beef; eighteen ounces of soft bread or flour, or sixteen ounces of hard bread, or one pound and four ounces of corn meal; and to have, every one hundred rations, fifteen pounds of pease or beans, or ten pounds of rice or hominy; ten pounds of green coffee, or eight of roasted (or roasted and ground) coffee, or two pounds of tea; fifteen pounds of sugar, four quarts of vinegar; four pounds of soap; four pounds of salt; four ounces of pepper; one pound and eight ounces of adamantine or star candles; and to troops in the field, when necessary, four pounds of yeast powder to one hundred rations of flour. [39]

This ration was so large that if the food was wholesome and supplied in full the soldier fared very well. [40] In many cases in the permanent posts the companies were more than able to maintain their mess on the rations issued. The surplus was used to purchase extra articles for their mess, or applied to the company fund to be expended for the benefit of the company.

However, in the frontier posts the common ration was salt pork, beans, hard bread and coffee. Fortunately, at most of the posts the soldier obtained a salutary change from his ration of salt pork to fresh meat by means of the chase. [41]

The commissary department tried to obtain its supplies near the points of consumption. This was almost impossible. Horace Greeley wrote that in 1859 he saw only 500 acres of land cultivated (and that was by Mormons near Fort Bridger, territory of Utah), between the forks of the Platte river on the east, Salt Lake basin on the west, New Mexico settlements on the south, and the Yellowstone river on the north. Yet in the radius, he wrote:

are included several military posts at which every bushel of grain consumed costs an average of $5, while potatoes and other edible roots would command nearly as good prices, could they be had. There are herdsmen at intervals throughout all this region who have each their hundreds of heads of cattle, but who hardly know the taste of a potato or turnip, who have never planted nor sowed an acre, and never contemplated the possibility of growing an apple or cherry, though they expect to live and die in this region. I trust, therefore, that the Fort Bridger enterprise will succeed, and that it will incite to like experiments in the vicinity of each wilderness post. The present enormous cost of our military service in this immense desert may thus be slightly compensated by proving the great desert not absolutely worthless, and creating a basis of civilization for its rude, nomadic, lawless, but hardy, bold and energetic pioneer. [42]

The condition Reported by Greeley had been changed by 1868. These regions were supplying the army posts to a large degree. The depot for subsistence at Cheyenne which supplied Forts D. A. Russell, Fetterman, and Laramie with fresh vegetables secured them from the farmers in the territory of Colorado. Four hundred fifty thousand pounds of fresh vegetables were contracted for at Cheyenne at the following prices per pound: Onions 4 3/4 cents, potatoes 2 1/2 cents, beets 2 1/4 cents, and turnips 2 cents. [43]

The common method, and in fact the only practical method, for supplying fresh beef to the army posts on the frontier was to purchase cattle on the hoof and graze and feed them at the posts, killing them for beef when needed. [44] The staple subsistence stores, however, were largely purchased in the large market cities such as St. Paul, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis and New Orleans. The average cost for a completed ration for the years of 1867, 1868 and 1869 was about 23 cents in currency. [45] This cost did not include the expense of transportation which in many cases increased the cost of a ration delivered at the place of consumption several times the original price.

However, the expense for subsistence was a comparatively small item in the expense of the army on the frontier. To illustrate: During the years 1864 and 1865 the government expended $30,530,942 to suppress the Indian hostilities on the Plains. Of this amount the sum of $515,248.20 was spent by the subsistence department, while the paymaster department spent $1,641,466.73 and the quartermaster department $28,374,228. [46] In the case of the posts in the territories of Arizona and New Mexico for the years 1865, 1866 and 1867 the total expenditures for subsistence was about $I,900,000, in comparison to over $12,500,000 for the other expenses of the army. [47]

Although the quantity of subsistence supplied the army was sufficient its quality was too often below standard. Mrs. Custer wrote:

None of the posts at that time [1867] were provided with decent food &emdash; that is, none beyond the railroad. . . . The bacon issued to the soldiers was not only rancid, but was supplied by dishonest contractors, who slipped in any foreign substance they could, to make the weight come up to the required amount; and thus the soldiers were cheated out of the quantity due them, as well as imposed upon in the quality of rations. . . . [I] saw a flat stone, the size of the slices of bacon as they were packed together, sandwiched between the layers. . . . The supplies provided for the consumption of those troops operating in the field or stationed at the posts had been sent out during the war [Civil War]. It was then 1867, and they had lain in the poor, ill-protected adobe or dug-out storehouse all the intervening time &emdash; more than two years. At Forts Wallace and Hays there were no storehouses, and the flour and bacon were only protected by tarpaulins. Both became rancid and moldy, and were at the mercy of the rats and mice. [48]

