History of Fort Davis, Texas
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During the 1850s Fort Davis was home to a fascinating collection of soldiers, dependents, government employees, and civilians. In carving out their existence in the Trans-Pecos, these pioneers confronted loneliness, boredom, personality conflicts, and shortages in material goods. Vast social, economic, and cultural differences also divided local residents. Officers and their families for example, cloistered themselves away from enlisted men and laundresses. The small civilian population, largely made up of ranchers and service personnel for the overland mail lines, depended heavily upon the fort's economy, protection, and authority. At the same time, a litany of conflicts marred civil-military relations at Fort Davis during the pre-Civil War years.

Army officers constituted what was considered the cream of Fort Davis society. Because they were more literate and enjoyed more spare time than the soldiers whom they commanded, commissioned personnel left a much better record of their activities and emotions than did their enlisted counterparts. Yet bitterness over real and imagined grievances concerning promotion, leaves of absence, and favorable duty details frequently disrupted relations between officers at isolated posts. Fort Davis proved no exception to the rule, as poorly paid, tired, lonely officers magnified a thousand petty slights into major incidents. In addition to his continuing feud with Capt. Arthur T. Lee, post commander Washington Seawell was embroiled in a long-standing struggle with Lt. Edward D. Blake. In December 1854 Seawell contemplated preferring charges against Blake; the following year, he lodged new counts against the errant lieutenant. Although Blake received no serious punishment, he returned the favor by requesting a court of inquiry against Seawell no less than four times. [1]

Much of the dispute apparently centered around Seawell's refusal to appoint Blake to the recruiting service. Duty at the camp on the Limpia, hundreds of miles from the nearest major city at San Antonio, held few attractions. A recruiting detail, on the other hand, meant service in an eastern metropolis full of the culture and entertainment absent on the frontier. Inability to wrangle a plum recruiting job also rankled 1st Lt. Theodore Fink. Seawell claimed, by contrast, that Fink had not wanted the post. [2]

The lack of communication between officers revealed the tensions in post society and reinforced Seawell's unpopular standing. For his part, Seawell also wanted to escape the monotony of life at Fort Davis. His efforts to transfer Eighth Infantry headquarters to San Antonio verged on the unethical and ultimately risked official censure. Less questionable (and also less successful) were the dissatisfied post commander's attempts to secure the superintendency of the recruiting service in 1857 and his application for promotion in 1858. [3]

In Seawell's defense, his restless subordinates were a mixed lot of stubbornly independent spirits. One contemporary described his fellow officers as including "gentlemen, rascals, fools & c. I have heard more scandal since I have been in the army than I ever heard before in my life." Among the group was Massachusetts native Capt. Charles D. Jordan, who had been graduated an undistinguished forty-fourth in his West Point class of 1842. Small in physique, the dapper Jordan was popular with the ladies but had not fully recovered from wounds received during the Mexican War. His determination to support his mother and two sisters compounded Jordan's physical disabilities. New York born Capt. James V. Bomford also served at antebellum Fort Davis. A boon friend of Lt. Zenas R. Bliss, Bomford was renowned for his skills as a violinist, his purported ability to broad jump twenty-two feet, and his generally eccentric behavior. His great physical strength and propensity to argue made him a force to be reckoned with in post society. [4]

Disagreements over the use of brevet ranks compounded the problems inherent in placing men from different backgrounds together on the western frontier. The army's small size meant that regular promotions were agonizingly slow. To reward its soldiers, Congress authorized brevet, or unofficial, promotions for merit, gallantry, or ten years' continuous service in one rank. Brevet promotions sometimes, but by no means always, allowed the holder the authority and pay of the higher rank. Few understood the circumstances under which one could or could not claim brevet-based privileges. Bomford, for example, was given Mexican War brevets to major and lieutenant colonel for gallantry at the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, and Molino del Rey, yet was ranked according to his regular commission—a captain. His quest for command according to his brevet status joined those of numerous others in a paper sea of bureaucracy. [5]

Friction also stemmed from the army's inconsistent policy in granting leaves of absence. Leaves were authorized according to a whimsical formula of political influence, need, emergency, and luck. For those lucky enough to secure a leave, San Antonio was the first stop, with the venerable old Menger Hotel a common meeting place. Boasting a thriving multicultural population, the Alamo city seemed, in the words of one, "a Paris for the officers who were banished to distant frontier posts." Others used their leaves for visits to parents, relatives, and friends. Washington, D.C., attracted political pragmatists seeking promotion. [6]

Several factors offset such contentious issues to draw the commissioned personnel closer together. Of the thirty-one officers known to have been stationed at Fort Davis before the Civil War, twenty-four (seventy-seven percent) were West Point graduates. This figure closely approximated that for the army as a whole—by the mid-1850s, nearly three-fourths of the officers had Academy training. Of the nongraduates, Edwin W. H. Read and John G. Taylor received their commissions in 1855 and 1856, when the army made a number of civil appointments in the wake of the recent increase bill. [7]

Shared West Point experiences provided a common if unspoken bond between officers. Mexican War veterans undoubtedly felt a similar unity—at least ten officers at Fort Davis during the 1850s had served in the conflict. The unceasing struggle for respect from a nation that rarely recognized the army's military endeavors fostered a camaraderie felt by many commissioned men. The tedium of frontier service and shared misery of uncomfortable living conditions intensified notions of group solidarity. Yet patience and tolerance were also essential if officers hoped to create a viable community under these trying conditions. Strikingly appropriate are the conclusions of one military historian: "In the closely knit society of officers, so dependent on each other's fellowship, extremes were to be avoided." [8]

Inadequate pay hampered the army's efforts to attract and keep promising officers. Basic pay scales remained fundamentally the same as those established in 1802—in infantry and artillery regiments, colonels received $75 per month; lieutenant colonels $60; captains $40; first lieutenants $30; and second lieutenants a mere $25. Salaries for officers of mounted regiments and engineers were slightly higher, ranging from $90 for a colonel to $33 for a second lieutenant. [9]

Supplemental allowances nearly trebled the base pay. Every captain and lieutenant received money in lieu of four daily rations totaling another $24 per month, plus another $19.50 to hire a servant. Colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors were given additional monies for rations, and were allotted money to engage a second servant. They could also keep up to three horses, with monthly forage payments totaling $24. Company commanders received a $10 monthly bonus; post commanders earned additional rations. For every five years of service, commissioned officers could expect money equal to yet another ration. Appointments as quartermaster, recruiting agent, or commissary officer, along with hazardous duty pay for some activities, brought added supplements. Such benefits meant substantially more money for all officers. In fiscal year 1853, for example, Colonel Seawell garnered a base pay of $1,127.33, but with emoluments netted $3,497.65. For eleven months' service, Lieutenant Blake earned a salary of $359.32 and aggregate pay of $953.12. [10]

Although welcoming such benefits, Fort Davis officers complained bitterly that their incomes did not match high frontier prices. In a remarkable show of group solidarity, nine officers—Seawell, Blake, Bomford, Thomas G. Pitcher, Robert G. Cole, William McE. Dye, Zenas R. Bliss, John G. Taylor, Robert P. Maclay, and Albert J. Myer—petitioned Congress for more money in October 1855. Noting "the total inadequacy of our present pay to our respectable support," they called for a twenty-cent daily increase in the commutation of each ration. [11]

Congress acted in 1857, although no record indicates that the Davis-based petition had any influence among the nation's lawmakers. Each officer received an across-the-board pay hike of twenty dollars per month. In addition, Congress raised the commutation for rations by thirty-three percent, and granted another three dollars per month for expenses involved in hiring servants. [12]

The 1857 raises thrilled the long-suffering officers at Fort Davis. Lt. Edward L. Hartz sent more money home to help his parents make their house payments and to put his sister through school. His economic prospects looked even brighter in early 1858, when he heard that his field services as quartermaster for the Pope artesian well project might net him another three dollars per day. In April delays in the expected supplement led Hartz to hope for a lump sum payment. If such a wish came true, he joked that he would "buy a ranch marry some Mexican senorita and settle on the Rio Grande." By July, however, his plans had been dashed. Angry at the unfortunate turn of events, he privately alleged that Secretary of War John B. Floyd had channeled the funds intended for workers on the Pope expedition to cronies from his native state of Virginia. [13]

Fig. 4:10. Hospital Canyon, with officers' quarters in background. Watercolor by Capt. Arthur T. Lee, 1854-58. Photograph courtesy of Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester.

