FORT UNION
Historic Resource Study
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CHAPTER FOUR:
LIFE AT THE FIRST FORT UNION

     The structure and nature of society at Fort Union had much in common with every other military post in the country during the same era but little in common with society in any other place. Military organization, with its officer class and rigid rules of behavior for both officers and enlisted men, fostered a closed society that was, at least in theory if not in practice, less free and more highly structured than almost any other institution except, perhaps, some religious orders. By Congressional action the army had its own code of justice and military courts to try offenders of every rank. Everybody in uniform had a place in the hierarchy that was determined by assigned rank (a bureaucratic system in which promotions were difficult to earn and slow to accumulate), and dependents shared the status of the soldier of whose family they were a member.

     Class lines between officers' row and the enlisted men of the garrison were almost as sharply drawn as the demarcation between slave owners and slaves. Most officers and their families considered themselves to be part of an aristocracy and made every pretense to emulate the privileged classes. The enlisted men were thought of and often treated as a servile force who made the upper-class status of commissioned officials possible. Some officers apparently thought enlisted men were devoid of the full range of human emotions. Lieutenant Henry B. Judd, Third Artillery, was shocked to discover in 1850 that the members of his company, serving at the Post at Las Vegas in New Mexico, were opposed to being split up and some of the men assigned to another unit. To Department Commander John Munroe, Judd wrote: "With such men the idea of separations from old and tried associations is like hushing up this whole current of life's pleasures. I had no conception until it came to the test that men of their class felt so deeply the ties which have bound them to each other." As a result, Judd requested that his company not be split, declaring that "the remaining detachment will be utterly useless and inefficient as a distinct body." [1]

     That rigid structure was modified by the Civil War, after which the military society of the prewar years was looked back upon by some officers as "the good old days." William B. Lane served at Fort Union before and after the Civil War and held fond recollections of the relationship of officers and men during the 1850s. His views confirmed the attitudes of officers noted above. Looking back at the era before the Civil War from the perspective of the 1890s, two decades after his retirement from active duty, Lane (who was not a West Point graduate but had risen up from the ranks of enlisted soldiers of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen during the Mexican War) wrote that the "faith, or confidence of the enlisted men in their officers, and the almost universal kind feeling of the officers for the men, in the old days, added much to the discipline and efficiency of our little army, and made things comfortable for both sides." [2]

     By contrast with what happened to the discipline of enlisted men and a decline in status of the officer class, resulting from the changes brought about by the service of millions of volunteers during the Civil War, Lane declared of the prewar army that those "were the days before the enlisted man had to be 'smoothed down' with wire-bottom cots, the mattress, and the pillow." In addition, an enlisted man then was not "allowed to indulge in the doubtful pleasures and advantages of corresponding direct (and probably did not want to) with higher authority than his immediate commander, and the delight of an anonymous letter was unknown to him." [3] In lamenting what had disappeared, Lane verified the importance of enlisted men knowing their place, obeying their officers, and performing their duties.

     On the other hand, the army provided every soldier with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and periodic cash payments for military service. There was something of a balance involved; economic security was available for the surrender of some freedom, abiding by the rules, and working at whatever tasks were assigned. Those who could not adapt to these conditions frequently escaped from their obligations by deserting the army. Those who served out their terms of enlistment accommodated themselves to the system and followed orders most of the time. The large number of courts-martial would indicate, however, that many soldiers and officers were frequently in violation of one or more of the hundreds of army regulations.

     The losses to desertion plagued the army throughout the nineteenth century. Statistics on desertion at Fort Union may be found in Appendix D. Although some were caught and returned to duty, many deserters succeeded in getting away. The escape of four enlisted men from Fort Union in 1852 resulted in tragedy. In September of that year four privates in the Third Infantry (last names were Hassey, Marodi, Paulus, and Phister; no first names were given) deserted from the post and headed for Missouri. They got as far as Wagon Mound the first night and followed the Cimarron and Aubry routes of the Santa Fe Trail. They had few provisions and depended on killing game for subsistence. Their weapons consisted of a musket and a revolver. [4]

     At Bear Creek on the Aubry Route the deserters got into an argument about who should carry the weapons and other items. Private Paulus had the revolver and shot and killed Private Marodi. Paulus then attempted to kill Phister, but Phister and Hassey got the revolver away from Paulus and shot him in the head, killing him. Phister and Hassey proceeded to the Arkansas River, where they were apprehended and returned to Fort Union. Private Hassey escaped again but was quickly apprehended, and he and Phister were placed in irons and kept under guard. Hassey attempted to commit suicide by "cutting his throat" but survived. Carleton recommended that the two prisoners be turned over to civil authorities for further investigation of the murders, but the final disposition of their cases was not found. [5] Not all deserters were so unfortunate, and the fact that soldiers continued to escape military duties in large numbers was indicative that army regulations were not acceptable to all enlisted men.