However, later some improvements were made in the quality and the variety of the rations. An opportunity was also provided for the sale of additional articles of food not included in the ration. General Sherman in 1869 very optimistically Reported that the army was supplied with good healthful food and &emdash;

at all the posts are kept supplies of articles not embraced in the ration, for sale to the companies and the officers' families at a price sufficient to reimburse the department. This obviates the necessity for sutlers, which are now prohibited by law, except as mere traders, having no lien whatever on the soldier's pay. [49]

These issues were made to the troops by line officers, who were styled acting commissaries of subsistence and received an extra $20 per month less the value of a ration. [50] Gen. E. O. C. Ord, commanding the Department of California, Reported in 1869 that the additional comforts of better quarters and especially the improvement of the soldiers' rations by the addition of fresh vegetables and canned fruits and vegetables had reduced the desertions in his department over seventy-five percent. [51]

Whatever the extent of improvement, there still remained many defects in the army commissary. In the 1870's Mrs. Martha Summerhayes found that commissary supplies were not up to standard. She relates the following effort at reform:

I had a glass jar of butter sent over from the commissary, and asked Colonel Biddle [a visiting inspector] if he thought it right that such butter as that should be bought by the purchasing officer in San Francisco. It had melted, and separated into layers of dead white, deep orange and pinkish-purple colors. Thus, I too, as well as General Miles, had my turn at trying to reform the commissary department of Uncle Sam's army. [52]

Mrs. Summerhayes does not relate whether pink butter continued to be a staple article at the commissary, but she at least intimated that the commissary department was only subject to reform but not reformed.

Probably the most dreaded attack upon the health of the soldier in the frontier post was scurvy. Improper nourishment during the winter months was common at posts which were hundreds of miles away from civilization. The salt pork diet, with no vegetables, during the long winter months at the northern posts usually took its toll before summer. At Fort Lyon in the territory of Colorado the entire garrison, officers and men, on March 20, 1864, were affected with scurvy. Camp Fillmore in the same territory was also Reported in a similar condition. [53] To combat this disease fresh vegetables and fruits were necessary.

It was almost impossible, even at almost exorbitant prices, to secure a dependable supply of vegetables at many posts from the settlements hundreds of miles away. Because of this condition the military authorities encouraged the growing of vegetables near the post. Sometimes settlers would move into the vicinity but this often was impossible either because of Indian hostilities or the undesirability of the locality compared to other regions open to settlement. Another way to secure a supply was by post or company gardens. The company gardens served two purposes: First, they furnished a supply of fresh vegetables for the soldiers, which enriched their rations, and, second, the surplus could be sold and the money added to the company's mess fund.

Gen. George A. Forsyth in describing the company and post gardens wrote:

These are generally under the supervision of the post adjutant or the regimental commissary. They are located at some accessible point near the post, and each company commander details one man as company gardener, who is relieved from post guard duty while acting in that capacity. From the post fund seeds of all kinds that will mature in that locality are purchased, and in due season peas, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, beets, cucumbers, cabbages, radishes, and melons are produced in abundance. Occasionally post gardens have an oversupply of fresh vegetables, which are sold and the proceeds added to the company fund. [54]

General Forsyth's description of the post gardens is too optimistic for the years 1860 to 1870. Gen. Alfred Sully planted large gardens at Fort Rice, in the territory of Dakota, in 1865. He hoped to raise enough potatoes and other vegetables for his troops to prevent scurvy that winter, but grasshoppers came and destroyed everything. [55]

Fort Sumner was the only post in the territory of New Mexico, in 1867, to cultivate gardens. The staff and company gardens, which covered twelve acres, were irrigated. Melons, squashes, pumpkins, beets, carrots and radishes were the best crops. Some of the gardens of one acre produced from $200 to $300 worth of vegetables. However, the large farm at the Bosque Redondo for the Navajo Indians, near Fort Sumner, which was under the control of the army, was a failure because of the dryness of the season and the alleged strong alkaline properties of the soil and water. [56]

Gen. C. C. Augur, of the Department of the Platte, Reported in 1868 that gardens at the posts in his department were only partially successful. The Indian depredations required the use of the troops when the gardens should have been planted. Because of the troops changing their stations they lost interest in the gardens. Grasshoppers also destroyed the early gardens at several of the post. Even under such difficulties the gardens at Camp Douglas, near Salt Lake, produced 1,700 bushels of potatoes and thirty-five bushels of peas, and those at Fort Sanders, territory of Wyoming, 250 bushels of potatoes and large quantities of turnips, beets and other vegetables. [57]