Officers at western posts employed a variety of slaves, servants, and assistants. At Fort Davis Asst. Surgeon DeWitt C. Peters and his wife owned the only slave enumerated in the census of 1860, a twenty-four-year-old woman who lived behind their quarters in the detached kitchen. More commonly, officers hired servants from the enlisted ranks. Known derisively as "strikers" or "dog robbers" by their fellow privates, these men lived with their officer-masters and received extra duty money directly from their employers. Yet the practice took a man from the ranks and hurt training and morale. The 1802 law allowing officers to draw an additional ration for his servant had specified that the individual not be "a soldier of the line." In practice, though, authorities winked at the use of these soldier-servants until the 1880s. The costs of hiring a full-time civilian and lack of a resident pool of prospective workers led many frontier officers to circumvent the initial intentions of Congress. By the 1850s Congress simply appropriated a lump sum for "payments in lieu of clothing for officers' servants. [14]

Whether the servants be soldiers or civilians, their services proved a mixed blessing to officers at Fort Davis. By cooking, cleaning, cutting firewood, and performing other routine tasks, they greatly eased the labors and responsibilities of those who could secure such assistance. Lieutenant Hartz and Lt. John G. Taylor, for instance, shared the services of Pvt. Walter Scott and Pvt. Samuel Thompson. But in May 1856 the young lieutenants found that their former workers had disappeared, along with the officers' clothes, a shotgun, a Sharps carbine, and two Colt revolvers. One of the criminals was apprehended still lurking about the post; Lieutenant Bliss tracked down the other at Presidio. Fortunately for Hartz and Taylor, most of the stolen goods were recovered. [15]

The rollercoaster-like experiences of Hartz seem typical of a junior officer during the 1850s. A Pennsylvania native appointed to West Point in 1851, his cadet career underwent the same highs and lows encountered by most students. Short of funds and obsessed with the stress of preparing for semiannual examinations during his senior year, he appeared disgusted with the academy regimen. Of the ninety plebes in his freshman class, only thirty-three remained "at this famous school. Famous for what?" he asked his sister rhetorically. "For hard times & hard study, for injustice and marked indifference to the finer feelings of our nature." [16]

The ordeal of examinations over, Hartz applied for a commission in the prestigious artillery. His mediocre scholastic ranking, however, dictated an infantry assignment. Still, he rationalized that western service would allow him to send more money home to his family, which was desperately suffering from his father's alcoholism. Early impressions of his first frontier station, Fort Davis, were positive. The region's spectacular beauty, the pure water of Limpia Creek, and the quaint romance of nearby prairie dog towns all received his effusive praise. Six pleasant months at Davis led Hartz to rejoice in his career decision. "I am heartier, healthier, happier, better contented and stronger than I have ever been in all the twenty-four years of my life," he reported in June 1856. [17]

Yet as time passed, the romance of garrison life lost its luster. By April 1858 Hartz, now a veteran hardened to the rigors of the field, sought promotion. Continually strapped for funds, his inability to support better his parents and sister proved a continual source of frustration. Hope glimmered briefly the following year when he learned that his father had temporarily overcome his struggle with the bottle. But by October 1859 Lieutenant Hartz fell victim to a depression of a kind that all too often afflicted officers of the antebellum army. Four years of hard service in Texas seemed to offer only a future of continued low pay, boredom, loneliness, lack of promotion, and infrequent recognition. Now stationed near Camp Hudson, Hartz begged his father to use his political influence to secure his transfer to a station nearer "civilization." "You will only be doing what is done every day," wrote Hartz. [18]

Officials lamented the poor quality of enlisted applicants to the army. Except during periods of economic distress, such as the depression of 1857-59, the arduous duties of military life offered few attractions to the average citizen. Commanding the Department of Texas, Maj. Gen. Persifor Smith noted the "inferior" quality of new enlistees. Asst. Surgeon Richard H. Coolidge, author of a voluminous study on sickness and mortality in the army, admitted "that the material offered in time of peace is not of the most desirable character, consisting principally of newly arrived immigrants, of those broken down by bad habits and dissipation, the idle, and the improvident." Regulations allowed the inspecting surgeon tremendous latitude in selecting or rejecting prospective recruits: in addition to meeting minimal health requirements, prospective recruits had to be white males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Finally, applicants had to know English and stand at least five feet four and a half inches tall. [19]

Statistics bore out the failure to attract a qualified cadre of applicants. In 1852, for example, medical officers rejected all but 2,726 of the 16,064 potential recruits. Of those who failed to pass the initial screening, nearly twenty-four percent were minors, eighteen percent could not speak English, fifteen percent were intemperate, more than thirteen percent were undersized, and eight percent had varicose veins. Other common reasons for rejection included excessive age, marital status (married men were not supposed to be allowed to enter the ranks), moral, mental, or physical disability, and "unsound constitution." [20]

Few enlisted men at Fort Davis left recollections of their experiences for posterity. The example of Percival G. Lowe, however, seems characteristic. Raised on a farm, Lowe left home at age fifteen to sell newspapers before serving a three-year stint as a sailor. Back ashore, he dabbled in the daguerreotype business as the allure of the romantic West became ever more enticing. "I was a persistent reader of voyages, travels, campaigns, explorations and history . . . and the spirit of adventure was so strong that I determined to enlist in the mounted service, which was sure to place me on the great plains of the West." To the adventurous Lowe, five years in the army would simply "round out my education, so to speak, and if I lived would then be ready to settle down to something permanently." [21]

The case of Eugene Bandel, a Prussian-born immigrant who came to the United States while still a teenager, proved more typical. Well-educated, Bandel nonetheless found himself unemployed and in debt at age nineteen. "I did not know what to do," he later confessed. Desperate for any opportunity, Bandel stumbled upon a recruiting office. "By chance I saw a flag hanging from a house and under it a sign. It was a notice that the United States wanted recruits for the army. This was my only resort if I did not wish to steal or beg. I went in. I was accepted soon enough and sworn in." [22]

The 1850s saw a resurgence of nativist feeling throughout much of the United States, with the popularity of the anti-immigration American Party lending stark evidence of the widespread opposition to foreigners. The nationality of accepted recruits thus helps to explain the dissatisfaction expressed by many of their officers. "The anomalous spectacle of having two-thirds of our rank and file composed of foreigners" troubled Secretary of War Floyd. Indeed, of 5,000 randomly selected recruits enlisted in 1850 and 1851, fewer than thirty percent were native-born. Ireland alone contributed nearly forty-three percent of the sample total, with the Germanic Confederation also providing more recruits than the largest single recruiting state in the Union, New York. Following Ireland and the German states, Britain, Canada, and France offered the most immigrant sons to the United States army. Among the American natives, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio were the most common birthplaces after the Empire State. [23]

The constant garrison changes at Fort Davis make accurate comparisons with national samples hazardous. Admittedly imprecise, the manuscript census returns of 1860 offer brief glimpses into the background of Davis's enlisted personnel. Of the ninety-four enlisted men at the post, nearly nine of ten had been born outside the United States. As was the case for the army as a whole, Ireland and the German states provided the overwhelming preponderance of enlisted personnel (forty-three and twenty-six percent, respectively). At Davis, England, Scotland, and Canada collectively offered another twelve percent of the garrison. Four soldiers called Switzerland their birthplace. New York had four native sons; Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maryland two each; Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, France, and Sweden sent one soldier apiece. [24]

The census also discloses the ages and economic and occupational back grounds of the Fort Davis soldiers. The average age was now roughly twenty-five; despite official minimum age requirements, Thomas Ryan of New York, the youngest soldier at the post, listed his age at a mere fourteen. John Flourly (England) and Peter John (Switzerland), each aged forty, shared the distinction of being the oldest enlisted men present. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the garrison listed no property with the census-taker. The fourteen soldiers who did valued their personal estate to be worth between $50 and $300. Sixteen of the property holders were foreign-born; at an average age of thirty, they tended to be slightly older than their nonpropertied mates. [25]

