Officers' Quarters-Servants

Officers Quarters Servant
Reenactor portraying servant at officers' quarters.

Once secure in her quarters, if she could indeed feel secure, an officer's wife would occupy herself with managing the household, helped by one or more servants. Servants were a luxury that almost all officers could afford, and depending on the size of the family, would consist of at least a cook, a nursemaid for the children, and possibly a soldier striker.

Obtaining reliable help was a recurring concern for army wives after the Civil War. In the days before emancipation, the possession of slaves was common and was mentioned by several dragoon officers. Captain Swords is said to have owned six slaves. If an officer was not a slave holder, his wife might find help from other women on the post. Often the wives of enlisted soldiers who were not engaged as laundresses would work for officers' families as cooks or maids.

Female servants, rarities on the frontier, proved as hard to keep as to obtain. At first, officers' wives wanted attractive servants, but soon they found that the pretty maids became enamored of their good looks and popularity and refused to work or resigned and got married.

Because female servants were so difficult to find and keep, officers often hired soldiers as servants for their families. Called strikers, such soldier/servants could earn $5 or $10 a month for their work and were relieved of some of their routine duties. The competition for a good striker could be fierce. A striker was especially useful in the bachelor officers' quarters, but was just as much in demand in the home of married officers. In the single officers' quarters, a striker would hear the official talk of the post and be ahead of the rest of the soldiers of the post in that respect.

The striker was not allowed to cook for himself, but was allowed to eat from the officers' table after the officers were through. The striker picked for this duty would be the one with the proper uniform, shined buttons and proper manners, as he was a butler as well as a cook and housekeeper. Because of his performance, a good striker may have eventually been promoted to noncommissioned officer (corporal or sergeant). He was in great demand as a domestic and hated by the garrison. In fact, he was known as the "dog robber," because he ate the scraps form the officer's table, which often would have gone to a family dog.

The information for this page came from Sabers and Soapsuds: Dragoon Women on the Frontierby Dana Prater (used by permission)and from an anonymous source in Fort Scott's files.

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Last updated: July 25, 2016

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