Historic Resource Study
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The American Southwest [1] officially became part of the United States at the close of the Mexican War in 1848, although the infiltration of Anglo-American people and culture had begun more than a generation earlier with the opening of the Santa Fe Trail between New Mexico and Missouri. Political organization of the Mexican Cession was part of the famous Compromise of 1850 when California was admitted to the Union as a free state, New Mexico and Utah territories were established with the right of popular sovereignty regarding the institution of black slavery, and the boundary controversy between the State of Texas and New Mexico Territory was settled.

American military history in the region began with the outbreak of war between the United States and Mexico in 1846, and the United States Army would continue to be a major factor in political, social, cultural, and economic, as well as military developments in New Mexico Territory for nearly half a century. For a time New Mexico Territory included all of the present states of New Mexico and Arizona and portions of the present states of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. [2] The primary mission of the army in the region for four decades was to protect travelers and settlers (including the Pueblo Indians, Hispanic population, and Anglo residents) from hostile activities of some Indians. During the Civil War that responsibility was expanded to include Confederate troops who invaded the territory. The significance of the army in the region, however, extended far beyond protection, and the military establishment affected almost every institution and individual in New Mexico. Fort Union was one part of that vast system, and it was established at a time of extensive changes in the New Mexican political, social, economic, cultural, and military structure.

In 1851 Fort Union was established almost 100 miles from Santa Fe near the Santa Fe Trail and served briefly as command headquarters for the several other forts in the territory and longer as protector of the vicinity from Indians who resented the loss of their lands, power, and traditional ways of life. Most military engagements between soldiers and Indians, however, occurred beyond the immediate jurisdiction of Fort Union. Even so, troops stationed at Union were frequently sent to participate in campaigns in the Southwest and on the plains. The post was always closely associated with the Santa Fe Trail, the economic lifeline that tied New Mexico to the eastern States. An important part of the mission of troops stationed at Fort Union was to protect that route from Indian raids and warfare, to keep open the shipping lane to the Southwest.

Perhaps more important than fighting Indians over the years was Fort Union's role as the department (later district) quartermaster depot for military posts throughout the territory, 1851-1853 and 1861-1879 (it was a subdepot from 1853-1861), when much of the food, clothing, transportation, and shelter for the army was distributed from Fort Union store houses. This made Fort Union the hub of military freighting in the Southwest, an activity which also employed many civilians and has until recently been overlooked in evaluating the military history of the region. [3] In addition, from 1851 to 1883, the department ordnance depot (known as the arsenal after the Civil War) was operated at Fort Union. Such logistical assignments at Fort Union were not as romantic in the public eye as fighting Indians, but they made the other military bases, field campaigns, and police actions possible. New Mexico was a large territory, it must be remembered, and Fort Union was not involved in everything going on there. One must be careful not to claim too much importance for Fort Union, just as one must be careful not to claim too much importance for the army in the region. It was just one part of a complex and changing society.

The Anglo-American troops and civilian employees of the army who came from the eastern states to the Southwest, including those at Fort Union, helped to modify and destroy the traditional ways of life of Indians and Hispanos in the Southwest, a process that has since been called the "Americanization" of the region. Marion Sloan Russell (1845-1936) first visited Fort Union in 1852 and was there on many other occasions. She met her husband, Lieutenant Richard D. Russell, and was married at the post. A few years before her death she dictated her memoirs, including fond recollections of Fort Union. "That fort," she proclaimed, "became the base for United States troops during the long period required to Americanize the territory of New Mexico." [4]

Territory of New Mexico 1850-1861. Source: Warren A. Beck and Ynez O. Haase, Historical Atlas of New Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), 29.

That "Americanization," in part, was the result of the intrusion of Anglo institutions and values, including Protestantism, democratic ideals, political structures, public education, and a market economy into the combination of Indian and Hispanic cultures that had developed during previous centuries. It was a also the result of Anglo-American domination of the economy and government, which slowly affected the social structure and culture in the Southwest. This was not always a conscious goal or effort, but it resulted from circumstances in which Anglo power was enforced by the military (which also included some Hispanic soldiers and native New Mexican employees).

The army thus performed primary and secondary functions in that process of change over the years. The overall effect appeared far-reaching and dramatic because the histories, traditions, and cultures of the Indians and Hispanos of the Southwest were markedly different from those of the Anglo conquerors. As historian Marc Simmons proclaimed, "the entire history of New Mexico from 1850 to the present is interwoven with attempts by the Indian and Hispano populations to come to terms with an alien Anglo society." [5] The history of Fort Union must be set into that perspective of cultural change to see it as more than just another frontier military post established to fight Indians.

The officers and men of the American army had to adapt to the peoples and cultures already in the Southwest, and they had to learn to survive and live productively in a geographical environment foreign to their earlier experiences but to which the native New Mexicans had already learned to accommodate their lives, ideas, and institutions. Because of Anglo beliefs in the superiority of their people and institutions over those of the Hispanics and Indians, army personnel often failed to assimilate native practices in dealing with the environment and misunderstood what was possible in the region. Americans from the United States were as determined to dominate the land as they were the people of the Southwest. The history of Fort Union is also part of that story. [6]

Fort Union was established in the heart of a vast region of plains (where there were few trees) and mountains, embracing portions of the present states of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Utah. This included the western plains, ranging from the flat grasslands of the Llano Estacado of western Texas and eastern New Mexico to the eroded prairies bordering eastward-flowing streams running out of the Rocky Mountains toward the Mississippi River, the volcanic mesas and isolated peaks of northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado, and the foothills and mountains of the southern Rockies. [7]

Fort Union was located in 1851 in the transition zone between the plains and the mountains, an area rich in several grasses which were excellent for grazing livestock and cutting for hay. The predominate grass was grama, and there were also found buffalo grass, switch grass, bluestem, antelope grass, and others. The military post was located west of the Turkey Mountains and east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Turkey Mountains comprise a circular group of timbered hills, formed by volcanic eruptions and igneous uplift, which were set aside as the Fort Union timber reservation. The Sangre de Cristos form the southernmost branch of the Rocky Mountain province. West of the Sangre de Cristos lies the Rio Grande, the fifth longest river in North America, the lifestream of New Mexico from early Indian occupation to the present. [8]

One of the military officers stationed in New Mexico in the late 1850s, Lieutenant William Woods Averell, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, later wrote in his memoirs that "the principal topographical feature of New Mexico is the Rio Grande which enters it from Colorado on the north and running along the backbone of the Rocky Mountains, like a half-developed spinal cord in embryo, leaves it at El Paso on the south." Averell clearly understood the primacy of the Rio Grande to the territory. "As the Nile to lower Egypt, so is the Rio Grande to the habitable portion of New Mexico," he wrote. "Agriculture waits upon its waters which are drained away by unnumbered acequias to irrigate its fertile but thirsty soil." In addition, "the Mexicans, for protection and defense against twenty thousand savages, lived in towns from Taos to El Paso." [9]

The Sangre de Cristo range was an obstacle to travel between the plains where buffalo were plentiful and the agricultural settlements in the Rio Grande valley. There were several passes through the mountains, three of which were most important to plains Indians who visited the Pueblos and other New Mexican settlements and to the Pueblos and New Mexicans who ventured onto the plains to hunt buffalo and trade with the plains tribes. The Pueblos located at those three connections enjoyed a favored position in trade between the plains and the valley and prospered from the commerce. As points where different cultures met, they also faced special problems. [10]

The northern pass, perhaps the most difficult of the three, connected with Taos, northernmost Pueblo in New Mexico, via either Rayado Creek or the Cimarron River of New Mexico on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo range and the Taos Valley on the west. The southern pass, the least difficult route of the three, connected Pecos Pueblo in the Pecos River valley with the river Pueblos and Santa Fe, after it was founded in 1610, via Glorieta Pass. It was the route followed by the Santa Fe Trail in the nineteenth century. The middle pass followed up the Mora River valley from the plains and connected with Picuris Pueblo on the Rio Grande side. Fort Union was established at the eastern end of that middle pass to Picuris. Each of those three routes, it should be noted, followed reliable water sources.