Particularly disturbing to many officials was the paucity of men with agricultural backgrounds. The ideal recruit, in the eyes of the army, was a strapping young lad fresh off his family's farm. Fort Davis figures from 1860, however, bear out the national trend—most recruits came from urban environments. At Davis, only six of the ninety-four soldiers listed their occupation as farmer (or gardener). Shoemakers, clerks, musicians, laborers, and blacksmiths added to the list. A baker, a chandler, an apothecary, a stonecutter, a student, a seaman, a painter, a plasterer, two carpenters, and a butcher rounded out the occupational register. Yet a few authorities overcame their prejudices. Upon inspecting more than five hundred First Artillery, First Infantry, and Eighth Infantry recruits bound for Texas in 1860, even the skeptical Col. J. K. F. Mansfield described his subjects "as a body of fine looking men. There were but very few exceptions, and none that I objected to." [26]

Most soldiers signed up for military service in a large eastern city. If accepted into the army, the typical recruit went to a "school of instruction"—infantrymen to Governors Island, New York, mounted troopers to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and artillerymen to Newport Barracks, Kentucky. Theoretically the new soldiers received the rudiments of military instruction at these depots; in practice, the constant clamor for troops compelled authorities to send enlistees to their units without basic training. [27]

New recruits bound for Fort Davis, an infantry post, sailed from New York to Texas. To save money and ease administrative burdens, the army moved several hundred men at a time, with large recruiting classes dispatched in 1854, 1855, and 1860. A few officers had the thankless task of herding the ill-trained rabble to their appointed destinations. Often without the aid of qualified NCOs, the three-week voyage to Texas sorely tested even the most experienced officer. Zenas R. Bliss recalled that his efforts to distribute rations to the unruly mob met "with very poor success. The men formed in single rank and as soon as the barrel of pork was opened, someone gave a push and they all piled on top of the pork and in a minute it was gone. I finally got it issued, but I am not quite sure that it was a very equitable division." Fires, incidental fistfights, and a near riot between soldiers and ship's crew added to Bliss's "rough experiences" in the 1854 journey. [28]

The 1855 recruits, many of whom were bound for Eighth Infantry posts like Fort Davis, sailed aboard the steamer Prometheus in November. An officer succinctly described the voyage from New York to Texas: "The weather was most propitious—our ship new and staunch—the crew in fine spirits and knowing their professions—the officers in a high good humour—and our men all drunk." Prometheus landed near Corpus Christi in early December and the troops bivouacked on the beach without tents. The enlisted men promptly seized the opportunity to get drunk on bootleg whiskey. Desertion rates soared as officers herded the mob to San Antonio before embarking on the final march to destinations in western Texas and New Mexico. [29]

More specific records document the composition of the recruiting class of 1860. This group traveled aboard the chartered steamer Grenada, heralded by one military official as "a good sea vessel." Included among the eight officers and 560 military personnel were 107 recruits for the Eighth Infantry. Eleven prospective musicians and bandsmen were also bound for the regiment. "They all had the final inspection by the Surgeon & were well supplied with clothing & shoes with a blanket and a great coat each," bragged their inspector, "and furnished with a tin pint cup and spoon from the post fund." [30]

Money and food were the typical enlisted man's most important concerns. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis convinced Congress to increase the monthly pay of infantry and artillery privates to eleven dollars in 1854. Mounted troopers received another dollar. A second enlistment merited the noncommissioned personnel a monthly bonus of two dollars, with each additional five-year stint adding another dollar to the total. If he made orderly sergeant, the most lucrative noncommissioned position, the soldier could expect a base pay of twenty dollars per month plus supplements for longevity or mounted service. Enlisted personnel who performed extra duty as clerks, mechanics, or laborers earned additional compensation. Skilled workers garnered forty cents per day for their labors; unskilled men collected twenty-five cents daily in addition to their regular pay. [31]

The private's minimum pay of $132 per year was slightly less than the wage of a farmhand, who by 1860 could expect to earn (on a national average) $163.20 with board. A cotton mill worker might net $201; iron and steel mill hands averaged $346 in 1859. Figures for labor costs in the Department of New Mexico reflect higher wages in the southwest. In 1858 the military department paid skilled mechanics (carpenters, wheelwrights, and blacksmiths) $600-$700 annually. Teamsters, laborers, and herders received from $120 to $360 per year. Of course, emoluments and extra duty pay narrowed the gap between military and civilian wage scales; the army's job security must also be considered when comparing benefits. Although eventually offset by the inflation of the 1850s, the general price decline in the first half of the nineteenth century further reinforced the buying power of army personnel. Indeed, a prominent student of the old army has concluded that an enlisted man enjoyed "a more secure economic position than . . . that of a common laborer or of virtually any civilian worker" before the Civil War. [32]

Army food was ample in quantity if not quality. The daily meat ration provided twenty ounces of beef or twelve ounces of pork. Official directives also included eighteen ounces of bread or flour, twelve ounces of hard bread, or twenty ounces of corn meal per day. For every one hundred rations, regulations allotted either ten pounds of rice or eight quarts of peas or beans, six pounds of coffee, twelve pounds of sugar, four quarts of vinegar, and two quarts of salt. The army also distributed one and one-half pounds of tallow and four pounds of soap per one hundred rations. On the average, each daily ration cost the War Department between twenty and thirty cents during the 1850s. [33]

Regulations provided little variety and only the barest minimum of vegetables. Garrisons had several ways to diversify their daily fare from the routine meal of beef, bread, beans, and coffee. Efficient cooks used profits from the sale of excess foods to local residents to support company and post funds, which supplied the troops with eating utensils and luxury items. An individual soldier could also supplement his diet through private purchases from the post sutler. Although Fort Davis trader Alexander Young generally carried a respectable range of goods, his canned food supplies sometimes disappointed hungry residents, with sardines the only product consistently available. On occasion, the lucky buyer might secure a can of green peas, tomatoes, or green corn. When more food was within reach, the regulars gorged themselves on a frenzied spree of delicacies: "When payday does come, you should see the life!" wrote one enlisted man. "The rations are not touched. The men live on dainties until their money is gone. Then they are satisfied." [34]

The post garden, a by-product of Secretary of War Charles Conrad's cost cutting measures of the early 1850s, offered other dietary possibilities. Like their fellow soldiers at other posts, the Davis garrison enjoyed only mixed results from their agricultural enterprises. During good years, their efforts yielded a nice variety and quantity of fresh produce. They garnered a bumper harvest in 1856, one observer reporting that the garden's produce "is cheering to a command beyond the reach of a market." Headed by Bvt. Maj. Larkin Smith, who secured a number of experimental seeds from Washington, the men grew hard-to-get items such as cabbages, celery, and sugarcane. By 1860 the post garden, now located in the Limpia Creek bottom about a mile from the reservation, was "tolerable" but still required irrigation. Two previous efforts had already been abandoned for lack of water. The garden did, however, prove a popular spot for late afternoon strolls by romantic post residents. [35]

Purchases from Mexico afforded the Davis garrison another means of diversifying the daily fare. Corn, beans, and fresh fruits were commonly imported from south of the Rio Grande. In July 1860, for example, Lt. William H. Echols reported the availability of Mexican watermelons, muskmelons, and apples at Fort Davis. On occasion Chihuahuan state authorities blocked the import trade. A drought in 1855 led the Mexicans to forbid the export of corn across the Rio Grande, but the embargo was lifted shortly thereafter. [36]

Hunting and fishing allowed the garrison additional variety. Officers often took selected enlisted men out from the military camp to assist them on their hunts. Large game abounded; one officer claimed to have stalked a huge grizzly bear with a footprint two feet long. Geese offered another popular prize. Catfish-laden Toyah Creek proved a fisherman's paradise. The threat of Indian attack, however, limited small hunting and fishing parties to the immediate vicinity of Fort Davis. Only large groups hazarded the dangers of more extensive expeditions. [37]

