Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo


    Information about most noncommissioned officers who served at Fort Union was as elusive as records about other enlisted men. Thomas Keeshan, who served as commissary sergeant at Fort Union, 1884-1889, was an exception, and his story provides an example of those who filled similar positions in the post-Civil War army. [52] Keeshan was born in Queens County, Ireland, in 1846. He enlisted at New York City on June 21, 1865, when he was 19 years old. He was five feet three and one-half inches tall, with red hair and blue eyes. His occupation at the time of enlistment was musician.

Thomas Keeshan Robina Keeshan
Thomas Keeshan, about 1885. He lived until 1943. Keeshan Collection, Fort Union National Monument. Robina Keeshan, about 1875. She died in 1920. Keeshan Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

Thomas and Robina Keeshan with their children
Thomas and Robina Keeshan with their children (five of their six children survived) at the post commissary sergeant's quarters at Fort Union, about 1887. These board and batten frame quarters were located north of the depot storehouses. Keeshan Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

Walter Keeshan
Walter Keeshan, son of Thomas and Robins, at Fort Union, about 1887. Keeshan Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

     Keeshan served in several infantry regiments, ending up in Company C, Sixteenth Infantry, with the consolidation of the army in 1869. He was appointed corporal on September 1, 1867, was promoted to company quartermaster sergeant, December 10, 1868, and became first sergeant, October 3, 1873. He married Robina Gibson, born in Scotland in 1859, at Little Rock, Arkansas, on August 6, 1875, when he was 29 and she was 16. They had six children, some of whom were born at Fort Union.

     In 1883, while serving at Fort Concho, Texas, Keeshan applied for an appointment as commissary sergeant, and the letters of recommendation submitted to support his application revealed a dedicated, competent, and loyal soldier. His company captain, Thomas E. Rose, wrote on November 23, 1883:

     "I have known Sergeant Keeshan personally since March 20th 1870. . . . I have found him thoroughly efficient in the performance of every duty that has ever been assigned to him. Intelligent, energetic active & indomitable, he has ever been more than any other soldier I ever saw. In garrison or in the field he has ever been ready for the most important service and was never known to be unequal to any task."

     ". . . He is a man of thorough business habits, careful active infallible, and his appointment to the position of Commissary Sergeant would make a most valuable acquisition to that branch of the service." [53]

     On March 7, 1884, Captain Rose submitted another letter of recommendation, similar to the first but with additional information. Keeshan, he stated, "is a good shot and has been for years back a marksman." More relevant to the duties of a commissary sergeant, Rose continued, "He has for more than ten years done all the clerking of the Company keeping the books records & returns in a good and presentable condition." Keeshan also had improved his knowledge. Rose declared, "From 1870 to 1874 he studied Mathematics under my own tuition during which time he showed remarkable proficiency in Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Surveying, Analytical Geometry, Differential & Integral Calculus & Mechanics." [54]

Thomas Keeshan
Thomas Keeshan's appointment as commissary sergeant, June 26, 1884, when Robert Todd Lincoln was secretary of war. Thomas Keeshan File, Fort Union National Monument Collection, New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe.

    Lieutenant William V. Richards, post quartermaster and commissary officer at Fort Concho, stated on November 27, 1883, that he had known Keeshan for 15 years and found him to be "a most excellent 1st Sergeant, a thoroughly reliable, temperate, and responsible man." He noted that Keeshan had "a large and most interesting family, of which he takes most excellent care, and as the time approaches for educating them, the Sergeant naturally wants to improve his condition." Richards concluded by noting that Keeshan was also "an excellent accountant and would make a most excellent Commissary Sergeant." [55]

    Keeshan was appointed commissary sergeant on June 26, 1884, and assigned to duty at Fort Union, replacing post commissary sergeant William Bolton. Keeshan and his family lived at the post until he was transferred to Fort Clark, Texas, on October 22, 1889. He later served at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and retired from the service there on September 29, 1894, having served almost 30 years. He settled at Junction City, Kansas, near Fort Riley where he had once served, and operated a greenhouse for many years. He died in 1943, when he was considered to be the oldest army veteran in the United States on the retired list.

