The Frontier Soldier

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It’s doubtful that the West would’ve gotten settled if not for the frontier Army. Yet it took a lot of adaptation to the harsh environment to cope long enough to do any fighting. When the west opened up, the first problem was how to outfit a frontier army. Superiors found that the challenges of the west were vastly different from what they were accustomed to east of the Mississippi.

frontier-soldiers

 

According to “Frontier Skills” by William C. Davis, the frontier soldier was issued one overcoat that was expected to last him his entire term of service and three dress coats that were supposed to have a life of twenty months. But the soldier had to get six months out of a pair of trousers and 7 ½ months for each pair of drawers.

 

Yet the commanders recognized how vital footwear was to the soldier. They allowed him twenty pairs of socks and boots, each pair that would endure just three months before wearing out. The man on the march faced hard rocks, burning sand, cactus needles, and countless other obstacles. Sore feet could take out more men than bullets and arrows. When a soldier died or was killed, the first thing they stripped from him was his boots. They were too valuable to bury with the man. Soldiers quickly learned to take extra care of his footwear because a replacement could be months away or longer if he was stuck in a remote outpost.

soldiers-boot-and-saddle

 

Equipment was just as valuable as their clothing. Here’s a list of what was issued:

 

One horse

One saddle

One canteen

A rubber coated haversack in which to keep dry rations and extra clothing

One rifle with ammunition

One Colt .44 revolver

 

To lose any equipment or supplies was tantamount to certain disaster.

 

Without transportation the soldier was afoot. Without a canteen he couldn’t carry water. Without a haversack in which to carry food he’d have a hard time filling his belly. And without a weapon and ammunition he couldn’t defend himself or anyone else.

 

Also taking the rough terrain and weather of the frontier into account, commanders relaxed their dress code, allowing soldiers cotton shirts and uniforms for service from May through September and wool and flannel for the colder months. Heatstroke was such a widespread problem that they recognized the importance of adapting, regardless of the strict uniform rules. The military couldn’t afford to lose the men they had. And they didn’t have that many new volunteers who wished to tackle the hard life of the West.

buffalosoldier

 

The astute frontier soldier quickly learned to cope. He carried a needle and thread with which to make necessary repairs to his clothing. He learned that the tops of his boots could be cut off, the leather used to repair the soles. And he discovered ways in which to supplement his diet. He hunted for game when given the opportunity, foraged for wild vegetables and fruits, and fished. 

The man who knew how to survive was extremely valuable. The soldier had to live to fight another day with whatever means he had available. . .and all for a measly $13 a month. Can you imagine? That sure wouldn’t take you far. And the regularity of that too depended on where the soldier was. Nothing was regular in the remote outposts. As to be expected, there was a high rate of desertion because of the harsh conditions.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!
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23 thoughts on “The Frontier Soldier”

  1. Good Morning Tracy,

    I find these little facts really interesting. The soldiers had an extremely hard row to hoe. No wonder the rate of desertion was so high. It certainly wasn’t for the weak of heart. Glad you enjoyed my blog.

  2. Good Morning Linda,

    This was a very interesting post. To think how hard it must have been. The soldiers really suffered. I could not imagine how hard it must have been for them. In today’s society we never think about this.

    Really interesting but your post always are.

    Melinda

  3. Hi Melinda!

    Glad you liked my blog subject. I find this sort of thing so intriguing. It always gets my imagination fired up when I run across something like this. You’re right, we never think about how difficult even the most mundane things were in the wild West. Those people had it extremely rough. But if they hadn’t paved the way, we might be here. Thanks for the compliment about my blogs. They’re fun to do.

    Have a great day!

  4. Hello Linda!

    This was an interesting blog! Nothing better than a brief history lesson-that I didnt have to hunt down myself! LOL

    A soldier’s life was most definately a very harsh one. Im sure it took really dedicated men to stick it out! I wonder what the ratio was–for how many men THOUGHT about deserting compared to how many ACTUALLY did it??

    What was the punishment for deserters if they were caught?

  5. Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for coming by. I really appreciate it and it’s always great to see you. Hope your summer is full of fun and relaxation. Guess you’re getting your daughter ready for school. It won’t be long.

    The punishment for desertion kinda varied, depending on what part of the country it was. The most harsh sentence was death by hanging if they were caught. Other times they were caught and sent to prison. Rarely was it overlooked.