Aware of the need to offer the troops better food, some army officials urged revisions in the official ration. Charles McCormick, medical director of the Department of Texas, recommended that the six pounds of coffee per one hundred rations be increased to eighteen and that the sugar allowance be doubled from twelve to twenty-four pounds. McCormick's proposed increase in the coffee allottment won the support of Secretary of War Floyd, and Congress belatedly provided for ten pounds of coffee and fifteen pounds of sugar per one hundred rations in June 1860. By contrast, Acting Commissary General of Subsistence J. F. Taylor's suggestion that desiccated potatoes and mixed vegetables be added to the regular apportionment of beans or rice fell upon deaf ears. [38]

Ill-equipped cooks hampered all efforts to improve the diet. Cooks were simply drawn from the ranks and ordered to the kitchen. Although they received assistance and rudimentary instruction from their peers, they remained woefully unprepared to feed an entire company. Baking bread, an essential element of the regulation diet, proved especially difficult for the ersatz cooks at Fort Davis. As one inspector remarked, "the baker . . . has never served a regular trade at the business, & this may account in some measure for the indifferent bread." [39]

Like the regular ration, daily routine at antebellum Fort Davis proved fairly monotonous. Reveille sounded at daybreak, rousting the enlisted men for early morning roll call. A brisk drill began half an hour later. Breakfast, generally consisting of coffee, bacon, bread, and molasses, was served at the enlisted men's mess halls at 7:00 A.M. The daily guard mounting took place at eight o'clock. Amidst the strains of the regimental band, officers-of-the-day began their appointed rounds and relieved the old guard of its duties. According to one observer, the event highlighted the average day. "We listen & watch this important measure," he wrote melodramatically, "for here on hangs our safety from the visitations of Indians who surround us in hordes." [40]

Inspection of company barracks began at nine o'clock. Most officers returned to their quarters, where they were at ease to sleep, read, write, play cards, or shoot billiards until that afternoon. The officer-of-the-day bore heavier responsibilities. In charge of sanitary inspections, general police, mounting sentinals, and guard house activities, this officer handled the post's routine duties. When sufficient numbers of commissioned personnel resided at Davis, the rotation allowed each officer several days' rest between turns. But during the latter 1850s the burdens increased as one's number came up with distressing frequency. Officers were also liable for service on courts-martial and boards of survey and examination, which performed a thousand mundane tasks essential to the post's good order. Following time honored tradition, junior officers inevitably found themselves appointed secretaries of such boards. [41]

For the enlisted men, the morning routine varied over time. Selection to the guard meant closely supervised duty yet merited minor privileges like early meals and the chance to skip drills. Fatigue details, especially in the early years, were also burdensome. To save money the army hired enlisted personnel as construction workers. Others found themselves tilling the post garden. Although such extra duty meant more income and better food, the troops complained bitterly about the unmilitary nature of these activities. The lunch call relieved fatigue parties about noon. As officers returned to their quarters, the soldiers sat down to the day's major feed—a hearty portion of beef, whatever vegetable was available, bread, and the ever-present coffee. [42]

Fatigue call reassembled the work parties about one o'clock. Two hours later, company and battalion drill began. Retreat sounded at sunset, followed by a light supper of warmed-over beef, bread, and coffee for the enlisted men. As always, officers supplied their own rations and ate in their own quarters. Many combined their resources to form mess pools, sharing responsibilites and expenses. Tattoo ended the day about 8:30. The weekly dress parade gave the fort an especially military appearance; once again, the regimental band's performance boosted morale at Fort Davis. [43]

Including a mixture of marching and simple manuevering, drills at Fort Davis usually outshone those conducted at other western posts. In 1856 Inspector Mansfield complimented the military training there. "The command has never exercised at the bayonet," he commented, thus hinting at the infrequent use of this weapon on the frontier posts. Yet the six companies displayed a "handsome" battalion drill and a smoothly executed independent skirmishing exercise. The garrison's marksmanship proved especially impressive in an army more accustomed to swinging an axe and hammering a nail than aligning a gun's sights. Mansfield set up a target one hundred yards from the firing line, at which each man fired twice. Company G scored twenty percent; Companies A, H, C, and F hit a quarter of the targets; Company D scored thirty-three percent. "Company D therefore came up to the Rifle Companies at fort [sic] McIntosh," reported Mansfield, "which shows very good firing with muskets and no back sights & ball & buck cartridges." [44]

Three years later, Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston was similarly impressed. Although now only 107 strong, Fort Davis's garrison and commander continued their exemplary work:

The appearance of the company under arms was very handsome—the men strong, healthy & well "set up"—the arms, accoutrements & clothing in excellent order—their movements accurate & ready both as infantry of the line & skirmishers—their progress in the bayonet exercise hand some—& from the record of their target practice, the improvement in that respect decided. I have great satisfaction in finding a commanding officer who appreciates the importance of military exercises. It is to be considered that these exercises are liable to constant interruption by the frequent detachments, required for escorts. There is more evidence of attention to discipline & instruction at this than at any other post I have inspected. [45]

Mansfield was more critical in his report on conditions in 1860. From a garrison of more than four hundred in the mid-1850s, transfers to new posts in West Texas reduced Davis's strength to only thirty-one in October 1860. The small size of the garrison precluded attempts at drill. In addition, Capt. James V. Bomford had taken several of the company return and account books with him to Fort Bliss, where he was serving on a court-martial. Despite the herculian efforts of Lt. James J. Van Horn ("a highly meritorious officer" who "performs his duty well") post administration was in disarray and military activities had ground to a standstill. [46]

Women and children often accompanied the uniformed regulars to their frontier stations after the Mexican War. Fort Davis had its share of dependents. The wives of Asst. Surgeon DeWitt C. Peters, Capt. Arthur T. Lee, Lt. Thomas G. Pitcher, and Lt. Theodore Fink accompanied their husbands to the Limpia Creek outpost. The Eighth Infantry garrison also included a number of company washerwomen, or laundresses. Several children resided at Davis during the 1850s, with the offspring of post commander Washington Seawell and Captain Lee the most identifiable from remaining records. [47]

Nineteenth century American culture clearly shaped the views of most women who braved the exigencies of the western frontiers. Although the vigorous efforts of antebellum spokespersons for expanded rights and roles for women must not be forgotten, the overwhelming majority of American women accepted a broadly defined ideology of domesticity in which their primary responsibilities lay with homemaking and the family. Most focused their energies on child raising, family relationships, and domestic production. Popular culture and social controls reinforced traditional norms, which sharply distinguished the spheres of men and women. Men, held to be stronger and more capable of practical decision making, worked outside the home and provided governmental leadership; women, believed to be more virtuous, dominated domestic affairs and set society's moral guidelines. [48]

Contemporary domestic ideology allowed for variance and change. As one historian has concluded recently, it was "less a well-defined 'cult of true womanhood' than a way common women made sense of everyday existence," which combined the formalized structures compiled by eastern writers with the vague, rarely elaborated assumptions of the vast majority of American females. Its adherents did not necessarily accept an uninfluential role for women, who often used the idea of domesticity to command respect and even demand changes and concessions from males. Most women were neither passive civilizers, exploited drudges, nor twentieth century feminists; rather, they helped shape their own destinies by contributing to the mutual interests of both family and community. [49]

Little is known of the women of antebellum Fort Davis. It can only be assumed that they, like their counterparts at other posts, arrived on the frontier with a mixture of realism and romanticism. The West was both garden and desert, an ambiguously perceived wilderness of untold happiness and opportunity and at the same time filled with dread and evil. Most army women faced their upcoming struggles with the same quiet resolution as Mrs. Lydia Lane. Wife of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen's Lt. William B. Lane, Mrs. Lane landed in Texas amidst an outbreak of yellow fever at the army encampment. "It was dreadful news to us, as there was no escape, no running away from it, nothing to do but land, take the risk, and trust in Providence. . . . I had 'gone for a soldier,' and a soldier I determined to be." [50]