Fort Union Region (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Transportation routes and settlements in the Southwest were located on or near flowing streams because of the general paucity of annual precipitation and its sporadic nature during any given year. All of the streams headed in the mountains and defined the patterns for permanent settlements. The Rio Grande was the largest and most important river in New Mexico, but a number of rivers and their tributary creeks were vital in the area surrounding Fort Union. [11] None of these streams was navigable.

The Arkansas River flowing eastward from the Colorado Rockies and across present Kansas had served as the international boundary (west of the 100th meridian, present Dodge City, Kansas) between the United States and Mexico, 1819-1848. Its valley was an important avenue for Anglo westward migration. The Santa Fe Trail, the major overland connection between New Mexico and the Missouri River valley and the primary route of supply for Fort Union and the army in the Southwest, followed a stretch of the Arkansas (the original route, later known as the Cimarron Route, from present Ellinwood, Kansas, to a point near present Cimarron, Ingalls, or Lakin, Kansas, and the later Mountain Route from Ellinwood to present La Junta, Colorado). Several Indian tribes lived and hunted along the Arkansas, and Bent's Fort was established on that stream by Bent, St. Vrain & Co. (Charles and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain) in 1833, in part, to trade with some of them. Troops from Fort Union were sometimes sent to protect routes of transportation along the Arkansas, especially during the 1850s and the Civil War years.

wagon training fording river
Wagon train fording the Arkansas River, from Harper's Monthly, Sept. 1862, courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society.

There are two Cimarron rivers in Fort Union country. One, a tributary of the Arkansas River, is formed by the joining of the Dry Cimarron (which begins in the Raton Mountains about 30 miles east of Raton Pass in New Mexico), Carrizozo Creek (heading in New Mexico), and Carrizo Creek (heading in Colorado) in the northwestern corner of the Oklahoma panhandle. Thus the main stream of this Cimarron is known as the Dry Cimarron in New Mexico (to distinguish it from the other Cimarron in New Mexico) and as the Cimarron River from Oklahoma eastward. The Dry Cimarron was also an appropriate name for the river because, in most years, its surface flow was only sporadic. Water could usually be found, however, by digging in the sandy bed. This Cimarron flows (when water is evident) eastward in present Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas, and back into Oklahoma where it joins the Arkansas west of present Tulsa. The Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail followed this Cimarron River from Lower Spring south of present Ulysses, Kansas, to Willow Bar northeast of present Boise City, Oklahoma. The other Cimarron River flows eastward from the Sangre de Cristo range in New Mexico and joins the Canadian River just north of the famous Rock Crossing of the Canadian where the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail crossed on a streambed of solid stone. The Canadian River was also crossed farther upstream by the Bent's Fort or Raton Route (later known as the Mountain Route) of the Santa Fe Trail southwest of Raton Pass, and the Mountain Route crossed this Cimarron River at the present town of Cimarron, New Mexico, and other places. The Canadian, which flows through a deep canyon from a point a short distance south of the Rock Crossing until it reaches eastern New Mexico, was with few exceptions an obstacle to wagon travel to the east and northeast of Fort Union. The Canadian River was often called the Red River during the nineteenth century, which sometimes creates confusion because there are so many other Red rivers. The presence of two Cimarron rivers, plus the Dry Cimarron, also provides potential for a mix-up.

Ute or Utah Creek flows south into the Canadian River, joining that stream near the eastern boundary of New Mexico. The Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail crossed Ute Creek, and Fort Bascom was later located near its mouth on the Canadian. Two small streams, Rayado and Ocate creeks, head in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Rayado is an affluent of the New Mexico Cimarron River and was crossed by the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail. The Ocate flows to the Canadian River and was crossed by both major branches of the Santa Fe Trail. Both creeks were closely related to Fort Union. Troops were stationed at the Rayado before Union was established, and detachments from Fort Union were sent there briefly afterward. The Fort Union farm was located on the Ocate.

The Pecos River flows south out of the Sangre de Cristos through New Mexico and Texas to the Rio Grande, and it drew settlers from all cultures which came into the area. Rio Gallinas, a tributary of the Pecos, runs through present Las Vegas, New Mexico. The Mora River and its tributary, Sapello River, which joins at present Watrous, New Mexico, drains eastward from the Sangre de Cristos to join the Canadian. Like the Pecos, the Mora valley drew settlers prior to the Anglo infiltration. It was a valley of rich soil which, with irrigation, produced fine crops of wheat, corn, other small grains, vegetables, and fruits. Fort Union was established on a tributary of the Mora, Wolf Creek (also known as Coyote Creek and occasionally as Dog Creek). [12]

The importance of these streams in the region cannot be exaggerated. The overwhelming factor throughout the entire area is aridity; the limited supply of water has been critical regardless of the terrain and other geographical features. "Aridity," William deBuys succinctly declared, "more than any other single factor, shapes this stark world." All human activity, from procuring basic necessities to traveling through the region, always has been constrained by the scarcity of a reliable source of water. Annual precipitation in the region averages below twenty inches per year, but "the capricious timing of it" according to deBuys, "makes the Southwestern environment particularly difficult." [13] Much of the precipitation occurs during the summer months, most of it the result of "local high-intensity storms of relatively short duration." These thunderstorms are frequently accompanied by hail. From records kept at Fort Union during a period of ten years, the following monthly mean temperatures (degrees F.) and mean precipitation (inches) were derived: [14]

Table 1
Temperature and Precipitation at Fort Union


The record was clear that most precipitation occurred in July, August, and September, a period known in New Mexico as the "monsoon season" or "rainy season." Eveline M. Alexander, wife of Captain Andrew Jonathan Alexander, Third Cavalry, wrote in her diary in August 1866, following their trip from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Fort Union: "We arrived here in the rainy season, . . . and every day we are treated to a shower of rain. However, you can see it coming so long before it reaches you that it is not much annoyance." [15] A newcomer to the area, Mrs. Alexander had not yet felt the force of the violent thunderstorms with high winds and hail which were an annoyance according to the testimony of numerous residents in the territory.