Lucy Margaret Keeshan Walter Keeshan
Lucy Margaret Keeshan, in 1887, youngest daughter of Commissary Sergeant Thomas and Robina Keeshan, was born at Fort Union on May 19, 1886. She died at Manhattan, Kansas, January 1988. Keeshan Collection, Fort Union National Monument. Walter Keeshan, in 1887, was born at Fort Concho, Texas, October 14, 1883. He lived with his parents at Fort Union, 1884-1889. He died at Junction City, Kansas, September 7, 1984. Keeshan Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

    Lucy Margaret Keeshan, daughter of Thomas and Robina born at Fort Union on May 19, 1886, reported in the late 1960s a story that was part of her family heritage, about how her father kept cash for the commissary department at Fort Union hidden in sacks of beans at his office. Once, when the paymaster came to pay the garrison but the shipment of money had not yet arrived, the paymaster explained his predicament to the post quartermaster and commissary officer. This officer suggested that the paymaster borrow the required funds from Sergeant Keeshan and replace them when the shipment of money came. Keeshan opened some sacks of "beans" and counted out $5,000 to pay the troops. A few days later the payroll funds arrived and the paymaster and Keeshan counted the required $5,000 and concealed it back in the bean bags. Whether folklore or fact, it was a good story. [56]

    There may have been some friendship between the commissary officer and Sergeant Keeshan, but most likely they were parts of two different worlds. Just as before and during the Civil War, there remained a vast gulf between the officer class and enlisted men. [57] The Civil War, with its thousands of volunteers and futile carnage, had helped to weaken some of the earlier aristocratic pretensions of many officers and their wives. Countless officers of volunteer units were appointed from civil life and therefore had not been indoctrinated, as some soldiers believed, "by teaching the officer-enlisted man caste system as if it existed by divine right." [58] Nevertheless, as Duane M. Greene, a former officer in the frontier army who wrote a book on military social life in 1880, declared, "the Army is a little domain of its own, independent and isolated by its peculiar customs and discipline; an aristocracy by selection and the halo of tradition." Greene argued that the army was not the paragon "of morality, honor and chivalry that many believe." [59] Although Greene wrote primarily about officers and their wives, he understood the unique station of the ordinary soldier.

full dress uniform jacket
Commissary Sergeant Thomas Keeshan's full dress uniform jacket. Museum Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

     The enlisted men of the postwar era, whether veterans or newcomers, were somewhat less servile as a class than their prewar counterparts. Even though they were legally subservient to commissioned officers, many enlisted men expected to be treated fairly and with respect. As Rickey asserted, "reciprocal loyalty between officers and men was vital." [60] The rate at which they were subjected to courts-martial for various offenses and the high rate of desertion, however, indicated that military discipline was still harsh (even capricious) and many soldiers failed (by choice or nature) to adjust to the conditions and discipline of the army. [61] At western military posts the conduct of officers strongly influenced the behavior of enlisted men. Drunkenness, for example, was a problem for many men of both classes. Officers and their wives continued to provide more details about military life at Fort Union than did enlisted men, so that much of the information available contains a deliberate or involuntary officer bias. An exception was Eddie Matthews, Company L, Eighth Cavalry, whose prolific correspondence represented the viewpoint of an enlisted man at the post during the early 1870s.

     Following the Civil War, a parsimonious Congress reduced the military budget to a point that funds were sometimes insufficient for fundamental activities. The army became a virtual skeleton as the authorized strength of the postwar regiments was reduced from 57,000 (in 1866) to 25,000 officers and men (by 1874). The number of military posts was reduced from a peak of 255 in 1869 to 96 in 1892, the year after Fort Union was abandoned. Sufficient funds were not provided to maintain adequately even the reduced number of military posts and authorized troops. In fact, most companies operated with fewer than the authorized number of enlisted men for many years (in 1881 the cavalry regiments averaged 82% of authorized strength and the infantry averaged 85%, and those figures included the sick, prisoners, and others unfit for duty—many infantry companies did not have 25 men available for duty). [62] The provisions and equipment left over from the Civil War, regardless of condition and serviceability, were utilized by the army for approximately the next decade. At times the availability of ammunition was so limited in the immediate postwar era that the men could not participate in target practice. Marksmanship received much emphasis in the 1880s, a time when there were few military demands on the troops at Fort Union.