In all probability, officers' wives at Davis spent most of their time and energies on domestic activities. Their ramshackle quarters must have caused great concern. Still, one of the elite group made the best of her indifferent surroundings, at least if her husband's letters accurately reflected conditions. With a slave available for household duties, Surgeon Peters assured his mother in-law that her daughter Emily "was intended for the army." "Either in the tent or the log house she holds her own. . . deprived of many comforts & luxuries, we have managed to substitute others." Buttressing Peters's view was the oft-expressed contention that because of their scarcity, officers' wives received special attention and favors from other commissioned personnel. [51]

Despite such assurances, women like Mrs. Peters, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Pitcher, and Mrs. Fink occasionally succumbed to the pangs of loneliness and frustration inherent in an isolated frontier post like Davis. The scarcity of ladies limited the possibilities of female bonding, often seen as an element of crucial importance in the lives of western women. Differences in age, personality, and social background could also disrupt community harmony. From Fort Massachusetts, New Mexico, an officer who later served at Fort Davis reported that "even the ladies fight like cats and dogs. . . . You see these ladies come from various quarters of the country some from the first families & some from low ones," he continued. "They meet and can't agree." [52]

Even fewer records describe children at Fort Davis during the 1850s. Laundresses and enlisted men had a number of youngsters at the post who frolicked about the nearby area, hunting, singing, dancing, playing, and raising a vast menagerie of animals. Among the officers the problems of parenthood in nineteenth-century America were clearly apparent. Captain Lee and his wife tried to bring a fifteen-month-old child to Fort Davis in July 1857. Tragically the infant, unwell for some time previously, died just as they reached Fort Lancaster. [53]

Colonel Seawell also experienced the trials of fatherhood while stationed at Fort Davis. From 1848 to 1853 he sent three of his sons to school in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Yearly tuition and board cost $159.50 per child, amounting to a staggering forty-two percent of his yearly salary. In 1855 school headmaster Rev. William J. Walker asked Secretary of War Jefferson Davis for assistance in getting Seawell to pay the remaining balance of $800. The War Department forwarded the letter to Seawell. Seawell claimed the amount was too much—he would pay Walker $500 only. "I regard him [Walker] as a great liar & a great rascal although he is a minister of the gospel of Christ," charged Seawell. Unwilling to continue the uneven struggle, Seawell brought out two of his children, a boy aged eleven and a girl aged nine, to Fort Davis by 1860. His kind-hearted efforts to teach his youngsters drew criticism from a fellow officer: "He is rather too indulgent & makes these children his equals." [54]

Though present at virtually every frontier post and a major element in military society, officers' wives were ignored by official regulations. In contrast, laundresses and hospital matrons, despite the scorn of the genteel spouses of officers, enjoyed official military status. In 1802 Congress stipulated that one ration be given "to the women who may be allowed to any particular corps not exceeding the proportion of four to a company," and "to such matrons . . . as may be necessarily employed in the hospital." The company commander appointed and dismissed the laundresses. In so doing the United States formally implemented a system of company washerwomen used during the Revolutionary War. [55

Laundresses remained a silent yet important part of army life for the next seventy-five years. Most were apparently illiterate; many wed enlisted men, generally sergeants. Officially, the army frowned upon noncommissioned personnel taking wives and starting families. Yet military authorities knew that they had to accept such marriages in order to keep a sufficient cadre of qualified sergeants and corporals. As such, NCOs often secured for their wives positions as company laundresses. A laundress drew another government ration and supplemented her husband's regular salary by charging washing fees set by local post councils. [56]

Few records trace the experiences of these women at antebellum Fort Davis. The laundresses came and went with their respective companies. As the recruiting class of 1860 made its way from New York to Texas, for example, twelve laundresses accompanied the five-hundred-odd soldiers. In 1856, during the height of Davis's pre-Civil War glory, no less than fifteen laundresses resided at the fort. By October 1860, however, only four such workers, attached to H Company, Eighth Infantry, lived at Fort Davis. Some may have supplemented their incomes by prostitution. Army policy officially prohibited the practice, yet behind the façade of morality, the military tolerated such entrepreneurship. [57]

Whether they performed sexual favors in return for money or not, the laundresses lived in the flimsy jacal structures official military communiques referred to as married men's quarters (although not all laundresses were married). Unofficial army parlance coined the more colorful "Suds Row" to describe the section of the post occupied by company washerwomen. Social differences and the army's caste system clearly separated the laundresses from the lordly officers' wives, although the former commonly provided essential services by acting as midwives and nurses on the military frontiers. Several laundresses scraped together fairly sizeable estates; in the 1860 census, for example, Mary Powell and Catherine King, laundresses at the civilian community just outside the fort, each claimed to have more than $1,500 worth of personal property. [58]

For officers, entertainment and social activities at a frontier post usually revolved around the ladies in residence. Bachelors like Bliss quickly became bored with the companionship of fellow males, and depended upon the ladies and married officers to break the monotonous routine by throwing parties and socials. But the dearth of women at antebellum Fort Davis, plus the understandable reluctance by those officers' wives present to entertain the entire garrison, made life at the post, in Bliss's view, much less lively than at a place like Fort Duncan. Lieutenant Hartz concurred. In June 1856, although six companies comprised the post garrison, the wives of Lieutenant Pitcher and Captain Lee were the only "ladies" present. [59]

Mail and an occasional vacation south of the border provided much needed diversions. "Today is Valentine's Day," wrote a lonely Asst. Surgeon Albert J. Myer to a friend back East. "I am so happy for I have my Valentines,—a letter from you and from Aunt." Eastern newspapers and periodicals passed through the hands of eager readers throughout the post. To break the monotony Hartz, Bliss, Bomford, and post sutler Alexander Young enjoyed "a flying trip to Mexico" in early 1858. Presidio del Norte, with its horse races, cock fights, dances, and fiestas especially attracted Lieutenant Bliss. Other Fort Davis personnel, however, undoubtedly agreed with Lt. William H. C. Whiting, who described the city as "a miserable, Indian-blighted place." A few "ragged creatures, apparently half starved and called 'soldiers,'" garrisoned the village, which Whiting dismissed as being "like all Mexican towns on the frontier." [60]

Social stratification and army tradition also distinguished officers from enlisted men. The regal commissioned personnel had little to do with their troops during off duty hours; as Hartz explained, "we have no society apart from the officers." "We had no amusements outside of the Post but what we could invent with our limited means," wrote Lieutenant Bliss, "and had to resort to almost every device to kill time." Desperate for entertainment, enterprising enlisted men built a horse racing track, a theater which supposedly sat two hundred, a library, a reading room, and a bowling alley. Officers also enjoyed a rudimentary billiards room, probably housed in the back of the sutler's store. Fortunately, the regimental band was stationed at Fort Davis. Colonel Mansfield described the Eighth Infantry band, eighteen strong, as "proficient & played well on dress parades & guard mounting." Exclaimed Dr. Myer, "we can surely amuse ourselves with such opportunities." [61]

Despite a chronic shortage of army chaplains, religious activities occupied some Davis residents. Before the Civil War Congress funded chaplains for only fifteen bases. In Texas only forts McKavett, Belknap, Bliss, and the military reservation at San Antonio enjoyed the benefits of a full-time chaplain. At Fort Davis officers thus assumed religious responsibilities on a rotating basis as their beliefs permitted. The officer-of-the-day was responsible for the chaplain's normal duties at funerals for the enlisted men. Post commander Seawell provided a Sunday sermon on at least one occasion. By 1860 Dr. Peters regularly read church services to members of the informal congregation. [62]

Such activities did much to alleviate the effects of army discipline, which was often harsh and capricious. Totalitarian sergeants dominated the lives of the rank and file. "The training and discipline of the companies are left in their hands entirely and they are held strictly accountable for the conduct of their men," recalled one first sergeant, who added that company officers rarely took part in drill. For minor offences sergeants typically meted out punishment without going through formal court-martial procedures. Veteran noncommissioned soldiers might also challenge a young officer's authority. Twenty-year-old Lt. Zenas R. Bliss met such a confrontation by busting several corporals and giving his first sergeant a stiff fine and a lengthy stay in the guardhouse. [63]