Of the many duties of the quartermaster department of the army the purchase of all military supplies, except commissary and ordnance stores, was very important. These supplies included clothing, camp and garrison equipage, fuel, horses, forage, wagons, harness, tools and all other articles needed in the army. This department built or let the contracts for the construction of all buildings and transported all the military stores of every description used in the army. It also purchased the animals and equipment for all military trains. In other words the quartermaster furnished the supplies from the clothing on the enlisted soldier, to the flag on the flagstaff, or from the kettles in the mess kitchen to the mowing machines used for cutting the hay for the post.

With such a vast amount and variety of work in this department there no doubt were many mistakes because of the lack of experience or information on the part of many quartermaster officers. But in addition there must have been an enormous amount of grafting and corruption. This phase cannot be gone into in detail and it suffices at this place to state that the low morale of the public service during and after the Civil War was as conspicuous on the frontier as in any part of the country, and was as well rooted in the quartermaster department as in any public service. General Babcock Reported in 1866 that General Dodge claimed most of the difficulties with his command on the Plains arose from the independent position of the staff departments, particularly the quartermaster department, and after his inspection he thought the statement was well founded. [58] The importance of the quartermaster department is shown by the amount of money expended by it on the frontier. In 1864 and 1865, in suppressing the Indian hostilities, $28,374,328 out of the $30,500,942 of the total expenses were spent by the quartermaster department. [59] This was an extraordinary proportion and has all the signs of graft. An inspection in 1866 showed that at Fort Sedgwick alone there were enough rations, transported there the year before, to last the garrison twelve years, and the grain for the animals (which had cost $2.60 a bushel more than it could have been bought at that time) was enough to last fifteen months. [60] A more moderate illustration would be the expenses in the territory of New Mexico for the army for the years 1865, 1866, and 1867. The quartermaster department expended $8,122,610 in comparison to $3,338,798 expended by the other departments. [61]

The army on the frontier was, during the first few years of this decade, armed with muzzle-loading arms, but later they were armed with breech-loading arms. The Springfield rifle muskets were converted into breech loaders, and by 1867 nearly all the infantry troops serving in the departments of the Platte and the Missouri were armed with them. [62] Gen. P. St. George Cooke, of the Department of the Platte, Reported in 1866 that a cattle guard had refused to fire on attacking Indians because their guns were muzzle-loading arms, and if they fired a volley they would be at the mercy of the Indians, who had revolvers and better rifles than the soldiers. Even the cavalry were without revolvers. He also Reported that breechloading arms were a necessity in fighting the Indians. [63] The troops for frontier service should have been mounted and armed with repeating rifles without bayonets. It was also a difficult problem in 1866 to furnish the troops the proper ammunition, for the arms used were not all of the same caliber. [64]

The fuel used by the frontier posts was wood, which was cut, usually, by the soldiers at the posts if an available source of supply was near. [65] However, at many posts contracts were let for cord wood. Sherman in 1866 found that in 1865 the wood for fuel at Fort Sedgwick in the territory of Nebraska had cost $111 per cord delivered and that even for 1867 the contract called for $46 per cord. The reason for the extremely high price was that everything at that post except sand and water had to be hauled from 100 to 400 miles. [66] In 1870 there were issued in the entire army 125,762 cords of wood and 27,118 tons of Coal. [67]

The soldier on the frontier, to be effective, needed to be mounted. Because of this many of the infantry companies were mounted. In addition to horses for mounting troops a large number of mules were used by the quartermaster department. The number of animals used in the army June 30, 1868, was 9,433 cavalry horses, 749 artillery horses, 17,866 mules and 211 oxen for the military trains, and 1,808 officers' horses. [68] In 1869 there were in the service 8,232 horses, 16,670 mules and 161 work oxen; and in 1870 8,225 horses, 14,968 mules and 155 work oxen. [69] The vast majority of these animals were at the frontier posts where practically all the military trains were located.