     Whatever the assignment, there was a strict chain of command throughout the military system. Orders came from the top down, and reports went the opposite direction. Almost nothing was done without benefit of an order, and almost every duty required the ubiquitous report plus the endorsement of officers up the bureaucratic chain. Among officers rank always had its privileges, constantly evident at a military post. Quarters, for example, were assigned to officers by rank, not by size of family. Any officer who outranked another could claim the housing of a subordinate. An unmarried officer of higher rank than a married officer was entitled to occupy the choice of available facilities without regard to the needs of the married officer's family. The dependents of officers had no legal status in the army. Whenever a new officer arrived at a post, he could take the housing of any officer who was subordinate in rank or seniority. The officer turned out could then expel any of his subordinates from their quarters, sometimes forcing the lowest ranking officer (and his family if he had one) to live in a tent. It was sometimes compared to a game of musical chairs.

     One officer's wife, Mrs. Orsemus Boyd, who lived at Fort Union in 1872 and 1873, described the practice as she experienced it at a post in Texas. The process was similar at all posts, but not everyone was as accommodating as Mrs. Boyd.

     "Fifty times, perhaps, there was a general move of at least ten families, because some officer had arrived who, in selecting a house, caused a dozen other officers to move, for each in turn chose the one then occipied by the next lower in rank. We used to call it "bricks falling," because each toppled that next in order over; but the annoyance was endured with great good nature."

     ". . . An onlooker would doubtless have found the anxiety experienced by the officers' wives amusing; for though prepared for the worst we were, of course, solicitous." [6]

     Mrs. Boyd managed to avoid being ranked out on one occasion, but only temporarily. The Boyds occupied fairly commodious quarters which were wanted by an unmarried captain on his arrival at the post. Mrs. Boyd was expecting her third child, and the post surgeon "declared I could not be moved." She delivered a son the following day. While she recovered, Mrs. Boyd "indulged a delusive hope that the officer who had chosen our home would be content to remain" in his small quarters. "I felt," she asserted, "that a bachelor could live less inconveniently in one room than could a family of five." Nevertheless, she disclosed, "the very day baby was four weeks old we were obliged to move." The Boyds resided in that one room for the next two years. [7] Their situation was not unique.

     Although the quarters provided for the few women laundresses who were wives of enlisted men were small and inferior in comparison to officers' quarters at Fort Union, the laundresses usually were not subject to such practices as "ranking out." In addition, laundresses received official military recognition while officers' wives did not. The military acknowledged a need for laundresses, and regulations permitted up to four per company (it was not unusual, however, for there to be more than four). Most laundresses were wives of enlisted men, who were only permitted to marry with the permission of their commanding officer. That permission was seldom given unless the enlisted man's intended wife agreed to serve as a company laundress. Occasionally an enlisted man's wife was permitted to work as an officer's servant. Some laundresses were not married. [8]

     Laundresses were provided quarters and rations. When buildings were erected at Fort Union, the laundresses' quarters were north of the hospital. Laundresses were authorized to charge each soldier so much for washing his clothing and bedding (approximately $1.00 per month on average). Some laundresses supplemented their income by engaging in prostitution, a "profession" always in demand at a military post where most of the enlisted men were single and forbidden to marry. Other women camp followers also provided such services to the troops. Army regulations were quite tolerant. The only offense for which they could be banished from contact with troops was venereal disease infection. [9] Some laundresses had children, who were also a part of garrison life. Laundresses were always present at Fort Union, but almost nothing has been found about them. Occasionally there was mention of a laundress in the records.

