The Cavalry Barracks
Fort Laramie Furnishing Study
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Analysis of Historic Occupancy

Occupants, Who They Were: K Company, 2nd Cavalry

One of the two cavalry companies occupying this barracks in the summer of 1876 was Company K, 2nd United States Cavalry. This unit was part of the United States Regular Army, and as of 1876 had been organized and operational for ten years. Its character was that of a unit of veteran, professional soldiers. Of course, the company had its share of recruits, but at least a quarter of its 62 enlisted men were second- and third-enlistment soldiers, who had already seen at least five years of service in the company.

The June 30—August 31, 1876, Muster Roll of Company K (see Appendix I) reveals that, like most regular units, this one was composed of about one-third immigrants, mainly from Ireland and Germany, with the remainder having been born in the United States. By and large, Company K would have been most aptly characterized in August 1876 as a well-shaken down, veteran outfit. Earlier in the year, they participated in General Crook's grueling winter campaign, north from Fort Fetterman, Wyoming. This campaign climaxed in the attack on a large Sioux and Cheyenne village on Powder River, March 17, 1876. More recently, Company K, commanded by war-horse Capt. James Egan, had skirmished with hostile Sioux warriors while patrolling the Oregon—California trail, near Elkhorn Creek, Wyoming, June 22, 1876.

Only the enlisted men of Company K actually lived in the barracks. Captain Egan, who had been its commander for several years, had his quarters with the officers. First Lt. Colon Augur never joined the unit, serving on detached duty as aide-de-camp to his father, Gen. C.C. Augur. The company's other commissioned officer, Lt. James N. Allison, likewise was not serving with it during part of August 1876, as he was on detached duty as recruiting officer.

Since only Captain Egan was continually present to officer Company K, its senior non-commissioned officers, and especially 1st Sgt. John Gleason, were important leadership and command personnel. The first sergeant of a regular army company was the single most important man in the unit. It was he who made up duty rosters, kept company accounts, maintained discipline, and frequently actually led the company in drills and training. The captain had to place great trust in his first sergeant, as he was the key figure in all company affairs.

Sergeant Gleason was born in Massachusetts, was 29 years old, and in his second five-year enlistment. He was the only enlisted man in the company who rated his own separate room in the barracks, on the first floor adjoining the orderly room, over which he reigned as top sergeant of Company K. As the captain's right-hand man, Sergeant Gleason no doubt fit Captain Egan's concepts of the style and behavior of a company first sergeant, concepts which Egan most likely formed over the course of his own twenty years of regular army experience, both as officer and enlisted man.

Captain Egan was born in Ireland and came to the United States as a boy. In 1856, at the age of 16, he enlisted in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons (designated 2nd Cavalry after 1861) and spent the next two years serving in that rigidly disciplined, thoroughly regulation regiment. In 1860, he again enlisted in the regular army, this time in the 1st Cavalry (organized in 1855), and was soon made a corporal (1860) and later sergeant (1861). In 1863, he was promoted to first sergeant and, on August 20, 1863, commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2nd Cavalry, the regiment in which he had begun his army service.

During the Civil War Egan was severely wounded at the battle of Cold Harbor, June 1, 1864. Although his injuries left his right arm almost paralyzed and his vision impaired, he managed to stay in the regular army after the Civil War. He was promoted to captain in 1868, the rank and position he held in August 1876. All his experience had been in the U.S. Regulars, the strictly regulation professional. military, very much unlike the more easy-going volunteer regiments of the Civil War. Many officers of the Indian Wars era had begun their careers as state volunteer officers during the Civil War and then secured appointments in the regular army after the war. But Captain Egan was not one of these. He was a thorough-going regular, rank-and-file and commissioned.

Since his wounds had left him partially disabled, it can be presumed that Captain Egan relied even more than was usual on his first sergeant in the routine administration and operations of Company K. When coupled with Captain Egan's all-Regular experience, this meant that 1st Sgt. Gleason held his key position in Company K, because he carried on company business and ran the unit according to the views, biases, prejudices, and wishes of its captain.

Lieutenant Allison, who left on recruiting duty in August, had served as a drummer-boy during the Civil War. After the war he attended West Point, graduated with the class of 1871. With this background, it is likely that he, like Captain Egan, was a veteran soldier and a thoroughly regulation officer.