The region also experiences an abundance of wind. Complaints about the wind and the dust it whipped through the post were common at Fort Union. Some residents referred to it as "Fort Windy." The soils were easily blown about most seasons of the year because of the shortage of moisture. One of the first residents of the post, Catherine Cary (Mrs. Isaac) Bowen, commonly known as Katie, wrote that "in this territory nearly all the time we have high winds and the soil becomes so dry and powdered that the air is filled with clouds of the most disagreeable kind of dust." [16] Later she commented about "one or two days of high winds which nearly buried us in dust." Her explanation was that "the grass in this country forms no sod, consequently the ground is much like an ash heap on the surface." [17]

On another occasion, Mrs. Bowen gave a more vivid description of the gales at Fort Union:

I like this climate, it is so dry, but the winds are horrible sometimes. They generally commence in the north and blow a hurricane for two or three nights and days, carrying dust, stones, straw and everything out of doors. Then we will have a week as mild as summer. At the end of a week a south wind springs up and carries all the dirt back again, drifting in some places like snow and penetrating every unprotected crevice. My bedroom carpet was so covered that the colors could not be distinguished, but we shovel out occasionally and find our houses pleasant and comfortable as any I ever lived in. [18]

Another officer's wife, Lydia Spencer (Mrs. William B.) Lane, who lived at Fort Union before and after the Civil War, complained about how the third post "was swept by the winds all summer long" in 1867. Her views of the wind and descriptive talents were comparable to those of Mrs. Bowen fifteen years earlier. Of the omnipresent winds, Mrs. Lane wrote:

How they do howl! About ten o'clock every morning they woke up, and whistled and moaned, and rose to wild shrieks, doing everything wind ever does in the way of making a noise. The fine, impalpable dust worked its way into every crack and crevice, lodging round the windows and doors in little yellow mounds, so that we could sweep up a good-sized dustpan full after the wind lulled, which it usually did at sun-down. Sometimes it blew all night, beginning with fresh vigor at the usual time next morning. Another unpleasant trick the breezes had of darting playfully down the chimney, sending the fire and ashes half-way across the room, so that we had to be on guard to prevent a conflagration. [19]

Soon after Private William Edward (Eddie) Matthews, Company L, Eighth Cavalry, arrived for duty at Fort Union in 1870, he reported to his family at Westminster, Maryland, about his new assignment: "The only objection I can find here is the miserable wind. Talk of March wind in the States, why it is not a comparison to this place. Wind, wind, and sand all the time. This Post is built on a plain, there is nothing to break the wind, therefore giving it full sway." [20]

A couple of weeks later Matthews noted that, during the sand storms, almost everyone who had to be outside wore goggles to protect their eyes. [21] In March 1874, with his talent for humorous exaggeration, Matthews again described the wind at Fort Union:

We are having regular March weather here now. So windy at times that it is almost impossible to keep on one's feet. In fact it blows a perfect hurricane all the time. Every now and then you are struck on the back of the head with a stone about the size of your fist. One naturally looks around to see who threw the brick and finds that Mr. Wind done it. [22]

The persistent gales and resulting dust and sand storms at the third Fort Union were explained by yet another officer's wife, Frances A. (Mrs. Orsemus B.) Boyd, who resided at the post in 1872. Fort Union, she declared, "has always been noted for severe dust-storms. Situated on a barren plain, the nearest mountains, and those not very high, three miles distant, it has the most exposed position of any military fort in New Mexico." Mrs. Boyd also discerned that the fine soil and sand drifted like driven snow, especially against the buildings at the fort. "The sand-banks," she explained, "were famous playgrounds for the children." She believed that neither trees nor grass would grow at Fort Union because the abrasive dust either prevented plants from taking root or uprooted and scattered the plants. Despite the wind and dust, however, Mrs. Boyd considered Fort Union a place of much beauty, especially the surrounding area "where trees and green grass were to be found in abundance." [23]

Most Anglo-Americans, who came to New Mexico from other regions, held strong opinions about the land and climate, some favorable and some not. Ovando J. Hollister, a Colorado Volunteer in the Civil War, gave his favorable impression of the area, expressing well an attitude hinted at by many others.

The country around Fort Union is pretty—by far the nicest in the Territory. The streams have formed deep narrow canons, the borders of which are rocky and timbered. The prairie is swelling, smooth, and covered with excellent grass. Small mountains and wooded points give variety, and it only wants seasonable rains to vie with any place in the world for beauty and salubrity. [24]

Lydia Lane enjoyed New Mexico and wrote of one of her several trips between Fort Union and Santa Fe, in 1867, as follows: "The road generally was excellent, the scenery beautiful, and at times grand. The breeze, filled with the odor of pine-trees, was exhilarating and delicious,—you seemed to take in health with every breath of the pure air." Years later she also held fond memories of "the sights, sounds, and odors of the little Mexican towns!" She remembered, while passing through the communities, that "the barking of every dog in the village, bleating of terrified sheep and goats, and the unearthly bray of the ill-used burro (donkey) made a tremendous racket." Most of all she remembered "the smells! The smoke from the fires of cedar wood would have been as sweet as a perfume if it had reached us it its purity; but, mixed with heavy odors from sheep and goat corrals, it was indescribable." It was an impression that stayed with her. "I never get a whiff of burning cedar . . . that the whole panorama does not rise up before me, and it is with a thrill of pleasure I recall the past, scents and all." [25]

Another point of view was provided by Lieutenant Henry B. Judd, Third Artillery, following his arrival for duty in New Mexico late in 1848:

Having reached that region which lies far west of the setting sun, the Siberia of America, the Texas of Texas the Gomorrah of the modern world, where friends seem consigned to oblivion, horses to starvation and public morals to the Qr. Master's department, my thoughts at times peep through the dense fog of vice composing the atmosphere of this Heaven forsaken spot, and revest those I've left behind.

Judd found nothing pretty, describing the "Country" as "the most dreary & desolate that ever caused the eye to ache by gazing upon." [26]

Eddie Matthews expressed similar opinions and was never fond of New Mexico Territory nor its inhabitants. In his bigoted judgment, somewhat typical of Anglo-Americans from the eastern United States, the land was not fit for civilized people, and the Indians and Hispanos were not civilized. He noted that the "wind which blows in all seasons" kept the "sand in motion nearly all the time."

You might go to bed one night with a large sand bank at your front door, and wake up the next morning to find the whole pile moved around to the opposite side of the house. And then again before the day had passed find the same pile of sand placed back again to the first point. It has ever been this since my arrival in the country, and I suppose will remain so, until the good Lord sees fit to order it otherwise, and this I am very much afraid will never come to pass, as the inhabitants of the Territory are not a God fearing people, and in no way deserving of a change for the better, in fact it is my opinion that any white man in the Territory who was free to leave it and would not ought to be smothered in one of these sand banks, and a board placed at his head with this epitaph: "I remained in this God forsaken country when I was free to leave it." [27]

Many Anglo-Americans could not condone aridity, believing that to be a sign of a forsaken land. The Southwest experiences periodic droughts which affect all human cultures. Historian Charles L. Kenner concluded that drought has been "the Southwest's most persistent opponent of tranquility." [28] Archaeologist J. Charles Kelley has conjectured that peace and war between the Pueblos and Indians of the plains was directly related to precipitation. When rainfall was adequate for agricultural surpluses in the Pueblos and an abundance of buffalo meat and robes on the plains, peaceful trade was predominant in their relations. During droughts, when neither culture had a surplus to trade, raiding and warfare predominated. [29]

Such was the situation in New Mexico when Inspector General George A. McCall was sent to inspect the military posts in the Ninth Military Department and, so far as possible, determine the actual losses in lives and property to the Indians during the preceding 18 months, the capacity of the New Mexicans to resist the attacks, and the amount of military force required to provide adequate protection. There was a great need to know more about New Mexico, for in 1850 little was known about the territory by the American people or the government officials in the East; in fact, not much at all was known about the people of the region and their customs, the population, economic resources, geography, and almost everything else. In 1853 a former territorial governor of New Mexico, William Carr Lane, declared that "I find a deplorable state of ignorance to exist" about New Mexican affairs in Washington, D.C. [102]