     In 1873 one laundress at Fort Union was moved so her quarters could be assigned to another laundress (this was similar to ranking out, although rank apparently played no part in it). On May 16 the post quartermaster was directed to move Mrs. Ramis, laundress for Troop L, Eighth Cavalry, from room fourteen to room thirteen and assign rooms fourteen and fifteen to Mrs. Montgomery, laundress for Company C, Fifteenth Infantry. Mrs. Montgomery was the wife of Private John J. Montgomery, who was assigned to duty as a nurse in the post hospital. Although no explanation was given for changing quarters for Mrs. Ramis, it should be noted that the post commander, Captain H. A. Ellis, was an officer in the Fifteenth Infantry. Perhaps he was simply making certain that laundresses for his regiment were given preference over laundresses for the Eighth Cavalry. [10]

     The daily life at the post was regulated by a strict schedule, which usually began at daylight when a cannon was fired and the flag was raised. The calls to various activities and duties were sounded by drums and bugles. After morning assembly came the call to breakfast, which was followed by sick call and calls to duty assignment, drill, target practice, or other jobs. At noon came the call to dinner, followed by more work during the afternoon. The supper call at evening was followed, at sunset, by the lowering of the flag and firing of the cannon. The soldiers were to be in their quarters when retreat was sounded, and the day ended with taps. This routine was interrupted for special inspections, dress and undress parades, and other periodic ceremonies. [11]

     The soldier, officer or enlisted man, spent only a part of his time performing military duty and had considerable leisure time. The nineteenth-century army provided few if any activities for free time, leaving each individual to do as he desired within certain limitations. Absence from the post, for example, was restricted to permission. Soldiers engaged in numerous activities for recreation and relaxation, including drinking of intoxicants (drunkenness was a serious problem for the army throughout the time Fort Union was an active post), gambling, playing cards, patronizing prostitutes, racing, boxing, wrestling, swimming, dancing, fishing, hunting, picnicking, presenting and attending dramatic performances, visiting, storytelling, reading and writing for those who were literate, and watching nature. [12]

     The stories of vice, of soldiers in trouble and in violation of military regulations, are abundant because of the numerous courts-martial, topics that will be considered in a later chapter. Unfortunately for students of social history, except for those court proceedings which provide a distorted view of humanity by focusing only on misconduct, official military records reveal little about the daily lives of soldiers and citizens who resided at military posts, particularly what they did with their own time that was not depraved, criminal, immoral, illegal, impure, dishonest, or evil. One must search for the few remaining personal letters, diaries, journals, and reminiscences to gain some understanding of the ordinary and everyday activities of a few individuals and to draw general conclusions about the larger society in which those individuals functioned. At best, the results are often cursory and anecdotal. Because of the paucity of records kept by enlisted men, much more is known about the lives of officers and their families. This imbalance of reliable information contributes to the difficulty of telling the story of the private soldier except in generalities. It is much easier, because of more sources, to provide an understanding of some individuals among the officer class.

     The difficulty of explaining the living conditions of enlisted men is exemplified by the lack of solid information about such basic items as the furnishings of their barracks during the 1850s. According to Arthur Woodward's 1958 report on Fort Union, apparently based on data gathered about a number of similar frontier military installations, the men slept in two-tier wooden bunks with wooden slat bottoms, constructed along the walls. While it was typical of the military at the time to have four men sleep in each bunk (two up and two down), one can only speculate that this was the situation at Fort Union. The bed sacks were periodically filled with dried grass or straw. Rolled up clothing might serve as pillows. Each soldier was issued two blankets which he used in quarters and on field duty. [13]

     Other furnishings in the barracks, including chairs, tables, and desks, were fashioned from packing crates, boxes, barrels, and other available materials. The quarters were apparently lighted by candles and heated by fireplaces. Exactly how the barracks were arranged, how the kitchens and mess rooms were furnished, how personal hygiene was accomplished (what bathing facilities, if any, were provided), how the latrines were equipped and situated, and all the other details that would shed light on the daily life of the enlisted men at the first Fort Union remain virtually unknown. [14]

     It is known that a variety of nationalities were represented in the army and made up the polyglot society at all military posts, including Fort Union. In addition to Anglo- and Hispano-Americans, there were large numbers of Irish, German, and British soldiers. Representatives from a number of other countries and ethnic groups were often present, including French, Scandinavian, Italian, Slavic, and others. Afro-Americans were present at Fort Union as slaves and servants before the Civil War and as soldiers and employees after that conflict. The army, perhaps more than any other American institution of the era, exemplified the ethnic diversity of the nation.

