Drawing on diaries, letters, and memoirs written by officers' wives who spent a great deal of time on the Great Plains, I have chosen to use sources that have been published or are easily accessible, rather than materials that are available only in archives. I depend heavily on quotations of the women's own words, so the reader can know how the women described their lives on the Great Plains. Their books are all well written and extremely interesting. I urge readers to read them in their entirety if possible. Photographs accompanying the text were made during the period under discussion.

I often refer to women by their first names rather than using the historian's traditional system of nomenclature using surnames only. I do this intentionally for clarification. For some of these women, whose husbands had notable careers and were famous in their time and today, it is necessary to be sure that they are distinguished from their husbands.

When referring to the officers, I usually use their regular rank rather than brevet rank. Brevet ranks were conferred on the field, and most officers who served in the Civil War were reduced in rank in the "peacetime" army. Regular rank better relates to their duties and post hierarchies. For instance, George Armstrong Custer may be more familiar by his Civil War brevet rank, General Custer. His wife, Elizabeth, and others referred to him by that rank, but his official rank in the 1870s was Lt. Colonel. Lieutenants were addressed as "mister," but for clarification, I use rank.

I use military terminology whenever necessary. Some of the terms in common use in officers' wives memoirs are:

  • Ambulance: This vehicle, either open or enclosed and drawn by mules or horses, was used to transport people (rather than equipment). Soldiers rode in an ambulance if they were ill or injured. It was the most common form of transportation of Army families on the Great Plains frontier.
  • Colored troops: African Americans served under white officers in segregated regiments following the Civil War. "Colored troops" or "buffalo soldiers" are the historical terms for these soldiers.
  • Forage cap: The crushed, blue, short-billed cap of the soldier. Officers' wives often wore this cap for outdoor events, or in formal portraits.
  • Frontier Army: Term used by officers' wives and others to describe the portion of the U.S. Army which occupied the often temporary, quickly built, isolated garrisons, where the Army's duties included bringing Indian tribes to reservations, controlling outlaw activity in sparsely settled areas, and protecting the railroad surveyors and track builders. The term was in common use, but by the mid-1880s women began to recognize, as historian Frederick Jackson Turner did in 1893, that frontier conditions were fading as some of the posts closed and life at permanent posts such as Fort Robinson became far more comfortable.
  • Indians: Term referring to any of the many tribes, or individuals who occupied the Great Plains during the period of discussion. I use tribal or individual names when they are known to me, but often the only term available is Indian. The term suggests the level of ignorance of race and culture that officers' wives brought to the Plains.
  • Rations: The supply of food maintained at garrisons or on campaigns sufficient for each soldier, officer, and civilian employee including laundresses. Officers' wives and children did not draw rations, but could purchase food and other supplies from the quartermaster's stores, by mail, or in nearby towns.
  • Striker: A soldier given temporary duty in an officer's household or assigned to personally attend an officer. The system was eliminated in the early 1880s, but continued to be used when soldiers were available for extra paid work as cooks, servers, houseworkers, and a variety of domestic tasks.