Although the military may have had more and better information about New Mexico than did any other government departments, because of reports from officers stationed there since the Mexican War, it must be understood that many of the decisions made regarding relations with New Mexicans and Indians, the establishment of Fort Union and missions assigned to it, and the administration of the Ninth Military Department which embraced New Mexico were often made with inadequate information and sometimes with considerable misinformation. When James S. Calhoun was appointed first Indian agent for New Mexico in 1849, Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Medill's letter of appointment declared: "So little is known here [Washington] of the condition and situation of the Indians in that region [New Mexico] that no specific instructions, relative to them can be given at present." Calhoun was requested to supply detailed reports about the Indians in the territory. [103]

By 1850 there were a few publications about New Mexico to which government officials and others could turn for information (although much of what was available was prejudiced against the New Mexicans), but there was little evidence that these were read by people who needed the information. The available publications included George Wilkins Kendall's Narrative of the Texan-Santa Fe Expedition (1844), Josiah Gregg's classic Commerce of the Prairies (1844), Thomas James's Three Years Among the Mexicans and Indians (1846), George F. A. Ruxton's Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains (1847), Frederick Adolphus Wislizenus, Memoir of a Tour to Northern Mexico, Connected with Col. Doniphan's Expedition, in 1846 and 1847 (1848), Second Lieutenant James W. Abert's Report and Map of the Examination of New Mexico (1848), and Lewis H. Garrard's Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail (1850). One newspaper published in the East, Niles' Weekly Register, carried many New Mexican items, often reprinted from western newspapers, including the Santa Fe Republican which began publication in 1847. In addition there were several reports prepared by military officials that had been published. [104]

Until September 9, 1850, when Congress created New Mexico Territory, the boundaries of New Mexico had not been defined, and it would be some time before these were surveyed. James S. Calhoun, who had been appointed Indian agent for New Mexico in 1849, became the first territorial governor on March 3, 1851, ending the military rule of the region that had existed since General Kearny occupied Santa Fe on August 18, 1846. He had learned much about New Mexico during the previous two years, but many aspects of the region remained a mystery even to him. What he and others did know provided the basis for decisions in 1851 and after.

In summary, the Hispanic and Pueblo Indian settlements of New Mexico were located mostly along the Rio Grande, with a few settlements east of that valley and fewer still to the west. These settlements were virtually surrounded by the so-called "wild" tribes, including Utes, various bands of Apaches, Navajos, and Plains tribes, most of whom had raided almost at will for decades. The settled areas suffered great losses of property and life as crops were destroyed, livestock stolen, and people killed or captured.

The primary mission of the U. S. Army after successful occupation of the land, as declared by General Kearny at the time of the invasion and by other government officials many times later, was to protect New Mexican and Pueblo settlements from those Indians. In addition the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican War provided that the United States would prevent raids on Mexican territory by Indians residing in the United States, or if these could not be prevented the U. S. would punish any Indians who did raid into Mexico. This was an impossible mission but required that the army make efforts to fulfill the agreement. At the same time, it was clear that the future of New Mexico, both its ability to attract settlers and its economic development, depended on control of the Indians.

The military occupation of New Mexico was followed by a policy of providing some protection of population centers by stationing troops at those locations and at points along routes of travel that Indians followed in their raids. The success of that policy required more troops than were available. After the withdrawal of volunteer troops at the close of the Mexican War, the number of soldiers in the department was reduced substantially, never adequate to deal effectively with Indian raiders. The annual report of the secretary of war showed there were 665 troops in New Mexico in 1848, 708 in 1849, and 1,019 in 1850. [105]

Not only were the numbers small but, because of the vast territory, they were spread exceedingly thin to be effective. The largest concentration was at Santa Fe, where Fort Marcy, established in 1846, was the only fortification in the territory (the other military posts were simply bases of operation). The posts at El Paso and San Elizario, although located in Texas, were included in the department, but the troops those places were of minor importance in the protection of most of the settlements in New Mexico. Other posts were located at Albuquerque, Socorro, Abiquiu, Dona Ana, Las Vegas, Rayado, Taos, and Cebolleta. The hope that such distribution of troops would protect the towns and help to block the routes of Indian raiders was accompanied by the belief that the protection of lives and property would stimulate economic growth and attract additional settlers. Not only were the troops unable to cover the territory, despite their wide distribution, but the cost of providing for them at so many locations rose far beyond what Congress wanted to appropriate for the job. The next policy, inaugurated in 1851 with the appointment of a new commanding officer and specific orders to economize, saw the removal of the troops from most of the towns.

The economy of New Mexico at mid-century operated mostly at a subsistence-level because of tradition, lack of capital, and perhaps most important because of the almost constant destruction perpetrated by Indian raids. It was not able to produce many supplies needed by the army. Even before the Mexican War, New Mexico had come to rely heavily upon the commerce of the Santa Fe Trail for manufactured items. The army had to depend on that same route. The need for economic development in New Mexico was clear, but that depended on the success of the military. New Mexican Governor Donaciano Vigil explained the situation in 1848: "The pacification of the Indians is another necessity of the first order, for as you already know the principal wealth of this country is the breeding of livestock, and the warfare of the Indians obstructs this almost completely." [106]

The constant threat of Indian raids made subsistence agriculture much more difficult. Hispanic farmers, facing loss or destruction of their crops and livestock to Indian raiders, usually produced little more than required for their own household. Pueblo farmers, who had lived with Indian raids and periodic droughts for centuries, attempted to store any surplus in order to survive during bad times. The army thus found few sources of supply among the people of the territory because the Hispanics did not have surplus commodities to sell and the Pueblos usually refused to sell any surpluses they had. By providing a market and offering protection from Indian raids, the army stimulated New Mexican agricultural development. Even so, prices were high for limited supplies available. At the same time, the army introduced a cash system into what had been largely an economy based on barter. [107]

The New Mexican livestock industry was dominated by the raising of sheep, primarily for meat and secondarily for wool. Sheep provided the major source of wealth in New Mexico, wealth that was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy families (ricos). The remainder of the people were economically poor; some were peons. There were also cattle and horse herds which, as with sheep, were objects of Indian raids, but almost no swine or goats were raised. Most manufacturing in New Mexico was comprised of household handicrafts, there being almost no production for a market. [108]

Several villages had a grist mill operated either by water or animal power. These were not capable of producing surplus flour and meal for a market beyond the local economy. The occupation of the area by U. S. troops apparently stimulated the establishment of a few larger grist mills, including one erected by Donaciano Vigil on the Pecos and another built by Ceran St. Vrain on the Mora, and these mills, in turn, stimulated additional production of cereal grains (especially wheat) to supply the demands of the mills and the market provided by the presence of the army. By 1850 a local supply of flour was available for the army. Other items available in the local markets included mutton, beans, vegetables, melons, fruits, salt, and firewood. The army was not the only beneficiary, however, for those heading for the California gold fields in 1849 and after also bought whatever was available as they passed through New Mexico (another factor accounting for the high prices of produce). [109]

The army also relied, for the most part, on the local economy for facilities. With the exception of a portion of Fort Marcy at Santa Fe and the Post at San Elizario, the army rented most of the buildings used for quarters and storehouses in 1850. Almost everything else the military required had to be shipped in via the Santa Fe Trail or, in the case of the southern posts, across Texas. The result of all these factors was that it was tremendously expensive to supply the troops in New Mexico. [110]

Military freight contractors carried 422 wagon loads of supplies from Fort Leavenworth to the posts of New Mexico during 1850, a total of 2.15 million pounds of food, clothing, and equipment. Rates per hundred pounds varied from just under $8.00 to more than $14.00. [111]

In addition to transportation costs, rent for facilities and prices demanded for locally purchased supplies were considered to be exceptionally high in New Mexico. [112] It fell on the new departmental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner, to try to reduce such costs to the military, beginning in 1851. Sumner and his superiors relied heavily on the information gathered and recommendations made by Inspector General McCall in 1850. McCall's reports comprised the most complete information about New Mexico that was available to the War Department at the time. Some of the things he found should have been revealing. For example, there was not one military veterinarian in the department that had to rely heavily on horses for dealing with Indians. Some of his recommendations, such as the removal of troops from the towns, were followed almost completely. Within two years after his inspection tour of New Mexico, all the posts he visited except Fort Marcy at Santa Fe were abandoned and new ones had been established at other locations.