     The initial garrison of Fort Union, when established by Major Edmund B. Alexander on July 26, 1851, was comprised of one company of infantry (Company G, Third Infantry) and two of dragoons (Companies F and K, First Dragoons). These soldiers were joined the following day by Company D, Third Infantry, making a total aggregate garrison of 339 officers and men. Because of troops absent on assignments, on the sick list, or under arrest, the number of troops available for duty and extra duty at the post at the end of July 1851 was only 197. [15]

     Until buildings were erected at Fort Union, officers and their families, enlisted soldiers, and employees lived in tents, and the quartermaster, commissary, and ordnance stores were protected only by canvas covers and armed guards. Many of those who had been stationed in Las Vegas and Santa Fe were not happy with the move from what, by comparison, had been comfortable quarters. The tent accommodations, however, were intended to be temporary, and the construction of quarters held top priority at the new post.

     Inadequate quarters were not the only thing about which some military officers could be unhappy. Some officers held an exalted view of their own position and were determined not to associate on the same level with the common people. Lieutenant J. N. Ward, Third Infantry, had been in the army for ten years and had served enough time in New Mexico that he was granted a furlough late in 1851. He planned to travel to the states, perhaps to visit his family in Georgia, but was disappointed with the travel accommodations available.

     Ward complained to Lieutenant John C. McFerran, quartermaster department and adjutant to Colonel Sumner, that the "man in charge" of the wagon train "in which I was to have left for the United States" expected the officer to pay 25 cents per pound for his baggage. Even worse, "I was to perform guard duty on the trip with the teamsters, and was to assist in guarding and hitching up animals at all times." Although he wanted to take his furlough, Ward declared "I can not consent to travel in such manner." [16]

     Ward's class-conscious snobbery was confirmed when he wrote, "if I were with a Government train, with men whom I could command, I would not object to perform any duties however arduous, but I can not think of associating myself as an equal, with the class of men who compose the teamsters of the plains, if I never go on furlough." "There is," he remarked, "no gentleman that I know of, going in with the train which leaves today." Therefore Ward requested that Sumner issue orders for him "to remain at Fort Union, or wherever else he may select on temporary duty . . . until such time as an opportunity offers for my leaving for the U.S." [17]

     Sumner's response to Ward's plea was not located, but the lieutenant was a passenger on the mail coach conducted by William Allison which left Santa Fe on December 2, 1851. The mail party was stopped by blizzards at McNees Creek and Fort Atkinson. Lieutenant Ward left the coach at Fort Atkinson because he was too ill to travel. He remained there until Francis X. Aubry came by with a train of twelve wagons in January 1852 and traveled with Aubry to Independence, arriving there February 5. [18] Presumably Allison and Aubry were "gentlemen" with whom Ward did not mind associating.

     Not everyone complained about the common people or conditions in New Mexico or Fort Union, although some officers' wives were apparently uninformed about both. One historian of frontier military social life claimed that "Army women were not well informed." Informed or not, an officer's wife faced many adjustments and difficulties. The same historian declared, "a woman who married an Army officer led a grueling life that usually shocked her at first and then tested her mettle as surely as ever the pioneer woman was tested." [19]

     Some of the officers' wives at Fort Union probably would have agreed. Among the early residents of Fort Union was Catherine (Cary) Bowen (commonly known as Katie), wife of Captain Isaac Bowen, in charge of the department commissary stores. They accompanied the supply train that followed Colonel Sumner's column from Fort Leavenworth to New Mexico, arriving at the new Fort Union on August 21, 1851. In letters to her parents, Mrs. Bowen (23 years old when she arrived at Fort Union) provided some insight into life at early Fort Union, especially the private and social activities of the officer class. Her letters were generally characterized by a spirit of happiness and well-being. Occasionally Isaac Bowen wrote to his parents and added perspective on life at Fort Union. [20]

     Following their arrival at the post, Katie wrote her mother, "at last at our destination, safe in every particular, in health, and our goods in as good order as anything could possibly be after the hard journey they have had." She had enjoyed the trip over the Santa Fe Trail from Fort Leavenworth. For her "the time did not seem long, for everything was pleasant, weather and country." [21]

     Fort Union, she observed, was "located particularly with a view to extensive farming operations, and certainly it is well adapted, plenty of water, abundance of wood, and, to all appearances, a fertile valley, with mountains on two sides of us." Of the pine trees, she observed they made "good lumber and fire wood and will not fail a supply in thousands of years." The post "is supplied with a delicious spring and we have its water brought twice a day. For the stock and for irrigation there are several ponds and one lake. The river Moro runs six miles below us." The post office was still at Barclay's Fort on the "Moro." Katie considered the area "a pretty country" and obviously enjoyed being there. [22]