The type of horse needed for the heavy work of campaigning on the frontier was hard to obtain. The native horses in Texas were not suitable for the hard service. A good grade of horses imported from Virginia, Kentucky and the northern states was more serviceable than the native stock. These imported horses were acclimated for one year before they were used in hard service. The quartermaster department recommended the establishment of breeding ranches in Texas and other Western states in order to obtain satisfactory remounts. [70] The average cost for these horses and mules was about $140. [71]

The government lost a large number of horses on the frontier. Gen. O. E. Babcock Reported in 1866:

I found all through the territories, where I inspected, a great many animals, horses and mules, with brand "U. S." Many of these animals undoubtedly belong to the United States, while many have been bought honestly, or at least honestly on the part of the purchaser. The animals sold to citizens have seldom been so branded, nor has there been a bill of sale given in each case. [72]

Grain for the animals was purchased at the nearest available markets. Hay was usually procured by the labor of troops near the posts, but if the garrisons were not strong enough or if they were engaged in scouting or erecting posts, local contracts were made to provide for a necessary supply. [73] General Dodge in 1865 sent mowing machines to the posts in his department, where the cost of hay was $20 to $50 per ton by contract, in order to reduce the expense by having the troops cut the hay needed. [74] During the fiscal year ending 1869 the issues of grain, forage and straw to the army on the frontier, including all the state of Texas, were: 1,239,000 bushels of corn, 160,000 bushels of barley, 714,000 bushels of oats, 57,000 tons of hay and 1,115 tons of straw. [75]

Corruption, graft, and inefficiency were common in the army. The extent to which it affected the army on the frontier cannot be estimated. The fact that the army was poorly supplied in the quartermaster, commissary and ordnance stores was due either to corruption or "red tape." When the corruption took only the form of excessive rates of transportation or high prices it did not so materially affect the efficiency and morale of the army as it did when it involved also an inferior quality of goods such as rotten blankets and spoiled food. [76] The taxpayers were in both cases paying the high bill but in the latter case there was also an injustice done to the soldiers.

"Red tape" reduced the efficiency of the army on the frontier more than it did in the more settled regions. If requisitions for supplies were not sent out at the regular times they might be delayed until the next year. For example, if a requisition for ammunition was sent from an outlying post on the frontier to the regular depot of supplies in the East and it was not filled because of delays, the shipment might miss the annual wagon train that supplied the post. If such was the case the post would be without these supplies for months, if not a year, unless it was supplied at additional expense by a special train. The minute regulations of the administrative system failed in the practical work of the army on the frontier. Emergencies arose at any point and at any time. To meet them successfully required definite and rapid execution of all activities. The "red tape" system prevented this. The success of the army on the frontier to a large extent depended upon freedom of action by the commanding officers. The minute regulations were intended to insure economy in administration but, they defeated that purpose by increasing the cost of maintaining the army through waste and inefficiency. [77]


Raymond L. Welty is assistant professor of history at Fort Hays Kansas State College at Hays.