McCall commented several times about the disastrous effects Indian raids were having on the economy of New Mexico. On July 15, 1850, he wrote as follows: "The hill sides and the plains that were in days past covered with sheep and cattle are now bare in many parts of the state, yet the work of plunder still goes on!" He noted that Apaches and Navajos were not afraid to steal livestock "in the close vicinity of our military posts." He estimated that during the previous three months several herders had been killed, between 15,000 and 20,000 sheep had been stolen, and "several hundred head of cattle and mules" driven from the settlements. The army had been ineffective. The Indians "were on several occasions pursued by the troops, but without success." [113]

As directed, McCall gathered reports on the losses to Indians during the 18 months prior to September 1, 1850. He concluded that the loss in livestock included 181 horses, 402 mules, 788 cattle, and 47,300 sheep. [114] Another estimate of New Mexican losses of livestock to Indians during five years, from 1846 through 1850, included 7,050 horses, 12,887 mules, 31,581 cattle, and 453,293 sheep. [115] A further perspective of those estimates may be gained by comparison with the numbers of livestock recorded in the federal census of New Mexico in 1850: 5,079 horses, 8,654 mules, 32,977 cattle, and 377,271 sheep. [116] The need for additional protection from Indians was evident.

McCall provided his assessment of the non-Pueblo Indians of the area. He thought the Navajos might be persuaded to adapt to a Pueblo way of life, and declared the several Apache tribes were considered the most destructive raiders because "they have nothing of their own and must plunder or starve." [117] He thought the Apaches would be the most difficult to subdue "owing to their numerical strength, their bold and independent character, and their immemorial predatory habits." [118]

McCall identified six bands of Apaches in New Mexico, enclosing the settlements on all sides with the aid of the Navajos and Utes. The Jicarilla Apaches to the northeast were considered "one of the most troublesome" because of their recent attacks along the Santa Fe Trail. The White Mountain and Sacramento Apaches "range the country extending north and south from the junction of the Gallinas with the Pecos to the lower end of the Jornada del Muerto. They continue to drive off stock and to kill the Mexican shepherds both in the vicinity of Vegas and along the Rio Grande." The Mescaleros to the southeast raided more into Texas and Mexico than in New Mexico. The Gila Apaches to the southwest also carried destruction to Mexico more than New Mexico. Peace with all bands of Apaches would require sufficient supplies of the means of life so that they might survive without stealing, for without aid, McCall reiterated, "they must continue to plunder, or they must starve." [119]

According to McCall, the Utes ranged beyond New Mexico, but those living north of most settlements were considered "warlike" and raided as far south as Abiquiu, Taos, and Mora. They sometimes united with Jicarilla Apaches in their forays. The Cheyennes and Arapahos to the northeast were not considered a serious threat to New Mexican settlements. The Comanches to the east rarely struck in New Mexico, but they raided into Mexico and traded stolen property and captives with other tribes and the New Mexicans. The Kiowas were seldom seen in New Mexico. It was clear to McCall that the first priority for the army in New Mexico was to deal effectively with the Indians. Not until that problem was resolved could the territory grow and prosper. [120]

McCall's primary duty in New Mexico was to inspect the military posts, evaluate the state of the army, and make recommendations for improvements. In addition to department headquarters at Santa Fe, McCall visited the ten other posts, reporting the number present and evaluating conditions. He found a total of 831 troops in the department, including 150 at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe, 44 at Taos, 41 at Rayado, and 82 at Las Vegas. His detailed inspection reports on the posts provided a thorough summary of the army in the department. [121]

Of Las Vegas McCall wrote, "The consumption of corn at this post is very great, and a large depot should be established either here or in the vicinity." The demand for corn at Las Vegas was "caused by troops and government trains passing and repassing." Wagon trains were outfitted there for the trip across the plains and forage was sometimes sent to the relief of westbound trains as far away as the Cimarron River. [122]

In addition to a supply depot in the area, a military post was needed to protect the route of supply from Fort Leavenworth and other wagon roads, including one from Las Vegas to Albuquerque via Anton Chico. Las Vegas, which McCall thought was a good location for a supply depot, was not a good location for such a garrison because it was too far from the homelands of the Indians causing the most problems and off the "line of march of the Comanches when they visit New Mexico." A better location, he thought, would be at Rayado or on the Pecos River. McCall was not impressed with Barclay's Fort as a possible army post, although the location was good, because it was too small for a depot or large garrison of troops and the owners wanted too much money to sell or rent it ($20,000.00 to sell or $2,000.00 per year rent). McCall thought Rayado was a good location for a military post. [123]

McCall was critical of the overall military situation in the territory, calling it inadequate for the task at hand. He recommended a minimum of 2,200 troops with at least 1,400 of those mounted. He recommended that the troops be moved from the towns to "the heart of the Indian country." Because of the difficulty of maintaining horses for mounted troops, McCall recommended the establishment of "grazing farms" which, he believed, would result in great savings. [124] Everything in the military department needed to be structured to deal with the serious Indian problem facing settlements in the territory.

Indian raids continued into 1851. In February Indian Agent Calhoun reported that, "during the past month the Indians have been active in every direction, and for no one month during the occupancy of the Territory by the American troops have they been more successful in their depredations." Late in January, near Pecos only 25 miles from Santa Fe, several large herds of sheep and other livestock were stolen and at least three herders were killed. The Utes had raided along the Arkansas River, and "the Apaches and Navajos have roamed in every direction through this Territory." [125]

In March 1851 a band of Jicarillas took about 1,000 sheep near Anton Chico and more sheep were stolen from Chilili. [126] Some of the Jicarillas, however, expressed a desire for peace. On April 2 two principal chiefs, Chacon and Lobo, came to Santa Fe, along with Mescalero Chief José Cito. On that date these Indians agreed to reside on lands assigned to them and not to go nearer than 50 miles from any settlement or route of transportation. In return the government would furnish them with farm equipment and annuities. [127]

Some of the Jicarillas refused to be bound by the treaty, which was not approved by the U.S. government anyway, and in April they raided near Barclay's Fort and attacked the town of Mora, killing several people. [128] When a large party of Jicarillas appeared along the Pecos Valley near San Miguel, La Cuesta, and Anton Chico, the residents were alarmed. [129] No raids were reported, however, and Chacon declared that his people were starving and had to find food. [130]

Chacon's band, as a demonstration of their commitment to peace, had recovered livestock taken by the Navajos and returned the stock to its owners. [131] To avoid potential problems between Jicarillas and settlers, however, Calhoun wanted the Indians to move farther away from settlements. [132] Chacon went to Santa Fe and agreed to move his people away from the settlements. [133] But the move did not immediately occur. Other Indians were raiding settlements while major changes were taking place in the military organization with the appointment of a new department commander in 1851. This resulted in the establishment of Fort Union. The troops in New Mexico, it is important to understand, were part of the larger U. S. Army and functioned under its organization and limitations.

