Stallard, Patricia Y. Glittering Misery: Dependents of the Indian Fighting Army.

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992 (Ft. Collins, CO: Old Army Press, 1978).

In 1972, Stallard was completing a master’s degree in social history. Partly because of her family’s more than two centuries of involvement with the American military, and partly because of her own interest in the then-new field of “women’s studies,” she wrote her thesis not on the Regular Army itself during the post-Civil War conflicts with the Indians, but rather on the situation and experiences of the families that accompanied so many officers and even NCOs to their posts on the frontier.

This was an area of study that simply didn’t exist among professional historians at that time and it was assumed that sources would not exist, either. Stallard, however, showed them how wrong they were by uncovering — in university archives and historical societies, and even at the Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks itself — collections of letters and diaries and memoirs written at the time by wives of professional soldiers and also years later by their grown-up children.

And what did the sources tell her? That only the laundresses attached to a military company had any official status; all dependents of those stationed at the post were lumped together as “camp followers.” The War Department tried hard to coerce enlisted men and noncoms not to marry at all, though they never were able to expressly forbid it. She also found that the young women, most of them upper-middle-class, who went off with their new husbands to army posts in the west, had romantic expectations of which they were quickly disillusioned — but also that most of them adjusted and adapted and made a go of it. The hardest part of life on post, not surprisingly, was having a baby under often extreme conditions — but the children themselves, girls as well as boys, generally thrived in the wide-open West. A very large percentage of the boys went off to West Point and a similar proportion of girls eventually married officers themselves.

Stallard’s methods and her basic analysis of the data she found are still regarded as the standard. Most of the sources from which she quotes, in fact, have subsequently been published and are widely available in libraries. When her seminal work appeared in book form, she was able to add a number of contemporary photos from family as well as archival sources. And since this was originally a thesis, there’s an extensive bibliography. If you have any interest in American military or social history, or in the history of the West, this not-long book is required reading.

Published in: on 3 September 2012 at 8:14 am  Leave a Comment  

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