     The soldiers' pay had increased during the Civil War, part of the inducement to recruit needed volunteers. At the end of the war the base pay for privates was $16 per month, with one dollar deducted and kept until discharge (a forced savings plan to provide a new veteran with a small lump sum to begin life as a civilian and to discourage desertion because soldiers who departed early did not receive it), and a deduction of 12.5 cents for maintenance of the Soldiers' Home in Washington, D.C. Soldiers continued to dispose of their pay in many ways, including payment of debts, sending money to their families, newspaper subscriptions, personal items, additional food, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, prostitutes, and obligations to the company laundress, [63] tailor, cobbler, barber, and others. After the Civil War the army did a better job of fulfilling its promise of paying troops every two months, another practice designed to reduce desertions. Even so, many soldiers borrowed money to make it from one payday to the next, pledging their future pay (a process that took a portion of each payment immediately and necessitated borrowing again, keeping them almost perpetually in debt). In comparison to other jobs (many paying two, three, and four times the amount provided by the army), the soldiers' cash pay looked inferior after the war. When their food, clothing, shelter, and medical care were included, however, the disparity was not as great as it appeared.

     Eddie Matthews explained in 1869 that recruits were not paid until they were assigned to a regiment and had served for several weeks. [64] Meantime each new soldier was given $3.00 worth of scrip to be used at the sutler's store "to buy the little necessaries to keep clean and eat." These included "a quart cup, tin plate, knife and fork, and spoon, blacking amp; brush, pr of white gloves, towel and soap, plate powder to clean your plate and buttons, a little thread, for that you pay 2.30." Matthews did not purchase a button brush and used his toothbrush for that purpose. With the 70 cents remaining, he "bought ten sheets of paper and that many envelopes, a little looking glass for ten cents, a comb, some tobacco and mailed one letter." He promised to send his parents "just as much money as I possibly can" after each payday, which he faithfully did during his five-year term. [65]

     Matthews sent his family $20 after he was paid in July 1870, stating that it was "not much I know." He explained that, after the deduction for his revolver and payment of the laundress, tailor, and "several others," he had "run pretty short." He commented that he was most ashamed to send so small an amount, but have only kept 5.00 myself to have some pictures taken." [66] Matthews was apparently more concerned than most enlisted men about sending home as much of his pay as possible.

     In 1874, near the end of his term of enlistment, Matthews explained in detail how enlisted men spent what money they received. He considered the purchase of supplemental food and the alteration of clothing issued by the army to be primary expenses. Beyond those were many other expenditures:

     "Then comes your Laundry bill $1.25 each month, and . . . your barber bill is another $1.00 per Mo. . . . One cannot wash his hands and face with Gov't Soap, and this takes a few more dimes. Nearly every soldier wears paper collars in Camp 40 cents a box. . . . Then comes combs, hair and tooth brushes, a little hair oil occasionally (for bacon grease won't answer). . . . The Gov't does not provide you with towels and one cannot always use his shirt tail. Nearly every soldier wears fine boots on stated occasions such as Inspections, Musters, Sundays and many other times. . . . This article of itself in this country costs a months soldiering. . . . These boots will not look well all the time without they are blackened, . . . and then you cannot blacken them without a brush, (a horse brush Gov't issue won't do the work). . . . (1) cloths brush 75 cents then you need several little brushes for cleaning your arms and equipments. . . . Paper, envelopes, stamps, pens, ink and paper are an expense to some. . . . Another little necessary and indespensible article is tobacco, most every soldier uses it. It is one of the greatest comforts we enjoy. . . . Cigars are too expensive and Uncle Sam has failed to supply us with pipes, so you see this is an expense that could not possibly be avoided. . . . There are many other little necessaries to be purchased with our little $13.00 per month, and when it is all added up it leaves a balance of $000,000." [67]