The Anglo-American tradition, begun during the colonial era, was that a standing army was a liability rather than an asset. Citizen-soldier volunteers could be raised temporarily for a crisis, such as an Indian war or a war for independence, but an army of permanent soldiers was expensive and a threat to freedom. After independence the army was a necessary part of frontier Indian policy, but it was kept small, often inadequate, and poor. As Don Russell pointed out, "had it not been for Indian wars there probably would have been no Regular Army, yet at no time was it organized and trained to fight Indians." [134] Congress was reluctant to fund a military complex. The army that was designed for the early national period, when the western boundary was the Mississippi River, faced enormous new responsibility following the expansionist years during which the western boundary was pushed to the Pacific Ocean. An increase in size and monetary support of the army did not follow prior to the Civil War. Following that national calamity, fought primarily by citizen-soldiers on both sides, Congress determined to reduce military expenditures again, keeping the army handicapped until the frontier was settled.

Thus the greatest problem faced by the army in the Southwest was not the Indian threat to settlement, nor even the arid environment and vast distances, but a parsimonious Congress which refused to recognize that an expanding nation required an expanding military force to deal effectively with Indians, explore new lands, improve roads, provide its own facilities, and supply itself over long routes. Funds were never sufficient for the demands made on the army, and manpower and equipment were usually inadequate for the job faced. As military historian Robert Utley expressed so cogently, Congress refused "to pay the price of Manifest Destiny." [135] Too often presidential administrations devoted to budget economy viewed the military as a good place to reduce expenditures. Such a move in 1851 resulted in orders for troops at western posts to become farmers and produce some of their own food and forage.

As a result of congressional limitations, the army was small in numbers, had substandard equipment and facilities, and experienced a difficult time recruiting and keeping competent soldiers. There was little honor but a lot of hardship connected with service on the frontier, one reason that the companies of most regiments were seldom if ever filled to authorized capacity and that the army experienced a high rate of desertion in the West. In most years more than 10% of the enlisted soldiers in the entire army, in some years more than 20%, deserted and, over time, some regiments lost more than 50% of those enlisted for five years before their term of service expired. As Utley concluded, "they simply got their fill of low pay, bad living conditions, and oppressive discipline that stood in such bold contrast to the seeming allurements of the civilian world." [136]

Military justice often seemed arbitrary and severe. Punishment frequently varied for the same crime. In February 1851 a general court-martial in Santa Fe tried the cases of several Second Dragoons charged with forming a secret society in New Mexico known as the "Dark Riders," which included among its objectives "robbing and desertion." Of those found guilty, one was sentenced "to forfeit twelve dollars of his Pay, to work under charge of the Guard for one month & then be returned to duty." Two were sentenced to lose twenty-five dollars of their pay and, additionally, each was "to walk a ring daily six hours for one month twelve feet in diameter, then to labor two months with Ball & Chain attached to his Leg under charge of the Guard & be returned to duty." Each of four others faced a much more severe sentence, "to forfeit all pay and allowances that are now or may become due him, to have his Head shaved, to have his face blackened daily and placed standing on a Barrel from 9 to 12 O'clock A.M., and from 2 to 5 O'clock P.M. daily for twenty days, then placed under charge of the Guard at hard Labor, with Ball & Chain attached to his Leg until an opportunity affords to be marched on foot carrying his Ball & Chain to Fort Leavenworth and there be drummed out of the Service." [137] Soldiers serving such penalties were not available for regular duty and contributed to the shortage of personnel.

Thus an under-strength army, always inadequate in authorized numbers, was further reduced in effectiveness and efficiency by being constantly undermanned. The army averaged only 82% of its mandated strength prior to 1850. [138] In 1850 the authorized size of the army was four artillery regiments, eight infantry regiments, and three mounted regiments (two dragoons and one mounted riflemen). The artillery regiments were comprised of twelve companies and the cavalry and infantry regiments had ten companies. [139]

The company strength varied by type of service. Each light artillery company was authorized to contain 64 privates, and each heavy artillery company was to have 42. Each infantry company was to have 42 privates; the dragoons were authorized 50 privates; and the mounted riflemen were assigned 64. In 1850 Congress authorized all companies of all branches stationed on the frontier to have 74 privates. Each company had three commissioned officers (captain, first lieutenant, and second lieutenant) and eight non-commissioned officers (four sergeants and four corporals). In addition, the field staff of a regiment included four commissioned officers (colonel, lieutenant colonel, and two majors), with an adjutant and a quartermaster selected from the subalterns. The noncommissioned staff included a sergeant major, quartermaster sergeant, and musicians (buglers for the cavalry and fifers, drummers, and bandsmen for the artillery and infantry regiments). In addition to the regiments there were the general staff officers and members of the following departments: medical, paymaster, military storekeepers, corps of engineers, corps of topographical engineers, and ordnance. If filled to authorized level, the entire army in 1850 would have totaled over 13,000 officers and men. Because most units were not up to capacity, the actual strength was 10,763, most of whom were stationed in the West. [140]

Almost 10% of the army in 1850 was stationed among the eleven posts of the Ninth Military Department. There were two companies of Second Artillery, ten companies (the entire regiment) of Third Infantry, three companies of First Dragoons, and four companies of Second Dragoons. The total authorized strength for these units was 1,603 officers and men, but only 987 were actually present in the department. This was an average of just under 90 officers and men for each military post. A chronic problem in New Mexico was the absence of officers who should have been with their companies. [141] Many officers could be away from their regimental duties because of a generous leave policy which permitted them to be absent from duty up to a year (occasionally longer). Vacancies also resulted from resignations and delays in appointing replacements, detached service with other units and in other places, courts-martial assignments, and recruiting duties. [142]

Each military post comprised a highly structured society and operated under a disciplined routine in which every officer and enlisted man had his duties to perform. Despite the daily schedule, which ran by the clock with appropriate calls of drum or bugle, there was a considerable amount of leisure time with nothing provided for the men to do. There was little direct contact between commissioned and non-commissioned troops. The post commander ruled, assisted by the post adjutant and a sergeant major. The duties and training of enlisted men were directed by sergeants and corporals, under command of company officers. Several officers were in charge of specific departments: the post quartermaster was in charge of quarters, clothing, transportation, and all other supplies except food; the post commissary officer was in charge of rations; and the surgeon was in charge of the post hospital and sanitation. At some posts the quartermaster and commissary duties were performed by the same officer. Enlisted men, sometimes assisted by a few civilian employees, provided the labor force for a multitude of tasks at the post. Not all of them were available for duty, as Utley made clear: "Allowing for men in confinement, on guard, sick, and detailed to fatigue duties, a post commander could not often count enough men to man the fort, much less to take the field." [143]

It was not easy to recruit skillful young men for the required five-year enlistment. By 1850 almost two-thirds of the enlisted men were foreign-born, many of them Irish and German, and one-fourth were illiterate. [144] The pay for privates was $7.00 per month for infantrymen and $8.00 for cavalrymen. A sergeant drew $13.00 a month. [145] Soldiers were supposed to be paid every two months, but at frontier posts it was sometimes as long as six months before the paymaster returned. The soldier required little cash, however, because most of his needs were furnished, including uniforms, rations, quarters, transportation, medical care, and equipment. Except for his expense to the company laundress and tailor (which could be avoided if the soldier washed his own clothing and made his own alterations), a soldier's pay was available for items such as additional food from the post or regimental sutler's store, [146] tobacco, recreation, gambling, whiskey, and, if inclined, to send some home to his family.