Considering the backgrounds of its officers, it can he assumed that Company K, 2nd Cavalry, was a relatively regulation outfit of professional U.S. Regulars. Indeed, when Company K participated in Brig. Gen. George Crook's fall campaign in November 1876, it was chosen for courier and provost duty at Crook's field headquarters because of the unit's fine military bearing and appearance. [1]

Where They Came From

Prior to joining the regular army, the men of Company K came from extremely varied and diverse backgrounds, not only in national origins, but also in terms of social and economic status and the occupations and professions they had pursued as civilians. While service in the company was conducive to conformity, the individual histories of its members were very likely reflected in a wide diversity of habits and interests while serving in Company K. Among the men of K Company were a woodturner, two sailors, three tailors, a printer, two saddle and harness-makers, a machinist, a carpenter, a painter, and a lawyer, as well as men who gave their occupations as laborer, farmer, teamster, clerk, or soldier. In addition, several of these men no doubt had served in European armies before coming to this country, and others were Civil War veterans. Although an army outfit, each man was an individual. As already mentioned, about 25 per cent of the company's strength consisted of second and third enlistment Regular soldiers, most of whom had experienced Indian campaign service. One of these, Pvt. Michael Himmelsbach (or Hümmelsbach) had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in action against hostile Indians in the Little Blue River country in Nebraska, May 17, 1870. Private Himmelsbach, as a member of a five-man detachment of Company C, 2nd Cavalry, led by a Sergeant Leonard, fought off a large band of hostile warriors and rescued a family of settlers while en route to an army camp. [2] This man was in K Company, serving his second enlistment in August 1876, and was present for duty and living in the upstairs squad room. His Medal of Honor would have been pinned to the left breast of his dress uniform blouse, which was hung up near his bunk or folded in his wooden foot locker.

K Company's first tour of duty at Fort Laramie came in 1872. Two years later the company was sent to Omaha Barracks, where until July 1875 the men enjoyed relatively easy routine garrison duty and the off-duty comforts and refinements of the rapidly growing, very much up-to-date city of Omaha. From July 1875 to January 1876, Company K served at Fort Shaw, Montana, on Sun River, not far west of Great Falls. In January 1876 the company was ordered to Fort Laramie, where General Crook was assembling men and material for his part in the coming campaign to force finally the Sioux and Cheyenne to come in to reservations after the expiration of the January 31, 1876, deadline set for their compliance with the Government's ultimatum.

Since no one really expected the Sioux and Cheyenne to comply, General Crook was ready late in February to move his field command, including Company K, 2nd Cavalry, north and west to Fort Fetterman. From there, Crook intended to launch a winter campaign against the recalcitrant Indian bands while they were still relatively immobile in their winter camps.

From Fetterman, the striking force went north to find the Sioux and Cheyenne camps in cold, snowy weather remarkable even for the severe climate of northern Wyoming. Men and horses suffered greatly. Many men experienced frostbite on their hands, feet, and faces.

Early in the freezing dawn of March 17, 1876, Col. Joseph J. Reynolds, acting under General Crook's orders, sent Company I and Company K, 2nd Cavalry, to spearhead his attack on the Sioux and Cheyenne winter camp on Powder River. Company K was one of the best In the Army, taking its tone from the widely recognized fearlessness of its partially disabled captain. Its place as one of the two lead companies in the attack was not by chance. Egan led his men forward, charging into the village with revolvers drawn. The battle was engaged as the warriors fought the soldiers for control of the village. Company K found itself hard pressed, and the contest's balance was only tipped by the effort of another company's relieving the pressure on Egan's men. Company K lost one man killed and three wounded in this action. Of the wounded, Pvts. John Droege, Edward Eagan, and Farrier Patrick Goings were still in Company K in August 1876. Droege was listed as still "sick." Goings had been slightly hit by a bullet in the shoulder, but was ready for duty the next day. Private Droege's left elbow had been fractured by a large caliber rifle bullet and Private Eagan had been shot by a .45 or .44 revolver, the bullet penetrating his abdomen and going out between his ribs. Eagan was a lucky man. Penetrating abdominal wounds were nearly always fatal then, due to infection resulting in peritonitis, which would rarely be overcome by the drugs and medicines then available.

Although the troops were able to capture and hold the Indian village, they were subject to continued sniping from higher ground around it. Some troopers could not resist the temptation to loot the contents of the village, which was not only richly endowed with Indian goods but was also a veritable magazine of ammunition and other supplies. Capt. Anson Mills specifically mentioned threatening a K Company corporal with his shotgun, ordering him to rejoin his unit, when he saw the man carrying loot from the village.

After setting fire to the tipis and supplies, the troops with drew from the Indian camp, and, after punishing marches through extremely cold weather, reached their respective posts about April 1. Company K came back to its warm barracks at Fort Laramie, but, considering the hardships of the return marches, it is doubtful that any but very small or particularly desirable items of Indian loot were brought back by its members. The company had played a hard and conspicuous role in the action of March 17, and its men, mounts, and material were much worn and badly in need of recruiting up in every way. [3]

The winter strike against the Sioux and Cheyenne had proven inconclusive at best. General Crook immediately began planning for a spring campaign, but K Company had earned some minor respite, and remained in garrison at Fort Laramie during the fateful spring and summer of 1876. While other 2nd Cavalry companies, along with those from other regiments, went out again on campaign to find the Sioux and Cheyenne, K Company was used in detachments as road patrols, scouts, escorts, and occasionally was sent out as a unit to pursue Indian raiders who ventured fairly close to Fort Laramie.

