Saturday, November 1, 2014

The enlisted man’s world in the Frontier Army

Chuck Tyrell in everyday wear
We talked about officers in the frontier army as the leisure class last time. Well, what about the enlisted men?

Here you have a group of lower class (in the terms of the times) men who got paid once every four months or so. In fact, the subtitle in the book, Race and Class in the Frontier Army is—The Spatial Side of Vice: Army Paydays.

Where officers spent their leisure time in cultural activities, private spaces, or the great outdoors (hunting, for example), enlisted men were a horse of a different color. Their leisure culture focused on women, drink, food and money. As the author says: Come what may, enlisted men in the front ier army committed themselves to public drinking, fighting, whoring, and gaming. The army aided this quest by paying the troops sporadically, which meant that soldiers received a lot of money all at once.

General Crook & Scout
A private who was broke one day would have fifty dollars in his pocket the next. Plenty for a spending spree. After the pay was gone, he could always hope for a payday further on.

Money was often the subject of conversation. Men spent leisure time planning how to spend the next windfall payday. Said one soldier, “there was very little entertainment at Fort Huachuca for these men except card playing, gambling, whiskey drinking, and worse.

To the officers, payday meant rampant public drunkenness, disorder, and violence.

Descriptions of payday varied little, but the experience of payday varied greatly between officers and enlisted men. The men took any excuse to openly celebrate, regardless of the consequences. The officers, on the other hand, had to deal with the consequences.

Troopers of the 10th Infantry
Example: D Company of the 16th Infantry had to interrupt a march through Oklahoma because “over half the camp had to be under guard.” A day-long spree had caused the soldiers to behanve “in a very disorderly manner,” with “strict measures” required “to control some violent prisoners, whild others lay down and refused to move.”

When the company reached Fort Davis, they were paid again. The target of enlisted glee was a small Texas rail town that “suited them to perfection to blow it (the pay) in.” Gambling houses, dance halls, whiskey dens, and women combined to extract the hard-erned money from “our worthy comrades and fellow soldiers” with “drunks and fights serving as the order of the day.”

Every once in a while, the army would try prohibition. The general opinion was “all the officers from the General on down say that the order can’t stand, that it would be destruction of all discipline if it did not break up the army: the soldiers will have liquor and will desert to get it.”

Later on, canteens at the forts began to serve the enlisted ranks with “light” alcohol and leisure pursuits such as reading, eating wholesome lunches, using the recreation rooms and retail stores—all of which were calculated to encourage proper and calmer leisure activities.

Said the author: The boisterously disagreeable world of lower-class supervisors to produce a happier, more efficient, and less threatening workforce. The army thus served as an early example of a spirit of reform that would capture the imagination of the American middle class after the turn of the century.

Next time, we’ll talk about sex.

The first Stryker novel. Three more available here.


  1. Obviously, much better to have served as an officer. And, prohibition was a pipe-dream idea.

  2. This information gets better and better. It is a curious thing that even back then they were trying to control and fix what was not the root cause. Looking forward to the next installment. Doris

  3. Happy birthday, Charlie! This is a wonderful post. I always enjoy learning from what everyone blogs about, and this was something I had no idea about. Very interesting stuff!

  4. Great post. I enjoyed the one on officers and this one, too. Thanks!

    Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

  5. For all you girls, we'll get into sex and the single soldier next month. :-)

  6. Thanks for an interesting post, Charlie.

    The men would celebrate, no matter what the consequences! There is truth in the old adage perhaps. 'One is enough, two is too many, but three is not half enough.'


  7. I don't think there is much change today, except now marriage interferes with a lot of the carousing, at least inthe home port or camp.,