Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sex and the Single Soldier

To quote Kevin Adams, “Sex may well have surpassed drinking as the most popular leisure pursuit for enlisted men on the frontier.”

The army veteran of the time, Reginald Bradley said, “You take a young fellow of 22 or 23, and he’ll always be thinking about where he can get a drink of beer, or a girl. The first item on the menu was filled by saloons, post traders, or the nearest town. Prostitutes filled the second, and no fort in the frontier was without prostitutes nearby. Mostly at hog ranches, which usually consisted of ramshackle buildings that housed dance halls, saloons, gambling joints, and soon. Adams says “lights out” at the typical frontier fort came at 9 p.m., which gave the rank and file soldier plenty of time to get off to the hog ranch, get his fill or whatever, and be back before reveille. I quote: “Not surprisingly, venereal disease was one of the top two reasons for medical discharge in the United States Army every year between 1877 and 1889.”

Calamity Jane
was on the line for a while,
they say.
 The book Class and Race in the Frontier Army kind of blames the rash of venereal disease among enlisted men on the all-male environment, and the increasingly stratified society of the late 19th century. Specifically: “While bourgeois Americans enjoyed a gender system that celebrated companionate (if not egalitarian) marriage and domestic life, working-class Americans struggled to fashion viable households in an era of economic turmoil. Men who lived on the margins of the working class fared even worse, shunted into transient jobs and homosocial environments such as logging, mining, and cowboy camps. Like those men, soldiers lived within a class structure that promoted a masculine form of gendered oppression.”

OK. So the ranks had a hard time making families that endured, it was doubly hard for those of color, male and female. Thus, white soldiers found that their status as white men provided them access to women who were particularly vulnerable.

Poverty kept men too poor to have families. Women didn’t have job skills other than domestic ones. There were far more men than women around a military camp. Thus, in addition to prostitutes, soldiers often consorted with working class white women, and of course those of color.

Troop K, 1st Cav.
Here is a case in point, taken from Adams’s book.

Private Patrick Moriarty of the 9th Infantry was charged at Fort McPherson, Nebraska, with attempted rape for assault upon Mrs. Thomas Bock, laundress of Company A, 9th Infantry. Testimony of witnesses conflicted, but both sides agreed that Mrs. Boch was known to have consorted with drunken enlisted men. The prosecution argued that her miserable drunken husband was to blame, because he often had other miserable drunkards like the “prisoner” over to his house for the purpose of drinking.

Private Moriarty claimed he was far from the only soldier to have become intimate with Mrs. Boch, and it was only after her sister caught the two in the act that the cry of rape was raised. Defense witnesses said they had seen the prisoner frequently put his arms around her, and also several men in the company do the same when over there drinking. They also said they had seen Mrs. Boch in company with prostitutes in North Platte, and that they heard her husband, a private in the same regiment as Moriarty, call his wife a “whore.”

Moriarty was convicted of assault and unlawful entry, but acquitted of intent to commit rape. No one on either side ever observed that Mrs. Boch’s status in the army left her vulnerable to such assaults. And Adams notes: “Indian, Mexican, and black women were even more liable to experience sexual exploitation than working-class white women.”

Crib girls were not known
for fancy quarters
Witness the case of an Indian girl named Julia, employed as a servant by an officer of the 11th Infantry. A certain Thomas Vanstan entered her tent without invitation and assaulted her without cause or provocation and with the intent of committing rape. Vanstan’s defense was that “such liasons were common among enlisted men, and that he intended to ask Julia to a dance, not to assault her. He said also that his advances were “not unwelcome.”

Adams writes: “Vanstan’s defense worked: he was acquitted of attempted rape. He pled guilty to assault and entry into Julia’s tent ‘without authority.’ Vanstan’s main offense was not the act itself, but that he failed to ask permission first. That his approach was more troubling than his actions is a compelling indication that even though white enlisted men lived on the margins of American society, they retained significant power over nonwhite women on the frontier.”

Enlisted men had it hard in the frontier army, but any women within his grasp had it worse.

Just released from Western Fictioneers. 
About Commodore Perry Owens.


  1. Ah, the good old days,

    When I lived outside Cripple Creek a line of cribs was stull standing, used for storage in our more enlightened time. They were tiny and must have been depressing. The girls lived there full time, winter and summer.

  2. This series has been most enlightening. While women were making progess socially, it appears it was not quickly enough. Society always seems to have a need for an underdog and even the underdogs have those who they consider below them. Appreciate your sharing. Doris