Most of these activities did not involve action with hostiles, with the exception that Captain Egan led his K Company men in a skirmish on June 22. The elusive warrior raiders managed to escape, but left one of their dead on the field, along Elkhorn Creek near its junction with the North Platte River on the Oregon Trail between Fort Laramie and what is now Douglas, Wyoming. Soldiers commonly looted the bodies of dead Indian enemies of all manner of beaded, painted, feathered, and quilled Indian finery, took any Indian weapons, and not infrequently took scalps themselves.

Personality Profile

Company K, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, has already been described as a veteran unit of the regular army of the mid-1870s. About one quarter of its complement were multiple enlistment professional soldiers and the average age level was about 25. All were volunteers. Most had come from the lower economic and social levels, and a good many were recent immigrants. Unlike the citizen soldiers of the Civil War, the men of K Company were professional soldiers. As one 1876 enlisted man later explained, "I was a boy during the Civil War, there was a army camp near and I guess I soked [sic] in some of the game, for later, every time I got Spiflicated I wanted to enlist [I] . . . thought it would be like the volunteers during the Civil War . . . but I found out the mistake. The Regular Army was a tough bunch in those days." [4]

As a group, Company K could be characterized as a proficient and especially military-appearing cavalry unit of the regular army in August 1876. Their individual and group tastes, habits, and interests were those common to the times and circumstances of their lives. Some were uneducated, others were readers; some had been down-and-outers, others were men of moderate tastes and refinement. It can he stated, however, that the majority were good Regular cavalrymen, as K Company was noted for its efficiency, bravery, and military hearing. For wider and deeper understanding of these soldiers, as individual men and as a unit, it is suggested that Forty Miles A Day On Beans and Hay, the Enlisted Soldier Fighting the Indian Wars, be referred to and read as a guide.

Activities of K Company

The floor plan taken from the 1872 Barracks Plan, as published by the Quartermaster, will be followed as to room uses, with only minor research-based variations suggested. The floor plan is found in the illustrations, plates 1 and 2.


The kitchen was used for preparation of all foods eaten by the men of K Company, except bread, which came from the post bakery. Most foods were boiled, baked, or roasted, in descending order of frequency. Coffee was served with virtually every meal, and boilers for its preparation would have been in evidence on the cookstove. It is unknown whether the company tableware and dishes were kept in the kitchen or the messroom. Soap-making, using lye and fats and oils saved in the course of food preparation (especially bacon and salt pork), was another probable activity in the kitchen.

Cook's Room—Storage

The larger of the two cooks' rooms was most likely used for storage and some food supplies. The smaller room was a sleeping cubicle for at least one cook. As a rule, two men at a time were detailed from the company strength as first and second cooks. The first cook was usually a soldier who had shown some culinary talent and a willingness to accept the assignment, while the second cook was more of a helper and scullion. He was detailed from the members of the unit to this unpleasant duty and usually retained his bunk and space in the company dormitory room.


The mess was the room in which the enlisted men, with the possible exception of the first sergeant, ate all their meals. It also served at times as an impromptu dance hall for the men and a training space in inclement weather for lectures, dry firing, signal flag drill, and the like. On holidays, and on special occasions, it was usually used as the company's party room, for skits and "stunts."


The dayroom came as close to being the enlisted men's lounge as did any room in the building. Here the men read the newspapers and magazines the company fund subscribed to. Checkers, cribbage, backgammon, and card games were sometimes played here—especially when orders forebade all men except the squad room orderly from being in the dormitory room upstairs during certain hours of duty during the day. Because it adjoined the armory room, where the required materials were stored, extra carbines, revolvers, leather equipments, and brasses were ho doubt refinished and worked on in the dayroom by men detailed to such duty. Considering that the dayroom was also adjacent to the company orderly room, duty assignments and orders were likely posted on the wall next to the orderly room door.

Noncommissioned Officers

This space is designated as one of two noncommissioned officer rooms on the 1872 Barracks Plan. Since neither of these rooms is labeled on the plan as the company orderly room, and since every company barracks had such a space set aside if at all possible, one of these rooms has been selected for furnishing as the orderly room. In the 1872 plans, from which this building was copied, a door is shown between this room and the dayroom. When the fabric of this structure is investigated, it is believed this will be found to have been the case in the Fort Laramie structure.