     In 1870, in an economy drive in Congress, the base pay was reduced (effective July 1, 1871) to $13 per month with the same deductions noted above. The primary reaction of the troops was a marked increase in desertions. Over 32% of all enlisted men in the army deserted in 1871 and the rate remained high for several years. [68] At Fort Union 84 soldiers deserted in 1871. That was 20% of the average aggregate monthly garrison that year. [69] To help combat desertions, Congress established a schedule of longevity pay increases in 1872. The soldier who completed his required five-year enlistment received an additional one dollar per month for the third year of service, two dollars per month for the fourth year, and three dollars for the fifth year, all of which was retained until the soldier was discharged. The retained funds also collected 4% simple interest. [70] Longevity pay was not sufficient incentive, however, for many soldiers to put up with harsh discipline and other conditions for five years, and desertion remained a serious problem for the army. The tightfisted Congress refused to spend money to reform and improve military life. A retirement plan for enlisted men was not provided until 1885, and it required 30 years of service. [71]

     There were idiosyncrasies in the system of pay. Eddie Matthews, who served in the Eighth Cavalry from 1869 to 1874, resigned his noncommissioned office of sergeant in 1873 to become a private and a clerk in the subsistence department. Because he received extra-duty pay for being a clerk, in addition to his private's salary, Matthews was paid $4.20 per month more in that position than he had received as a sergeant. As he explained to his parents, to whom he sent as much of his pay as he could spare, "I am after the dollars and cents, instead of rank." In addition, he noted, "My duties are less bothersome now than they were as Sergt." [72] An anomalous and parsimonious military system affected more than salaries.

     Technological improvements in weapons, communication, clothing, accouterments, and other areas were not utilized or were introduced slowly because of the costs involved and the stocks of supplies left over from the Civil War. Army reforms came ponderously slow, too, because changes required revenues and the bureaucracy was inherently reluctant to innovate. Officer promotions were exceedingly retarded because vacancies in the finite positions seldom occurred, and the abundance of brevet ranks continued to cause confusion. [73] Second Lieutenant George B. Duncan, Ninth Infantry, began his duties as a newly commissioned officer at Fort Union in 1886. He described the post commander, Lieutenant Colonel Henry R. Mizner, Tenth Infantry, as "a relic of the Civil War, as were all the captains and many first lieutenants, probably good soldiers in their day but stagnated with inactivity and slow promotion." [74]

     The lack of incentives and rewards for outstanding performance of duties was not unique to officers. Because of low pay and low esteem for soldiers, the enlisted men, according to Utley, did not "rise above mediocrity." [75] Some soldiers had little desire to risk their lives for the compensation provided. Perhaps Eddie Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, summed up the sentiment of many of his fellow soldiers when he penned his thoughts during a potential engagement with Indians while on a scouting expedition in 1872:

     "I knew what had to be done in case we met the Indians. My own life was at stake as well as the Generals or any of the command, and I was willing to risk that life with the rest, but not foolishly. I have too much to live for. Too many bright hopes for the future to recklessly run myself into danger. . . . As regards myself, cant say that I felt very rejoiced at the prospects of a fight with the Indians, $13.00 a month is not an incentive to throw ones life away. And as to my patriotic feelings, I candidly say, I have none. I have never been blessed with the inspiration." [76]

     Later, after the Indians his detachment were pursuing had retreated and the officers ordered the troops to withdraw because of a possible ambush, Matthews declared:

     "And we turned and marched back to Camp. Many were the countenances which brightened up and many were the hearts made glad by this Command. I also experienced a feeling of relief when saw we were marching back to Camp, for have had all the Indian fighting I wish for the remainder of my life." [77]

     Throughout the postwar years the capability and efficiency of the nation's military arm stagnated and deteriorated. Fortunately the demands on the army decreased as the Indians of the West were subdued, and places like Fort Union were active but nonessential during the last years of their existence. Significant reform of the nation's army came in 1890 and after, when Fort Union was abandoned. Life at the third Fort Union, without a driving mission, was certainly less exciting than when military action was required, as during the Indian campaigns or Confederate invasion of New Mexico. Even so, the story of people and activities form an important part of the history of the post.