The informal punishment dispensed by company sergeants troubled army authorities. Although it prevented small-time offenders from having their records smeared by petty crimes, the unregulated disciplinary process could, if abused, result in cruel and arbitrary treatment of enlisted personnel. In 1857 commanding general Winfield Scott recommended that the articles of war be revised "to provide for the legal punishment of petty offences . . . so as to deprive commanders of small detachments and isolated companies of all pretext . . . for taking the law into their own hands." He suggested that the army set up courts consisting entirely of sergeants to handle minor crimes. Despite Scott's proposal, the system remained unchanged until well after the Civil War. [64]

Crime posed a serious problem throughout the 1850s. A garrison court, consisting of three officers or less, handled minor offenses punishable by no more than a month's confinement or stoppage of pay. General courts, with between five and thirteen officers, considered more serious crimes and all cases involving commissioned officers. At Fort Davis the latter courts meted out punishment to enlisted men according to the type of crime committed, the character of the defendant, and the whim of the court. Absence from drill might result in a five-dollar fine. A twice-drunk soldier was sentenced to hard labor for a month and a ten-dollar fine. A court found another man guilty of having left his post while on guard duty; because of the individual's "previous good character," a lenient court levied a nine-dollar fine and sentenced the offender to hard labor for three months. [65]

More serious offenders received harsh, brutal, and inconsistent punishment. Pvt. William Gould, for example, forfeited nine dollars of his pay for each of two months and was confined at hard labor for the same period for falling asleep while on guard duty. For a similar offence, a different court fined Pvt. William Morris fifty dollars and sentenced the private to walk the post once every three hours from reveille to retreat for a month, carrying a knapsack weighing twenty-four pounds. But Pvt. William Swan, also guilty of sleeping on duty, was assessed a thirty-dollar fine, ordered to be confined at hard labor for four months, and was to be held for two weeks every other month in solitary confinement on bread and water. On the recommendation of post commander Seawell, the army remitted the unexpired term of Swan's punishment after two months. [66]

As was the case for minor crimes, major offences often involved the abuse of alcohol. In describing the deteriorating military appearance of Fort Davis in 1860, J. K. F. Mansfield concluded that "there are two whiskey shops within 500 yards of the post, one east and the other west, & men that will get drunk, can get drunk." In March 1857 a court found Pvt. Peter Fay of F Company, 8th Infantry, guilty of being drunk on guard duty. It sentenced him to forfeit his pay for the next two months, and put him on bread and water for ten days. Two years later Fay, now in Company D, committed the same offence. This time the punishment involved six months of hard labor in the guardhouse; for two weeks of each alternate month, he would be placed in solitary confinement on bread and water. Absent without leave for a day and drunk at inspection, Company G's Pvt. Peter Gilhooly found his pay docked ten dollars for each of the next three months and himself in solitary confinement for the same period. For a week every month, he was put on a diet of bread and water. [67]

Desertion also proved common at Fort Davis. With nationwide desertion rates often exceeding twenty percent a year, the army cracked down hard on such offenders. Runaways apprehended at Fort Davis received forty to fifty lashes, were branded on the left hip with the letter "D", had their heads shaved, and were drummed out of the service to the haunting strains of the "Rogue's March." Some men protested the brutal public whipping, shaving, and stripping of a fellow soldier's military insignia. In one incident at Fort Davis, officer-of-the-day Edward Hartz ordered several men to whip Pvt. William Gould. In rapid succession five soldiers refused to lash Gould to Hartz's satisfaction. "Humanity is a commendable virtue but must give way to the voice of law and the ends of justice," Hartz later wrote after fining the reluctant floggers seventy dollars apiece. [68]

The simple written protest of one of the accused, Pvt. Lewis Dyer Brooks, reveals a good deal about the average enlisted man and the harshness of army life. Brooks, only eighteen years old at the time, noted that for the previous four years and nine months of his enlistment, he "never got in the guard-house or in trouble." Despite this fine record of service, Brooks continued, "i was detailed to flog a man witch i did it seems not quit hard enuf witch god knows i have floged others the same and nothing was said to me. . . . god knows i did not intend to fail to do my duty." [69]

Disobedience of orders also drew severe punishment. Pvt. Daniel Sullivan refused an order to sweep and called his corporal a "son of a bitch," for which the court levied a thirty-dollar fine and six months' hard labor. For striking a noncommissioned officer, a soldier could expect a twenty- to thirty-five-dollar fine and three to six months' wearing a ball and chain in the guardhouse. As Pvt. Thomas Nary found out in 1856, refusing to obey an officer's order meant even harsher punishment. Nary forfeited forty dollars of his pay and was to be confined on bread and water for three months. Admitting that "few men could bear" such punishment, military authorities remitted the bread and water diet to ten days. [70]

Other sentences reflected the tremendous latitude given garrison courts-martial. Musician William Snyder received a twenty-five-dollar fine and a two months' stay in the post guardhouse for stomping on his band instrument. After trying to kill a fellow bandsman, a court fined Pvt. Thomas Griffiths fifty-four dollars and gave him six months of hard labor. Thieves could expect to be branded on the left hip with the letter "T," have their head shaved, and be drummed out of the army. On the other hand, one private found guilty of attempted rape received only a relative slap on the wrist—a twenty-dollar fine. [71]

Pvt. John McCool proved to be the most notorious malcontent among the Davis garrison. The blue-eyed, brown-haired native of Ireland enlisted at Philadelphia in May 1855. Thirteen months later, having drawn guard duty at Fort Davis, McCool left his post to visit his wife. Upon being confronted by a sergeant, McCool threatened to "let the son of a bitch have" it with his shotgun. The private received a stiff sentence—an eighty-dollar fine and five months' confinement at hard labor. In December 1857 a drunken McCool threatened his spouse, for which a garrison court fined him ten dollars and confined him at hard labor for forty days. McCool again ran afoul of authorities in August 1858, when he went to sleep behind a wood pile while on guard duty. For this offence, he was fined thirty dollars and sent to the guardhouse for six months. For two weeks every other month, McCool would be placed in solitary confinement on bread and water. The private, however, proved indefatigable—while serving the latter sentence, he escaped, was caught, and charged with desertion—another $120 fine, fifty lashes, and hard labor for six months. Undaunted, McCool completed his five-year army stint, and was discharged at Ringgold Barracks in June 1860. [72]

A sensational incident fueled camp gossip in July 1857. Early that month Pvt. Edward Eagan asked laundress Jane McDermott to return his laundry. In the course of their conversation, Eagan noted his desire "to get some woman to sleep with." Several days later Eagan returned to her quarters brandishing a knife and threatening to kill Jane's husband, Pvt. James McDermott, so as to "have the pleasure of sleeping with you yet." Terrified, Mrs. McDermott told her husband of Eagan's harrassment. Private McDermott grabbed a pistol and found Eagan just outside the camp theater. The two exchanged insults; McDermott fired a shot into the air to frighten his adversary, who promptly charged the former with a butcher knife. McDermott then shot and killed his assailant in self-defense. [73]

McDermott's trials had just begun. A good soldier before the incident, he was thrown into the guardhouse for the next ten months until a garrison court-martial convened. McDermott found himself charged with having shot Eagan and with having illegally discharged a firearm on the base. The court found him guilty of the first charge but attached no criminality to the incident because of the extenuating circumstances. But McDermott was found guilty of the firearms charge, fined thirty dollars, and sentenced to hard labor for six months. The long-suffering private protested the sentence, noting his previous incarceration and his "suffering . . . at having his wife alone during that time without a protector." On the advice of all but one of the members of the court, Fort Davis authorities later remitted McDermott's sentence. [74]

The military also drew businessmen, workers, land speculators, and assorted civilians to the Fort Davis region. Attempting to insure that soldiers had some of society's amenities, each regiment maintained officially approved sutlers. Before the Civil War, regimental and post commanders permitted selected individuals to erect sutler's stores on army posts. Official boards of survey regulated sales of food, clothing, alcohol, and assorted wares. Since in a frontier environment the post trader often enjoyed a captive market, it was essential that the prices and quality of this merchandise be closely monitored. Frequently, enlisted men and civilians charged that officers accepted under the table payments from the sutler in exchange for allowing him to cheat his powerless clients. [75]

