Daily Life in a Great Plains Military Post

Daily life in a frontier fort was very different from the life most of these women might have led in a small town in Ohio or Michigan or New York. It was simpler, more social, and punctuated by frequent break-up of the home and travel to another fort or campaign camp. Their homes might be comfortable and cozy, or barely provide shelter for the family. But as "good soldiers" they learned to adjust to conditions. As Ellen Biddle said when she began her Army life, "I soon discovered that I had adaptability, which made things easier." (Biddle, p. 15). Margaret Carrington paraphrased an old saying: 'I never could, I never would, and I never will,' became almost obsolete; and in their place was these other impulses, 'I wouldn't, but I must and I will,' or 'I could, I can, and I do!' (M. Carrington, p. 174)

They also learned to quickly pack up the few possessions they considered their own, sell off the furniture which was too heavy for transport, and live on the trail until they reached their new post, new home, and new neighbors.

Everyday housekeeping for Army officers' wives depended on whether or not they had children. Jennie Barnitz described her typical day at Fort Leavenworth in her journal. In the morning we return from breakfast, then I read the morning paper, & do the dusting and picking up. We drive about two, come home, dress, read or sew some, and it is time for tea. The evenings are altogether taken up with making or receiving calls, and reading. We read aloud all the time evenings that we are not otherwise engaged, and so the days go by like one happy dream. (12 December 1867, Utley, p. 131)

At a remote post in eastern Montana a few years later, Lizzie Burt's day was more complicated. She had two children as well as a twelve year old servant whom she had promised to educate and train. Her long-time, and very capable servant Maggie had refused to go into an area where hostilities were probable, so Mrs. Burt depended on a "striker" — an enlisted man who served as cook and sometimes housekeeper. Social activity was limited to the three adult women at the post.

Frequent interviews during the day with Mrs. Miller [a young officer's wife], the care of baby and Andrew Gano, instructing our soldier cook, watching over and schooling Christina [servant], together with necessary mending filled the days for me. K[ate] [Lizzie's sister] was my able assistant, and was always busy. She continued reading French, but there was no time for that for me. (Burt, p. 167)

Social relations were an important part of military life and visiting, sharing meals, gathering for cards or music occurred daily at posts as well as in camp. Through these visits, young officers' wives could count on advice from a seasoned woman, sometimes called an "old soldier" among the women, to help weather the irregularities of Army life on the Plains.