THE LIFE OF A ARMY WIFE IN THE OLD WEST

     The life of a army wife in the old west after the Cicil War was not one to be envied by the gentler woman of the east.  Most forts in the west were not the high walled log defensive structures seen in the movies.  And accomodations were mostly primitive at best, although a few were like small villages.  A officer in command might have a dewelling of several rooms and other subornate officers were usually regulated to lesser structures in decending order of rank.  Also quarters were subject to “ranking”, a pratice when a new officer with more rank moved to the next highest housing avaliable to him.  displacing the individual in that place to bump down the line in order.  In one instance recorded a young Lieutenant and his bride were forced to set up housekeeping in a hallway after being ranked.  Later he was informed he had to vacate as a senior Lieutenant was ranking him again, upon which he imedatly resigned his commision and left the army.

     George and Libby CusterArmy wives were subject to a strict hierachy of rank regemented, social status.  A few wives acompanied their husbands everywhere they could.  Elizebeth Custer even acompanied her husband Brev. Gen. George Custer, (the title  from the Civil War, actually at the time he was a Colonel), on several minor campains.  She lived in the tent with him and took delight in riding and hunting game along the trail.  She later recorded that their tent was blown down in heavy wind and rain storms.  She wore his borrowed underwear under her soaked skirts and even wore a pair of his boots as her shoes were also saoked.  On reasignment to Kentucky she lobbied with him to be reasigned to the west.  She remained devoted to him untill her 94 year when she died.  She wrote three books on her experences in the west with her husband and the army.  Upon the delevery of the news of Colonel Custers death at her back door in the early morning hours ,she threw a blanket over her dressing gown and acompanied the officers to visit 27 other wives with the news of their husbands death.   Two days before her death she had written a letter urging a monument for the men of her husbands comand, but empthatly stating that Major Reno not be included on it, as she felt he was a coward and his actions had contrubited to Col. custers death.

     All women on a military base were listed as camp followers, including officers wives.  the only women who had any offical standing were the launderesses.  On most bases to be a laundress she had to be married to a enlistedman.  Women were in short supply and it was not difficult for a woman to find a husband.  Also the military regulations allowed one laundress for every 19 1/2 men ( yeah 19 1/2) and they recieved the same wage as a enlisted man of $13 a month and medical, and food rations also they recieved their wages first before the men were paid.  A enegertic laundress could earn upward of $40 a month, as the enlistedmen paid for their laundry service.  So it was not hard to find a enlisted husband.  Their housing was usually deplorable at best, dirt floors and leaky roofs.  One acount record lists a woman checking on her 3 month old during a heavy rain finding him almost drowned in his crib located under a leak in the roof.  Often these same women did service as medical personel on post where a surgon was not provided. 

     In 1876 fractions within th army structure mounted a push to elemate the laundress corps, claming        rampant prostution and other charges.  Other fractions pushed just as hard to retain the service.  The final straw that broke the draw, was the contention of how many thousand dollars the army would save if the laundresses were eleminated.  The final decision was to fase out the existing  service with no new hires.  On many base in the west the service continued long past the 1878 deadline.

     Many photos exist showing both sides of the prade ground,  However the two sides existed with very little inter action.  The officers wives had their parties and the enlisted men and their wives existed in their own world.  Neither had a easy life in any case.  Both have to be admired for their perserverance.

    Washboard I personaly do most of my own laundry.  In the Marines during boot camp it was done on a scrub table using a large bar of soap and a scrub brush under faucets of runng water.  We scrubbed our underwear, our socks and fatuges all the same way many guys got rashes because they did not rinse the soap out good enough.  Later we had machines available at the barracks on on base laundry facilitys (they were prone to losing some articles).  We could also take our laundry to town.  Anyway that is another story.

                                                             ramblingbob

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