Such does not appear to have been the case at antebellum Fort Davis, where Alexander Young held the post sutlership. First appointed in February 1855, he won renewed permission in December 1857 and August 1860, and was also named sutler for nearby Fort Quitman in December 1860. By January of the following year, the enterprising Young had also secured contracts to supply the Davis garrison with wood and hay. At Fort Davis, Young erected a 135-by-20-foot combined store and warehouse. An example of the picket structure so popular throughout the 1850s, Young's store boasted four rooms and one fireplace. The walls were chinked with adobe; one of the rooms even had a wooden floor. [76]

Young found a financial bonanza at Fort Davis. For official recognition and the right to sell alcohol to the troops, he paid a five-cent tax per man every month. In 1857 one irate civilian asserted that Young hawked his wares "at enormous prices." But by 1860 the sharp-eyed inspector J. K. F. Mansfield reported that Young kept his store "well supplied with all the requisites for the troops & gives satisfaction." Young supplied soldiers, resident civilians, travelers, and traders from Mexico, as well as serving as an erstwhile banker. The long absence of the paymaster, for example, led Lieutenant Hartz to borrow money from Young to send home to his family. [77]

Other civilians also enjoyed semiofficial status at antebellum forts. The scarcity of skilled personnel at frontier posts and the continuing fiscal crises of the War Department led the army to hire a mix of civilian workers and its own soldiers to perform essential miscellaneous tasks. At Fort Davis the military paid more than $13,000 for extra duty men and civilian workers between October 1854 and June 1856. At the latter date the army engaged a herder, a blacksmith, and a guide from the civilian ranks. More commonly, however, the War Department limited the hire of expensive civilian employees, employing regulars in extra duty tasks whenever possible. [78]

Fig. 4:11. View of Fort Davis, 1854-58, showing (from left) enlisted barrack, guard house, and sutler's store. Watercolor by Capt. Arthur T. Lee. Photograph courtesy of Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester.

The army's presence at Fort Davis also encouraged nonmilitary development such as the bustling overland trail service community of Wild Rose Pass. No less than seven separate dwellings occupied by stage- and mail-related workers, each with a station keeper, cook, and some form of auxiliary laborer, were evidenced in the 1860 census. In all, Wild Rose Pass boasted a population of forty-seven stationkeepers, six stage drivers, one conductor, eight hostlers, seven cooks, two servants, two herders, one laborer, his wife, and six children. Ironically, the laborer, Lauriano Carrasco, owned more property than anyone else listed in the Wild Rose Pass settlement, with a total of two hundred dollars in real and five hundred dollars in personal property. [79]

Residents of the little settlement claimed a cosmopolitan background. Fifteen were born in Mexico, two in Ireland, and one in Saxony. Southern-born occupants included nine Arkansans, five Tennesseans, two Texans, one Mississippian, and one Alabaman. The north was also represented, with two natives of Ohio and one each of New Jersey and New York. It was a young population, with an average age of twenty-three and one-half years. John Brown, a thirty-four-year-old station keeper, was the oldest person enumerated. [80]

Other civilians played a prominent role in the region's early history. Ben Leaton, perhaps the most important of the early Anglo residents, had been killed by John Burgess in the early 1850s. Despite the death of its namesake, Fort Leaton continued to supply army expeditions; several official maps even listed it as a U.S. military installation. After her husband's death, Leaton's wife, the former Juana Pedraza, married a discharged soldier named Hall, who also died under mysterious circumstances. Burgess took over the Leaton ranch in lieu of debts; Mrs. Hall moved to Fort Davis, married a hospital steward, and drifted into obscurity. [81]

Another early resident, John Spencer, established a ranch twelve miles up the Rio Grande from Presidio. After unsuccessfully attempting to raise horses, he turned to the cattle business and secured a contract to supply Fort Davis. During the 1850s Manuel Musquiz and his family set up ranching operations six miles southeast of the fort in the canyon that now bears his name. The Musquiz settlement, eventually numbering some twenty persons, was frequently threatened by Indian attacks. [82]

Milt Faver became another major Trans-Pecos cattleman. Of mysterious origins, he claimed to have come to the Big Bend region as a cure for consumption. Faver reportedly spoke Spanish, French, and German along with English, and enjoyed fine wine, tailored suits, and peach brandy. He married Francisca Ramirez, and after briefly operating a dry goods store in Presidio, turned to ranching, establishing a castle-like residence on Cibolo Creek fifty miles south of Davis. Repulsing several Indian raids (assisted at least partially by a small cannon obtained from Fort Davis), Faver turned an original stock of three hundred into a ten- to twenty-thousand-head cattle herd after the Civil War. [83]

Another community, known as Las Limpias, nestled closer to the fort. Its seventy residents included thirty females and seventeen children. Like the trail service settlement at Wild Rose Pass, the population at Las Limpias averaged less than twenty-five years of age. Employment at the latter village centered upon serving the military post's various needs—the census enumerator logged seventeen laundresses, twelve laborers, four cooks, three servants, three seamstresses, a merchant, a storekeeper, a clerk, and a sutler. Fifty persons listed Mexico as their birthplace; Texas and Ireland each contributed five natives. Others were born in Louisiana, California, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, France, Belgium, and New York. [84]

Several residents at Las Limpias prospered from the army's presence. Sutler Alexander Young reported the greatest estate, worth $28,000. Diedrick Dutchover, reportedly born Anton Diedrick, had been shanghaied at Antwerp in 1842. Escaping at Galveston, he joined the army and served in the war against Mexico. Not understanding English, he was dubbed Diedrick Dutchallover. "Dutchover" originally came to the Davis region as an employee of Henry Skillman's mail-stage line in 1854, then served as a butcher for the post. Weighing a mere ninety pounds, little Dutchover was considered a superb jockey and rode Lt. Zenas R. Bliss's horse in the Fort Davis races. Despite Indian attacks, he had accumulated $6,400 worth of property by 1860, and went on to became one of the region's leading citizens. Other wealthy personages included merchant Patrick Murphy, who also figured prominently in subsequent development. [85]

In addition to providing a market for the area's ranchers and farmers, the army offered other tangible assistance to civilian growth. Local residents, for example, could purchase condemned equipment and animals at the army's public auctions. One man who bought used army goods was Irish-born Daniel Murphy, a naturalized citizen who came to America as a youth, started a ranch north of Fort Davis by 1857, and later established a saloon just off the base. Like Dutchover, Murphy became one of the area's most important figures after the Civil War. Of course, the military did not always attract upstanding figures. Gamblers and ne'er-do-wells lurked about the outskirts of the post; among the most prominent of the undesirables was one Monte Smith, who operated a grog shop-casino frequented by the soldiers. [86]

The military presence directly impacted the region's landowners. An 1820 statute forbade the War Department from purchasing land without special congressional authorization. This restriction was of particular importance to the army in Texas, because the Lone Star state owned the public lands. As such, speculators claimed the sites occupied by the military; once their ownership had been established, they could rent the land to the War Department at a considerable profit. The state did not recognize the shaky claims of Jose Ronquillo's heirs and descendents to the Trans-Pecos north of Presidio. Instead, the original claimant to the site which later became Fort Davis was one A. S. Lewis. [87]

John James, a prominent West Texas surveyor, land agent, and speculator, eventually secured control of the site from Martha Hardin, to whom Lewis had sold the warrant. On October 7, 1854, the government leased the 640-acre tract from James for twenty years at three hundred dollars per annum. The agreement gave the government the right to purchase the land outright for ten dollars per acre within five years, or for twenty dollars per acre for the remainder of the term of the lease. [88]

Both the James lease and the ownership of valuable timberlands in the surrounding area were bitterly disputed. Post commander Seawell sought to untangle the situation, but by April 1855 an army clerk recorded that Seawell's "efforts to effect a lease of the land on which Fort Davis is situated, have failed." Surviving records suggest that the original James lease was either forgotten or temporarily voided by mid-1855. Into the breach sprang James W. Magoffin, a prominent West Texas businessman who offered the army a site which, if not that of Fort Davis itself, was close enough to the reservation to confuse all but the most careful student of the dispute. The Magoffin agreement was concluded on July 6, 1855. Still, the problem had not been clarified in May 1856, when Asst. Adj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell advised Seawell to continue negotiations with Magoffin in the event that no other claimants surfaced. [89]