The uniforms were probably sufficient, but rations and quarters were often inadequate. The daily ration, according to historian Robert Frazer, "was both uninviting and dietetically impoverished, designed to fill the stomach at minimum cost." [147] The monotonous fare as prescribed by Army Regulations included meat (twelve ounces of salt pork or bacon, or twenty ounces of fresh or salt beef) and flour or bread (eighteen ounces of flour or bread, or twelve ounces of hard bread; sixteen ounces of corn meal could be substituted for flour or bread) each day. For each 100 rations there were also issued eight quarts of beans or ten pounds of rice, one pound of coffee or one and one-half pounds of tea, twelve pounds of sugar, two quarts of salt, and four quarts of vinegar. In addition, for each 100 rations, the soldier received one pound of sperm candles and four pounds of soap. [148] Some of the food items shipped to New Mexico, such as bacon and flour, frequently deteriorated during the trip and the subsequent storage before issue. Other foods, except for the issue of vegetables when scurvy was found among the troops, had to be purchased by the individual soldier. Often the enlisted men had the opportunity to buy vegetables, fruits, milk, butter, and eggs at frontier posts, provided they chose to use their pay for such items. Many apparently preferred to use their limited funds for tobacco and whiskey. Drunkenness was a chronic problem at all levels of the service. Excessive drinking, like desertion, was a way many soldiers sought escape from the realities of garrison life.

Quarters varied from post to post, and soldiers sometimes were housed in tents because barracks were not available. They lived in tents, of course, when on field duty. Most company quarters, because of inadequate funds and unskilled labor, were poorly constructed, inadequately ventilated, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and conducive to the spread of disease. The frontier army frequently experienced "a high rate of sickness and mortality." Medical care, intended to be part of the fringe benefits, was too often inadequate at frontier posts. [149]

Although training was an important part of turning recruits into disciplined soldiers, the army did not have a standardized training program. Thus many recruits joined companies for duty without any "idea of the duties they will be called on to perform, or of the discipline they will be required to undergo." [150] According to military historian Edward Coffman, the new soldier "often found the diet inadequate, the uniforms ill-fitting, and the quarters uncomfortable. Neither was the adjustment to discipline and drill and all that was involved in learning to be a soldier a pleasant experience." [151] While drill dominated a recruit's training, usually there was no training in marksmanship. Perhaps it was not considered necessary since most troops became laborers at frontier posts and used axes, hammers, saws, picks, and shovels more than muskets, sabers, or cannon. Their main contact with a weapon came when they stood the ubiquitous guard duty.

Most of a soldier's time was spent on garrison duty at a small military post, the tedious routine of which was occasionally broken by field service. Time away from the fort was often spent as guard to a supply train, mail coach, or other group, and, at other times, marching from one duty station to service at another. They were also sent on scouts to investigate Indian "depredations" and on expeditions to locate and punish Indian offenders. Despite the images of an Indian-fighting army portrayed in popular media, enlisted men were seldom engaged in combat. On average, a frontier soldier might participate in battle with the enemy one time during a five-year enlistment. [152] Only rarely were those engagements decisive, and military leaders had a difficult time trying to figure out how to deal most effectively with Indians. In the long run, many other factors besides the army contributed to the defeat and destruction of the Indians' traditional ways of life.

Meanwhile officers and soldiers held justifiable misgivings about their way of life, treatment, and importance on the frontier. William B. Lane, an officer who served in New Mexico and was stationed at Fort Union both before and after the Civil War, later explained the difficulties of soldiering in the 1850s.

. . . It was not the actual fighting with the Indians, and the casualties in consequence among the officers and men, that made the service at the time so difficult to bear, but it was the hard work necessary to accomplish, apparently, so little.

It was the long marches, the fatigue, the exposure, the hunger and thirst, the desolation and loneliness of the stations, and, finally, the loss of health, that made it so very trying and so thankless.

In addition to this there were the seeming forgetfulness, the indifference, and to all appearances the want of proper appreciation from those from whom praise and commendation should have come, that made frontier service so much worse than it ought to have been. [153]

The effectiveness of troops in the Ninth Military Department depended on their comfort, health, well-being, and training, but it also depended on the equipment with which they were supplied and the officers who led them. In battle the troops were only as good as their weapons and commanders. The Third Infantry was equipped with the .69 caliber percussion smoothbore musket, a reliable instrument with destructive impact (although not as accurate as a rifled musket). It was heavy to carry, weighing over nine pounds, and time-consuming to reload and fire during the heat of battle (it was a muzzle-loader). The musket was equipped for a bayonet which was sometimes attached for drill and in battle. Most of the time, however, it was detached and served a variety of purposes as a tool, especially in the field, and made a good candlestand. [154]

The soldiers in the Second Artillery and Second Dragoons carried the musketoon, a shortened version of the .69 caliber musket used by the infantry. It weighed six and one-half pounds. According to Major General Zenus R. Bliss, the musketoon was "a sort of brevet musket. It was nothing but an old musket sawed off to about two-thirds of its original length, and the rammer fastened to the barrel by a swivel to prevent its being lost or dropped when loading on horseback; it used the same cartridge as the musket, kicked like blazes, and had neither range nor accuracy, and was not near as good as the musket, and was only used because it could be more conveniently carried on horseback." [155] Almost everyone agreed that the musketoon was unsatisfactory. [156] In 1853 Inspector General J. K. F. Mansfield declared the musketoon was "a worthless arm . . . with no advocates." [157]

When McCall inspected the posts in New Mexico in 1850, he recorded that "the two batteries in possession of the Artillery companies are in good order and are complete, including carriages, limbers, caissons, harness, etc." Each battery, according to McCall, comprised one six-pounder gun, one twelve-pounder field howitzer, and three twelve-pounder mountain howitzers. Ammunition included fifty-six rounds for each gun and field howitzer and sixty rounds for each mountain howitzer. [158]

Each of the artillery pieces had a bronze tube. The six-pounder gun had a bore diameter of 3.67 inches and fired a projectile weighing 6.10 pounds. It had a muzzle velocity of 1,439 feet per second and a range of 1,523 yards at a five-degree elevation. The twelve-pounder field howitzer had a bore diameter of 4.62 inches and fired a projectile weighting 8.9 pounds. It had muzzle velocity of 1,054 feet per second and a range of 1,663 yards at a five-degree elevation. The twelve-pounder mountain howitzer was a lighter weight, mobile weapon designed for field duty. It had the same bore and fired the same projectile as the field howitzer. It utilized a powder charge of one-half pound, only half the charge of the field howitzer. It had a muzzle velocity of 650 feet per second and a range of 900 yards at a five-degree elevation. [159] The twelve-pounder mountain howitzer was "the most popular and widely employed piece" during the 1850s and during and after the Civil War. It was mobile, when mounted on the prairie carriage as in New Mexico, and effective against Indians. [160]

The First Dragoons in New Mexico were still using the .525 caliber Hall's percussion carbine, a breech-loading weapon issued when the dragoons were first organized in 1833. The musketoon was the replacement weapon for Hall's carbine, beginning in 1849. The First Dragoons in New Mexico had not yet received the "improvement" in 1850 and may have considered the Hall's carbine a more effective weapon, given the criticism of the musketoon. [161] The troops of the First and Second Dragoons in New Mexico carried sabers. Inspector McCall did not identify the style, but most likely these were the Model 1840 dragoon sabers which were issued to both regiments. Members of both dragoon regiments in the Ninth Military Department also carried pistols, the Colt .44 caliber dragoon revolver, a cap-and-ball six-shooter. [162]

A full complement of dragoon equipment and arms, including forty rounds of ammunition, weighed a total of seventy-eight pounds. When this was added to the weight of the trooper and the horse equipment (saddle and bridle), it made a heavy burden for the dragoon mounts and affected their efficiency in pursuit of Indians. Dragoons surrendered part of their mobility for the superiority of equipment. They did not always carry everything when engaged in chasing Indians. [163]

With this combination of arms, Utley concluded, "the frontier army easily outmatched the Indians in weaponry. It was without doubt the most important single advantage the soldiers enjoyed over their adversary, and time and again, when a test of arms could be engineered, it carried the day." [164] The problem was to catch the Indians and force an engagement, for they enjoyed the advantage of better knowledge of the land and greater mobility. They could be elusive to the point of frustration and use the landscape to their advantage. Indian soldiers usually stood and fought only when they believed they enjoyed superiority of numbers or position on the field or when surprised in camp. Successful engagements by the U.S. Army depended on perseverance, luck, and the officers who directed the troops.