  6. Hi Linda, what a great post. Again I am reminded of the strength and stamina of those Americans who went before. I am such a baby, I do not think I could have survived the challenges of the West I am so passionate about today. oxoxox

  7. Great post. Being a solider then, is not really much different today, just different hardships. Not one that I would wish on anyone. I admire those who wish to serve in any part of the military.

  8. Hi Linda, As usual this is a very interesting post. These men were so important to the settling of our country and they suffered many many hardships. I don’t think that many of us today would survive that life.

    Our soldiers today are suffering their own kinds of hardships and for that we owe them a huge thank-you.

  9. I guess soldiering has always been rough on the
    troops. Even now, what with the amount of gear
    and the out of this world temps in Iraq, and those
    nasty explosive devices!

    Unfortunately, my nephew is headed for Afghanistan
    soon on his 5th deployment since the Gulf Wars
    started. God willing, he will be back in a year
    and he will have completed his “20!”

    Pat Cochran

  10. Hi Linda!

    Fascinating post. Only one canteen issued — what for those dry prairies where the wind quickly could dehydrate you — this was very strict — no wonder they had to quickly learn how to find water.

    Pat, may God watch over your nephew.

  11. Hi Tanya, my Filly sister,

    Reading something like this sure reminds us of what our forefathers went through so that we could have the life we have today. Without frontier soldiers to keep the peace the West couldn’t have gotten settled. Man, I’d have hated to try to make do with one pair of underwear for 7 1/2 months! That’d have been awful.

  12. What a thought-provoking post, Linda. I guess soldiers have never had it easy. Recently reading about life in the trenches in WW I. Awful. And even today, our military men and women are sacrificing comfort as well as safety.
    Especially liked your comments on boots. Something I’m grateful for is living in an era where I can wear WONDERFUL shoes. I can’t imagine any of those military boots fit comfortably until they were half worn out.
    Great blog.

  13. Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Yes, our soldiers still have to face lots of challenges today, some of which is failure to get the equipment they need. Things haven’t changed a whole lot from the early days. It really makes us appreciate what they do.

  14. Hi Connie,

    Glad you enjoyed reading about some of early soldiers’ hardships. I guess they’ve always had it bad. Especially today’s modern soldier. They’re faced with countless challenges that have to be overcome in order to do their jobs. Yes, we should always remember to show our soldiers respect and tell them what a good job they’re doing.

  15. Hi Pat C.!

    I’ll pray that your nephew doesn’t come to harm while he’s serving his fifth deployment in the Gulf. I can’t even imagine how hard it is. I’m not cut out for the soldier’s life. I’m just so grateful for all they do for us. May God keep him safe.

  16. Hi Karen,

    I was shocked when I saw how little equipment and supplies the frontier soldier got. I’m sure he had to guard everything with his life. Thievery had to be a problem. If one lost theirs they probably kept an eye out for another even if it belonged to their fellow comrade.

    Glad you enjoyed my post!

  17. Hi Elizabeth,

    Yes, we’re blessed to have good footwear. I’m sure all the shoes and boots in the West killed their feet. Just imagine. I’ll bet they prayed they got broken in quickly.

    Glad you found my blog interesting.

  18. Hi Linda,
    This was such an informative post! I know one thing, when your feet hurt, everything hurts, so I’m not surprised that the boots and socks were given out in generous supply to keep the soldiers in good health. At times, I don’t know how the soldiers managed. It wasn’t a very pleasant life or high-paying, much like our soldiers today. We have to look at them with pride and admiration.

  19. Hi Loretta,

    I’m so glad you came by. Glad you enjoyed the blog. I agree with you. I wouldn’t have made a very good pioneer woman much less a soldier. I have to have my creature comforts.

  20. Hi Charlene,

    Glad you liked my blog. It’s these little things that aren’t covered in history class that make the west come alive for me. You’re absolutely right about the feet. I can’t stand to wear shoes that don’t fit right. And I really hate to get blisters on my feet. Lord, those hurt! Yes, we have to give our soldiers the respect and admiration they deserve. They sure go through a lot.

  21. Hi Linda,
    This was an interesting blog. I never realized that was all that the frontier soldiers got for equipment and supplies.

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