1. Report of the Secretary of War, 1869, v. I, pp. 30-31.
2. Ibid., 1866, p. 4.
3. Ibid., p. 29.
4. House Executive Documents, No. 45, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 8-9.
5. Ibid., pp. 40-48; ibid., No. 20, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 3-4, 11; Secretary of War, Report, 1869, v. I, p. 442.
6. For an illustration see ibid., 1867, v. 1, p. 60.
7. Ibid., 1865, v. I, p. 112.
8. Paxson, Frederic L., The Last American Frontier (New York, 1910), pp. 190-191, quoting Frank A. Root's The Overland Stage to California (Topeka, 1901), p. 308; Lummis, Charles F., "Pioneer Transportation in America," McClure's Magazine, v. XXVI (October, 1905), P. 85.
9. Report of Lt. Col. J. H. Simpson in Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1865, p. 885; Fite, Emerson David, Social and Industrial Conditions in the North During the Civil War (New York, 1910), pp. 36-39.
10. For descriptions of overland freight trains see Majors, Alexander, Seventy Years on the Frontier (Denver, 1893), pp. 102-105; Inman and Cody, The Great Salt Lake Trail (New York, 1898), pp. 388-389.
11. Secretary of War, Report, 1866, appendix, pp. 57-58.
12. Ibid., 1865, v. I, pp. 113-114.
13. Ibid., 1866, "Report of Quartermaster General," pp. 57-58.
14. Ibid., 1867, v. I, pp. 533-534; ibid., 1868, v. I, p. 830; ibid., 1869, v. I, p. 216; ibid., 1870, p. 152.
15. Ibid., 1869, v. I, p. 124.
16. Ibid., 1866, "Report of the Quartermaster General," p. 57. Custer had 800 six-mule wagons in his military train for the campaign of 1868-1869. &emdash; Lummis, loc. cit., p. 85.
17. Secretary of War, Report, 1866, "Report of the Quartermaster General," p. 58.
18. Ibid., 1865, v. 1, pp. 113-114. For descriptions of army wagon trains see Custer, Elizabeth B., Tenting on the Plains (New York, 1903), pp. 223-227.
19. Ibid., p. 224.
20. Secretary of War, Report, 1868, pp. 61-62.
21. Custer, Tenting on the Plains, pp. 224-225.
22. Ibid., p. 225.
23. Custer, Elizabeth B., Following the Guidon (New York, 1890), p. 78.
24. Secretary of War, Report, 1870, p. 152.
25. Ibid., 1868, v. I, p. 830.
26. Ibid., 1870, p. 152.
27. Welty, R. L., "The Frontier Army on the Missouri River," North Dakota Historical Quarterly, v. II, pp. 85-99.
28. Secretary of War, Report, 1866, "Report of Quartermaster General," p. 58.
29. Summerhayes, Martha, Vanished Arizona (Philadelphia, 1908), passim. Gives an account of the Arizona posts in the 1870's.
30. Secretary of War, Report, 1870, p. 17.
31. Ibid., 1868, v. I, p. 810.
32. Ibid., 1869, v. I, p. 212.
33. Ibid., 1870, p. 151.
34. Senate Executive Documents, No. 26, 40 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 1.
35. See letter of General Sherman in ibid., No. 13, 40 Cong., 1 Sess., pp. 3-4.
36. Secretary of War, Report, 1870, pp. 15-16.
37. Ibid., 1869, v. I, pp. 124-126.
38. Ibid., 1870, p. 265.
39. Custer, Following the Guidon, p. 205; Cf. Revised Regulations For the Army of the United States, 1861 (Philadelphia, 1861), p. 243.
40. Custer, Following the Guidon, p. 230.
41. Ibid., pp. 204-205, 241-246.
42. Greeley, Horace, An Overland Journey From New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 (New York, 1860), p. 199.
43. Secretary of War, Report, 1868, v. I, pp. 966, 971. For a description of desiccated vegetables which were used in the army see Ostrander, Olsen B., An Army Boy of the Sixties (New York, 1924), p. 150.
44. Secretary of War, Report, 1860, p. 237.
45. Ibid., 1867, v. I, pp. 576-577; ibid., 1868, pp. 959-961; ibid., 1869, p. 410.
46. House Executive Documents, No. 5, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 1.
47. Senate Executive Documents, No. 74, 40 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 1-2.
48. Custer, Tenting on the Plains, pp. 393-394; Cf. Ostrander, An Army Boy of the Sixties, pp. 134-135.
49. Secretary of War, Report, 1869, v. I, p. 31.
50. Ibid.
51. Ibid., p. 125.
52. Summerhayes, Vanished Arizona, p. 206.
53. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Ser. I, v. XXXIV, Pt. II, pp. 670-671.
54. Forsyth, George A., The Soldier (New York, 1908), pp. 97-98.
55. Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1865, pp. 204-205.
56. House Executive Documents, No. 248, 40 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 2-8.
57. Secretary of War, Report, 1868, v. I, pp. 23, 972.
58. House Executive Documents, No. 20, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 2; Cf. Stanley, Henry M., My Early Travels and Adventures (New York, 1895), v. I, p. 84.
59. House Executive Documents, No. 5, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 1-2.
60. Ibid., No. 45, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 32. Wood was bought at this post for $109 a cord. &emdash; Cf. Ibid., No. 20, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 2.
61. Senate Executive Documents, No. 74, 40 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 1-2.
62. Secretary of War, Report, 1867, v. 1, p. 609.
63. Senate Executive Documents, No. 13, 40 Cong., 1 Sess., pp. 29-30.
64. House Executive Documents, No. 20, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 14.
65. Secretary of War, Report, 1866, appendix, p. 59.
66. House Executive Document, No. 23, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 7.
67. Secretary of War, Report, 1870, p. 146.
68. Ibid., 1868, pp. 812-814, 850-851. The officers owned their horses.
69. Ibid., 1870, p. 146.
70. Ibid., 1868, v. I, pp. 812-814.
71. Ibid., pp. 812-814, 850-851; ibid., 1869, v. I, p. 224; ibid., 1870, p. 245.
72. House Executive Documents, No. 20, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 15; Cf. Gen. J. F. Rusling's inspection, ibid., No. 45, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 45.
73. Secretary of War, Report, 1870, pp. 146-147.
74. The War of the Rebellion . . . Records, Ser. I, v. XLVIII, Pt. II, p. 947.
75. Secretary of War, Report, 1869, v. I, p. 223.
76. See House Executive Documents, No. 111, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 3-5, for an illustration of corruption.
77. Ibid., No. 20, 39 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 5, 13-14.