The first sergeant was the man who ran the company's routine affairs, kept its records, and served as the captain's executive officer and intermediary line of communication between the officer and enlisted ranks, in at least one instance, a heterogeneous collection of about fifty books designated the company or troop library was kept in the company orderly room. Muster rolls, reports, duty rosters for guard and fatigue details, requisitions for food, equipment, and clothing were prepared in the first sergeant's orderly room. It was the nerve center of company life and operations.

The other noncommissioned officer's room, next to the orderly room, would have been the first sergeant's sleeping and living quarters. Aside from the cook's cubicle, this room was the only private space provided for an enlisted man in the company barracks. Here, Sergeant Gleason had the only real privacy enjoyed by the enlisted inhabitants of the building.


The company armory was the storage place for all extra arms, ammunition, and other ordnance stores not specifically issued to individual members of Company K. Broken and obsolete ordnance stores, including guns, equipment, and sabers, were also kept here, if still on the list of such materiel for which the captain was responsible. In some cavalry outfits, revolvers (and occasionally other arms) were all kept under lock and key in an arms room or in the first sergeant's room to prevent their being stolen and sold by soldiers. Any arms owned by the company as a whole, such as a shotgun or two (and ammunition), which had been purchased out of company funds to be used for hunting birds and small game, would also likely have been kept in the armory. Some minor arms repair work was also likely carried on in this room.

Library—Saddler's Shop

Although designated as "library" on the 1872 Barracks Plan, it is likely that this room was being put to a much different use in the summer of 1876. Court martial proceedings at Fort Laramie, July 20, 1876, indicate that the K Company saddler's shop was located in a downstairs room of the barracks. [5]

Since the other downstairs rooms were in use for their assigned purposes, the "library" was likely the most expendable. It is presumed that the saddler's shop was in the room shown as "library" on the 1872 plan. Here, the saddler repaired the saddles and other leather horse gear of the company. He also sometimes repaired leather cartridge belts and other accouterments. Some saddlers were skilled enough to virtually "build" a saddle from the bare wooden tree, most likely for themselves or on special order from an officer or civilian.


The washroom, was, of course, the space where the men bathed and cleaned up (except for bathing in the Laramie River during warm weather), but they did not usually wash their own clothes. It is also most likely the space where the company barber set up shop for the once or twice a week shave and the monthly haircuts he gave the men of K Company. Shaving and bathing was usually part of the Saturday night ritual at mid-1870s army posts so that the men could be ready for the usual Sunday morning inspection. When other rooms had their "lights out," the washroom light (candle) may have also provided illumination for late poker games. Saddle soaping of some leather gear most likely would also have been done in this room.

Upper Story Dormitory or Squad Room

This room, more than any other place on the post, was "home" to the enlisted men of K Company. Most of their off-duty leisure time was spent here: sleeping, loafing, and in the soldiers' interminable and universal bull sessions and tales of endless "army," "Indian," "war," and "women stories."

Burnishing and maintenance of uniforms and equipment was also a constant activity, especially for the ultra smart looking "orderly buckers," who spent many hours applying heel-ball shines to their leather accouterments and polishing their arms and brasses to extremes of brilliance. Men selected competitively at guard mount to serve as orderly stood no tours of night guard, as did the rest of the guard detail. Every company contained men who were noted as successful "orderly buckers." While such men spent most of their spare time working on their uniforms and gear, all the men spent a large part of their time in barracks in the same occupation.

Other off-duty activities in the sleeping quarters were card games (especially after pay-day or clothing issue), letter and diary writing, mending clothes, reading, hobby crafts (such as wood carving, leather braiding, and the like), and the playing of a few musical instruments. Some men attended the post school to improve their meager educations and studied in the barracks. A few others studied manuals on rifle marksmanship, swordsmanship, and tactics.

On rare occasions, the dormitory was converted into a space for a company theatrical show, dance or party, by stacking the iron bunks to one side.

The barracks were "policed" every morning by the occupants and one man was assigned as room orderly to keep the room clean. In some companies a favored old soldier was frequently permanently assigned as room orderly.

In inclement weather the Sunday morning inspection was often held in this room, each man standing by his own bunk and footlocker, dressed in his dress uniform or whatever particular uniform was called for in the orders of the day.

Activities Outside the Barracks and/or in the Field

K Company's primary reason for being stationed at Fort Laramie was to perform field service either near or far from the post on major campaigns against Indians, or as escorts, patrols, and security guards. In August 1876, details from K Company were frequently sent out on field service, and at times Captain Egan led the entire duty strength of the unit to pursuits of Indian raiders.

In post, the company drew its share of routine guard duty and fatigues, and participated in target practice and other drills. Some men participated in hunting, fishing, baseball, and field sports. Examples of the daily post routines are found in Appendix 2 to this report.

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Last Updated: 30-Nov-2009