     Isaac Bowen was a little less enthusiastic, declaring "We anticipated no very great enjoyment or pleasure from our residence in New Mexico and I am not certain that we have found anything worse than we expected." He described Fort Union as "about a hundred miles from Santa Fe . . . with plenty of wild prairie, mountains close in rear and in the distance front & left, good water, a fine bracing, healthy & salubrious climate." They had adjusted well to their new station. "Since we arrived here," he informed his father, "we have had no time to feel unhappy or scarcely grumble or find fault." Still, he had no appreciation for the land. "We will endeavour, however, to submit with a spirit of becoming resignation to whatever hardships may be our lot during the period of our residence here and when we leave the country, it will be with the wish that we may cast its dust from our feet forever." Speaking for himself and Katie, Isaac disclosed that "one great drawback is the want of mails. Could we hear from our friends oftener we would be better satisfied." [23] That view was probably shared by most officers and soldiers who had come from the East to serve in the unfamiliar land of New Mexico.

     Katie, on the other hand, was very positive about the area and was happy that other officers' wives were at the new post when she arrived. She wrote to her mother that "the morning I came in, Mrs. Sibley took me to her house, or rather tents, and entertained me in the kindest manner." [24] A few days later she noted that "we were serenaded last night by the young gentlemen and kept awake so long that our nap this morning was longer than usual." "We will be," she predicted, "a very social garrison as soon as we are a little better acquainted." She was especially impressed with the young post surgeon, Thomas McParlin, describing him as "one of the pleasantest Men I have met for a long time and said to be very skillful." [25]

     Until quarters were built, the Bowens lived in three "very nice" tents. [26] They were situated close to two other officer families, and Katie Bowen became close friends with Charlotte (Mrs. E. S.) Sibley and Mrs. E. B. Alexander (Mrs. Alexander's first name is unknown). [27] A few weeks after arriving at Fort Union, Katie informed her mother that "Mrs. Alexander, Mrs. Sibley and myself live on three sides of a triangle and the gentlemen make a great deal of sport of the triangular meetings." "In truth," she confessed, "we are nearly all the time together, if one is in the kitchen, the other two bring their sewing into the kitchen." At other times, "when we are dressed in the afternoon, we sit with our sewing sometimes at the house of one and sometimes at another." She explained to her mother, "I tell you these particulars that you may know that we do not give way to despondency or allow the better establishments of our friends in the states to make us unhappy." Any variety they had in their lives was the result of their own efforts, for Katie noted that "one day is very much like another here." [28]

Isaac and Katie Bowen Dr. Thomas McParlin
Isaac and Katie Bowen, courtesy of their granddaughter, Gwladys Bowen. Dr. Thomas McParlin, courtesy of Maryland State Archives.

     Mrs. Sibley also adapted well to tent living, as she informed her cousin: "We are living very comfortably in our tents. . . . My husband is an old soldier and understands perfectly the management of all things connected with Army life." She was apparently proud of her situation, stating that "Our tents are put upon frames and are floored and carpeted. I have arranged them so that the word 'Cozy' would more properly apply in description of the interior than any word else." Of her life at the first Fort Union, Charlotte Sibley wrote, "My books, sewing, and visiting with the other ladies employ my leisure moments in the morning." [29]

     Sophia W. Carleton, 22 years old and expecting her second child, [30] was staying at Barclay's Fort, where rooms were available, while her husband, Captain James H. Carleton, was on patrol. Besides Sophia Carleton, Katie Bowen and Charlotte Sibley were also pregnant. Mrs. Alexander, wife of the post commander and apparently several years older than the others, was a part of their little circle. Located at an isolated post, these women relied upon each other and shared experiences. Each apparently had a servant. The Bowens owned a young female black slave, Margaret. [31] Katie later wrote that Margaret "is a very good girl and cooks nicely, as well as being an excellent house servant. . . . Her mother is a free woman in Louisville and able to buy her, so if possible [when transferred from New Mexico], we will carry her to her mother or set her free." [32] Captain and Mrs. Carleton brought at least two slaves with them to Fort Union from Missouri (Hannah, age 28, and Benjamin, age 21), both of whom they later sold to Governor Lane. [33]