Most of the officers in the Ninth Military Department were graduates of the Military Academy at West Point where they were trained to serve as officers, received general military education, and were provided special schooling in engineering. They were not taught how to fight Indians. [165] It was not easy to keep officers in the army because pay was inadequate in comparison to similar civilian positions, there was no retirement plan available, promotion was exceedingly slow, and there was much quarreling and competition among them. [166] Except in wartime, there were few opportunities for advancement, and, as military historian Coffman explained, "the tedious monotony of garrison life could be grindingly oppressive." The Ninth Military Department was comprised, as noted above, of minor military posts in a remote region of the nation. "The routine of small garrisons," wrote Coffman, "offered little in the way of professional development." [167]

The incentives to make a career of officer life were not strong. The sister of West Point graduate Edmund Kirby Smith, also the wife of an officer, declared "The Army offers no career which a man of talent can desire—It to be sure (and I am sorry to say it) offers a safe harbour for indolence and imbecility." [168] In 1847 Captain Edmund B. Alexander, who would become the first commanding officer of Fort Union four years later, wrote to his family: "I think if I had my profession to choose over I would select anything but the Army." [169] Officers and enlisted men frequently turned to whiskey for escape from their conditions, and alcoholism was a serious problem for the army. Perhaps many of the officers assigned to duty in New Mexico felt there was little to be gained from service there.

The military organization demanded discipline of officers as well as enlisted men, and everything at the department level of the army was carried out by orders issued from the top down. Officers at military posts, from the commanding officer to the lowest lieutenant, were hesitant to take any action without specific orders. Although officers in command of field operations were usually given much individual discretion in dealing with whatever circumstances that might arise, there was guarded apprehension that any decision beyond specific instructions, which proved to be unsuccessful, might reflect badly on the officer and even lead to disciplinary action. The overall result was stifling for the officer corps, most of whom became mere functionaries in the chain of command. There was always an awareness among officers of who had rank over whom, which depended on the date of commission to a particular grade. The seeming simplicity of that system of seniority was complicated by the institution of brevet rank.

Brevet rank (usually a rank higher than the regular commission of an officer, awarded for a variety of purposes) was the cause of much controversy among officers in the army and of confusion among historians. [170] The practice created all sorts of problems, as Secretary of War John B. Floyd pointed out in 1858, because of its "uncertain and ill-defined rights." [171] The concept was borrowed from the British during the American Revolution to provide a temporary grade for an officer serving in an appointment away from his regular assignment. In the War of 1812 Congress established brevet appointments as honorary ranks to reward individual officers for gallant and meritorious service in battle or for faithful service in the same commissioned rank for ten years (a way to provide a "promotion" when there were no openings in the service at that level). As established at that time brevet rank was only an award of honor, the officer received the pay of his regular commission and held only the position of his regular commission in the chain of command. "Had the brevet system remained purely honorary," historian Utley observed, "it would have been harmless." [172] It did not.

Many officers who held a brevet rank must have argued that such an appointment should be worth something, at least under some conditions. For whatever reasons, as Utley summarized, "brevet rank took effect, in both authority and pay, by special assignment of the President, in commands composed of different corps, on courts-martial [from 1829 to 1869], and in detachments composed of different corps." The resulting arrangement "had so many ramifications and nuances that it produced endless dispute and uncertainty, to say nothing of chaos in the computation of pay."

During the Mexican War brevet ranks were widely conferred as the primary method of extending recognition for achievement in battle. [173] Most of the officers who remained in the service in 1850, including those in New Mexico, held one or more brevets. [174] "Thus," wrote Utley, "under certain conditions a captain with no brevet might find himself serving under a lieutenant who had picked up a brevet of major in Mexico." [175] In 1851 Senator Jefferson Davis, who would become secretary of war a few years later, spoke out against the brevet system that "has produced such confusion in the Army that many of its best soldiers wish it could be obliterated." [176] The practice continued because it was a way to accord honor to deserving officers and, perhaps even more important, it compensated career officers for the inordinately slow promotions up the regular commissioned ranks. [177]

In military correspondence, orders, and reports, it was customary during the nineteenth century that all officers were addressed as and signed their name over their brevet rank, whether they received pay and commanded at the brevet rank or not (although sometimes regular commission and brevet rank were both given). In 1870 officers who were not serving at their brevet rank were prohibited from wearing the uniform of their brevet rank and from using their brevet rank in official communication. [178] The widespread use of brevet ranks remains confusing, and every student of the frontier army must be aware of the system. Throughout this study of the history of Fort Union, brevet ranks are given only when it was clear that the identified officer was actually serving in that rank, as during the Civil War or a brevet second lieutenant. Even then the use of the term is avoided as much as possible in an attempt to reduce misunderstanding. [179]

Perhaps the best illustration of brevet rank was provided in a humorous poem by Captain Arthur T. Lee:


As Captain Forbes walked off parade,
Sam Green inquiringly said:
"Pray tell me, Cap.,—and tell me true,
Why all those officers in blue
Walk up and touch their caps to you;
They've leaves and eagles, them 'ere chaps,
Whilst you've but bars upon your straps."

"Why, Sam," says Forbes, "you must be green;
The reason's plainly to be seen:—
My straps, so humble in their place,
Are worth the symbol on their face,
Whilst leaves and eagles pay no debts:—
Those officers are all brevets."

Says Green, "that puzzles me,—you bet;—
Cap, tell me,—what is a brevet?"

"Well, Sam,—to put it through your pate,
You listen, whilst I illustrate.
You see yon turkey on the fence.—
That's turkey, Sam, in every sense;
Yon turkey-buzzard on the tree:—
He's brevet turkey:—do you see?"


A Turkey has some value, Sam.
A Buzzard isn't worth a damn! [180]

The army was firmly established in New Mexico Territory by 1851 and faced myriad problems. There were obstacles of terrain, climate, and distance from supplies. The territorial government was weak, and there were rumors of political unrest. The unique blend of Indian, Spanish, and Mexican heritage in New Mexico made it difficult to draw lines and determine who were the perpetrators and who the victims of a complex conflict that had developed for centuries. The injection of Anglo culture, with yet another system of priorities and values, made the situation less stable. The army's record in dealing with the Indian problem there, the primary mission of the troops stationed in the department, left much to be desired. [181] A complete shakeup was about to occur, resulting in widespread reorganization and the establishment of Fort Union.

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Last Updated: 09-Jul-2005