Whether or not Magoffin's claim included the site of the post or simply nearby timber lands, the army reversed its course and once again dealt with James. A previously unforeseen hurdle was removed by mid-August 1856, when a prominent local figure, James Dawson, relinquished his right "to a certain tract of land lying on the Limpia stream near Fort Davis." That same month, the government again leased the post site from James, who by 1860 was receiving the original three hundred dollars annual rent. Magoffin, meanwhile, vainly tried to secure more money for his own claims; his demands for annual payment of five hundred dollars again suggest that he claimed the Fort Davis site itself. The army, however, refused to accede to Magoffin's supplications, determining instead that "his declaration will not be regarded nor his claim admitted." [90]

Timber leases further established the army's role as a significant if not always cooperative client to West Texas landowners before the Civil War. Once again John James, land agent, owner, and speculator, emerged as a crucial player. In April 1857 a board of officers at Fort Davis agreed to pay James Dawson, James R. Sweet, and Henry Skillman $905.53 for timber used in constructing the fort. In December 1857 Texas Congressman Guy M. Bryan notified the War Department that a number of his constituents had filed claims for wood removed from their land by the army. At Fort Davis, John James was again at the center of such claims, arguing that the Sweet-Skillman lands belonged to him. James refused to accept the army board's valuation and instigated legal proceedings in San Antonio district court against Fort Davis officers Seawell, Lee, Jones, and Pilcher for $20,000 in damages. [91]

Desperate to avoid more trouble with the locals, Colonel Seawell called upon the War Department to make a generous offer. "I would recommend, with a view to the amicable settlement of the matter, that Mr. James be allowed the highest price which pine trees are worth in any forest in this state," advised Seawell. The officers involved in the lawsuit, fearing personal liability, were authorized to hire legal counsel to defend their interests. Their choice proved wise, for they secured the services of the firm of William Houston and J. J. Allen for a fee of five hundred dollars. On October 13, 1860, the court ruled in favor of James, but allowed him only one thousand dollars in damages. A special clause in the army appropriations bill covered the fine and court costs the following year. [92]

Despite the legal entanglements, the Fort Davis garrison brought rudimentary law and order to the Trans-Pecos. In 1850 Texas created Presidio, El Paso, and Santa Fe counties, and dispatched commissioner (and future Indian agent) Robert S. Neighbors to organize the new governments. The state's claim to what it called Santa Fe County, the most populous of the new units, was invalidated by the Compromise of 1850. Confusion over the legal organization of sparsely populated Presidio County (which included the site of Fort Davis) led the state to attach it to El Paso County for judicial purposes. [93]

The lack of local government rendered civil law enforcement practically impossible. With nowhere else to turn, army officers stationed at posts like Davis often settled minor civil disputes. The absence of county officials also made for curious political contests. Judge A. C. Hyde came to Fort Davis seeking support for his state senate campaign. Hyde proved more interested in getting votes than in securing proper identification from prospective supporters. In addition to soliciting the vote of Lieutenant Bliss, Hyde also asked a number of Mexican nationals passing through the area. Bliss, although admitting that Hyde was a good man and a fine state senator, later concluded that the propriety of such vote-gathering techniques left much to be desired. [94]

In March 1860 nonexistant local government and the inevitable jealousies between soldiers and civilians led to a near riot. In a late night scuffle at Daniel Murphy's saloon, located about six hundred yards southeast of the fort, Pvt. John Pratt was stabbed to death. Wild with anger and full of strong drink, several members of Pratt's G Company assembled outside the saloon, brandishing their firearms and demanding that bartender William Graham, supposed to be Pratt's assailant, surrender himself. They opened up a ragged fusilade into Murphy's establishment; in the darkness of the night, one of their own number, Pvt. Michael Powers, received a mortal wound. [95]

Word of the riot finally reached officer-of-the-day Lt. William McE. Dye, who, with the help of a reliable guard, convinced a panic stricken William Graham to go to the post stockade for his own safety. The excitement seemed to subside the following day. But it proved to be only a calm before the storm. The men of G Company, intent upon avenging their dead comrades and apparently with the assistance of six members of the guard, broke into the jail, seized prisoner Graham, and hung him on a nearby tree. [96]

In a remarkable display of group solidarity, the men of G Company refused to divulge much useful information to Fort Davis investigating officers. Department commander Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, determined to get to the bottom of the incident, ordered Colonel Seawell to lead the external investigation. Capt. James V. Bomford's H Company also returned to Fort Davis to restore order. The members of the guard who had allowed Graham to be lynched received stiff fines and eight to ten months of hard labor. A strong escort took the supposed ringleaders to El Paso for civil trial, but a jury dismissed the charges due to a lack of evidence. Dissatisfied with the outcome but unable to break the ring of silence, the army broke up G Company, distributing its remaining men to other outfits in the regiment. [97]

Several other factors had contributed to the disintegration of G Company. Its captain, Joseph Selden, had been absent sick or on detached duty for the past twelve years. Lt. Theodore Fink, himself a former enlisted man, was frequently detached as recruiting officer; other officers believed him overly lax in his disciplinary measures. With less than two years' experience, Lt. James J. Van Horn filled out the only other commissioned slot. Detached service, extra duty, sickness, and crime further divided the unit and reduced morale. Company discipline suffered accordingly; the men habitually left their quarters without permission before the incidents of mid-March. With but little guidance from their officers, the soldiers had grown accustomed to looking out for and protecting their own interests. Distrusting orders and uncertain that Graham would be punished, they took matters into their own hands, in the process terrifying superiors who recognized the often tenuous nature of military discipline on the frontiers. [98]

By 1861 Fort Davis had become much more than a simple military outpost. In addition to serving as one of the army's major western bases during the mid 1850s, the fort attracted a number of civilians to the Trans-Pecos region. Among military men, slow promotion, low pay, isolation, and personal feuds frequently divided commissioned personnel. On the other hand, shared bonds of West Point training, Mexican War experiences, and alleged persecution by Congress and the general public engendered a sense of community among the officers. Clearly distinguished from the officers were the enlisted men, whose foreign and urban roots troubled many officials. Fatigue details rather than military duty kept most of the soldiers busy, although the garrison's impressive drills outshone those of typical western posts until the fort was stripped of manpower in 1860. Rations were ample if bland; pay certain if below that offered skilled civilian laborers; discipline harsh and unremitting; entertainment possible if unsophisticated.

Social and economic divisions also marked the lives of those at Fort Davis. Comparatively few officers' wives lived at Fort Davis before the Civil War. Though enjoying the benefits of official army recognition, laundresses found life at the military post rigorous and even dangerous. The sutler, Alexander Young, performed his duties better than many who held such positions at frontier posts. Most civilians found work with the stage and overland mail lines. A few ranchers also braved the isolation and dangers of far western Texas. But civil-military relations were not always harmonious. While enjoying the proceeds from military leases, landowners found the army to be a tough bargainer. In the absence of formal civil government, the post offered some legal authority, but it could not always prevent clashes between soldiers and civilians.

The army erected Fort Davis to protect the overland trail west of San Antonio, to establish the supremacy of the federal government over Indian tribes ranging the Trans-Pecos, and to facilitate non-Indian, non-Hispanic settlement of the region. The garrison provided some defense against Indian attacks, yet its small size and the government's inconsistent and poorly conceived Indian policies limited the post's effectiveness. Indian raiders still plagued overland traffic, striking even the small ranches in the immediate vicinity. Once in battle, the regulars did fairly well; however, their inability to chase down Indian groups deemed hostile frustrated settlers and soldiers alike. Finally, the fort stimulated only limited Anglo settlement of the Trans-Pecos during the 1850s. The civilian population remained small and heavily dependent upon the military's continued presence. In sum, as the 1860s opened Fort Davis had only partially realized the goals set forth by the architects of what passed for federal policy.

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Last Updated: 13-Feb-2008