     Katie watched her money carefully and managed her household scrupulously, sewing most of her own clothing and making other needed items. She noted that Charlotte Sibley "went into the extravagance of buying nice furniture." Katie, however, was proud of her own "home made lounges and benches" and explained how she was covering some extra pillows with "turkey red" to make their "two easy chairs," the frames of which they had had made at and brought with them from Fort Leavenworth, "charming." [34]

     There were no gardens at Fort Union when they arrived because it had been occupied so late in the season, but vegetables were obtained from Las Vegas and the post garden at Rayado. The Bowens purchased some chickens at Las Vegas so they would have their own eggs, and they brought a milk cow with them from Fort Leavenworth. Katie did complain about the high cost of basic items in New Mexico, noting that butter sold for 75 cents a pound, sugar at 15 cents a pound, corn from $3.00 to $4.00 per bushel, and flour $20.00 to $22.00 per barrel. Everything officers bought from the commissary department included an additional eight cents per pound for freight from Fort Leavenworth. [35]

diagram
Katie Bowen sent this drawing of the arrangement of their tents at Fort Union to her parents, and this copy was generously provided by Gwladys Bowen, granddaughter of Katie and Isaac Bowen. The three tents, each nine feet square, were placed on a platform and the floor was carpeted. The servant's tent and the milk tent were smaller. The kitchen and dining bowers were outside, as were the stove, cooking fire, and other items. The three tents were divided by curtains. This served as the home of the Bowens until quarters were built.

     Like everyone else who came to New Mexico in government service, the Bowens found the cost of living to be high. Katie declared, "It is rather tough for with what we pay for the commonest things here would buy us luxuries in the States." Because the only available place to buy rations was the commissary department, where "we are allowed to buy one ration for every member of our family which leaves us nothing for hospitality," Katie joined her peers in condemning Colonel Sumner's orders, in the name of economy, to have the cost of transportation added to the contract price of everything shipped from the East. [36] This was a new practice, an economy measure instituted by Colonel Sumner, but it was later rescinded because of the opposition.

     When the sutler's store was opened by Jared W. Folger, however, Katie declared his prices "exceed anything I ever heard of. Happily we are independent of him." The Bowens had brought many commodities with them from Leavenworth, some of which they had purchased in Philadelphia and St. Louis. They were supplied with everything except "fresh meat and flour," and they were preparing an order for supplies from Philadelphia for the needs of the coming year. [37] Regarding local food supplies, she later noted that "the Mexicans bring in venison, wild fowls and onions and we manage to set a very comfortable table." [38] Katie took pride in her household management abilities, declaring "we live plain and well and have plenty of clothes." [39]

     Katie was competitive and enjoyed making do. "I had a pint of cream yesterday," she boasted in her first letter from Fort Union, "and stirred up nearly a pound of butter in a tin cup just to say that I had made butter before Mrs. Sibley, who has been fixed a month and lived without butter and the milk of two cows and I have but one at present." Katie had brought 30 pounds of melted butter from Fort Leavenworth but just wanted "to have new butter." A few days later she made plum preserves. [40] Soon Katie and Charlotte Sibley shared a stone butter churn, butter paddle, and earthware pan for working butter, one using these on Tuesdays and Fridays and the other on Wednesdays and Saturdays. [41] In January 1852 she wrote, "I make plenty of butter yet and our hens lay finely we have 17." [42]

     Katie was pleased with her accomplishments. "All of us ladies have had a great time making plum jelly to see who would succeed best. I never made jelly before, but never will be beat at anything." She was also proud of her "four mince pies" which "really tasted like home and did not cost a cent hardly." "All the husbands," she confessed, "cry out about making jelly with sugar at 20 cents a pound, but I sweetened the mince meat with molasses to pay for it." [43]

     The Bowens liked to entertain, often having guests (including "strangers" just "passing through") for dinner, supper, or tea. [44] When an impromptu dance was held for the garrison, a hospital tent was set up, some of the young soldiers furnished the music, and Katie and her close friends provided food, including ham, biscuits, cakes, and coffee. Although there were seven officers' wives at the post, only Katie, Charlotte Sibley, and Mrs. Alexander prepared the food. Some of the single men had ordered peaches and grapes that arrived the same day from El Paso and provided these for everyone to enjoy. Katie "played matron in the way of presiding at the supper table pouring coffee, etc." The first dance held at Fort Union "went off well and everybody seemed delighted." [45] A dance was one of the few occasions where officers and enlisted men enjoyed some social contact while off duty.

     Life was not especially easy in tents at an isolated outpost, but Katie made the best of it. The first time they attempted to wash clothes they found that their stove, standing in the open, would not "draw quite well enough to keep a hot fire." They cooked on an open fire and had erected a bower under which they ate unless it was raining. Katie was sewing drawers and night shirts for her husband and "a winter house dress of the calico" for herself. She spent time socializing with her neighbors and declared, "I am not going to worry myself about work, but live easy and go back to the states as good as new. I am as well off as my neighbors and I have no ambition to shine in New Mexico." [46] She must not have wasted much time, nevertheless, for she wrote not quite two weeks later that "I have been very busy, have got our servants winter clothes all made and nearly all of Isaacs sewing done and this week I am going to alter my cashmere double gown." [47] In one of her few observations about the New Mexican people, Katie observed that "the Mexican women at Vegas 25 miles distant, sew beautifully and cover their own clothes with embroidery, but I am not going into that kind of extravagance." [48]

     The officers' wives enjoyed maintaining a degree of fashion, even while living in tents at a remote location. "All the ladies wear woolen double gowns till 11 o'clock and then come out in bareges [49] or some other gossamer thing." [50] Another time Katie observed that "all the ladies here dress very prettily and from outward appearance you would not imagine we were so far from fashion and civilization." [51]

     Katie sometimes wrote about what was going on at the post, commenting on the progress of construction of quarters and other buildings as well as other developments. "The head farmer here is cutting hay for winter use but has not more than 30 tons as yet and there are 900 head of cattle, besides several hundred horses and mules to winter." [52] She also relayed the sad story of how Major Philip R. Thompson, while intoxicated, had shot a man at Barclay's Fort. Thompson was arrested and, if the victim died, would be turned over to civil authorities. Katie felt sorry for Mrs. Thompson, who was staying at Barclay's Fort. [53] Major George A. H. Blake, who was camped about three miles from Barclay's Fort, investigated the incident and placed Thompson under arrest. He referred the matter to Colonel Sumner for a decision. [54] The man Thompson shot at Barclay's Fort survived, and Thompson was ordered to pay him $600 damages and join the temperance society in Santa Fe. Katie Bowen reported that the officer "broke the pledge so soon that the society expelled him." [55] Thompson continued to battle with liquor and was frequently unable to perform his assignments. He was eventually cashiered from the service, after appearing intoxicated at a court-martial, on September 4, 1855. He died June 24, 1857. [56]

     For the most part, however, existence at Fort Union was fairly routine. Life in the tents at Fort Union was less comfortable on October 11, 1851, when, as Isaac Bowen wrote to his father, "we awoke this morning and found the ground covered with snow and the storm still raging with considerable violence." Both he and Katie had been sick with colds, chills, and fevers. Unlike his optimistic wife who seemed to find good in whatever life brought to her, Isaac expressed his opinion of their situation differently: "I wish we were to accompany the train [soon to leave] to the states, for if ever there was a country which our creator had deserted, forsaken and left to its own means of salvation, that country must be New Mexico." Again, he rationalized their situation: "However, we anticipated but little pleasure, enjoyment or comfort during our residence here, but that little may be less than we anticipated." [57]

     Both Isaac and Katie were in better spirits by the end of October, when they were out of the tents and enjoying their new quarters, escaping "the constant dust if nothing more." Katie declared the unfinished rooms "vastly preferable to tents." She proclaimed that "our rooms are very tidy and comfortable having large stone fireplaces that give us genial warmth and cheerfulness." [58] She had a carpet on the floor, "made up by a dragoon tailor," and felt "quite settled." She also gloated that "Mrs. Sibley's and our house fronts the south and we have the bright sunshine nearly all day and we are vain enough to think that our rooms are pleasanter than the other ladies'." To her parents, she wished: "How I would like that you could look in and see how primitive we are in our log houses white washed—logs overhead, chinked and covered with earth to shed snow and rain." [59] By the end of November the Bowens had their third room finished, which served as their bedroom, and Isaac had completed a barn and chicken coop and was working on "other out door conveniences." [60]

     The Bowens, and presumably the other residents at the small post, felt quite secure at Fort Union. Katie never thought about Indians and had not heard of any in the area. [61] "Mexicans," she wrote, "only come in with donkey loads of vegetables and fruits for sale and we are so quiet that no sentinels are posted except over the provision and clothing tents." Regarding their own household, Katie stated, "Our big dog takes care that no cattle come about the house, and they are the only nuisance we are likely to dread." [62]

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