     The daily life of the soldier was affected by the quarters in which he lived [78] and the clothing, food, and equipment he was issued. Clothing left from the Civil War, although much of it was of inferior quality, was issued to troops for almost a decade after the war ended. Dress uniforms underwent periodic style changes during the 1870s and 1880s, but the basic dress remained the same: woolen trousers, shirts, blouses, socks, long underwear, forage caps and campaign hats (later helmets), and shoes for the infantry or boots for the cavalry. [79]

     In December 1873 Eddie Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, described the changes in clothing just issued to his regiment, the new style being "taken from the Prussian Soldiers." He was pleased with the results.

     "We have received our New Uniform and are very well pleased with it. It consists of a Helmet with Cords, bands and plume with a large brass Eagle in front, the Cords, bands and plume are yellow. . . . The dress coat is very nice, is trimed with yellow (buff)[,] pants same as before. . . ."

     "We all turned out this morning for Inspection in full rig for the first time and made quite a display." [80]

     A few days later he expressed further pride in the attire: "We cut a dashing appearance in our New Uniforms and look quite flashy." [81]

     Footwear was poorly constructed and did not fit the shape of many soldier's feet. One soldier recorded that the proper method for breaking in new shoes was to walk in the creek until they were soaked and keep them on until they had molded to the shape of the foot and dried completely. Much of the clothing issued required modifications before it fit the size and shape of the individual. Each company usually had a soldier who performed the duties of tailor in his spare time, altering and repairing uniforms for pay. Many companies also had a cobbler who repaired shoes and boots. [82]

     Matthews explained the necessity and expense of utilizing the services of a company tailor:

     "The great trouble with the clothing is it will not fit you, and for one to dress in Government issue without having it altered is to make yourself a ridiculous looking object, and to feel generally uncomfortable. And to have your clothing altered costs considerable. In fact it costs more to have them made over than the original price of the article. . . . If we did not have them altered for our own comfort, the officers would make you have them so for appearance sake." [83]

     If the post did not have a barber, someone in the company who had some skill at the trade was able to earn fifty cents per haircut in his spare time. [84] Shaving and trimming beards and mustaches, also a part of the appearance of the soldier, was usually performed by each individual. Personal hygiene was often ignored by many soldiers because bathing facilities were limited. Private Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, provided a rare description of bathing at Fort Union in December 1870 in a letter to his folks back home:

     "Have just taken my Saturday evenings bath. And as feel somewhat refreshed, concluded would try and write to you. The manner in which we get a bath now reminds me of home and my little brothers. We borrow a tub from one of the Laundresses, put on a large pot of water. When it is warm enough put it in a tub and jump in. Wash yourself as well as you can in front, then get one of the boy's to wash your back. That done you step out of the tub and walk forth a cleansed man." [85]

     Many of the soldiers did not attend to personal cleanliness as carefully as Private Matthews, but their clothing and bedding were regularly scrubbed by laundresses (except when they were in the field). [86] Even so, the smell of the barracks where unwashed men were crowded together in compact conditions with limited ventilation added to the unpleasantness of the lives of enlisted men. Most, however, complained more about the food they received than the scent of quarters and companions.

     Most soldiers reportedly grumbled about how their rations were prepared. An example of their grievances was provided by Eddie Matthews while on a scouting expedition in 1872:

     "Our Cooks (kind hearted fellows) thought they would treat us to some soft bread. So last night they baked. At breakfast this morning I was handed something which from its color and weight I presumed must be part of a brick, but was told by the cook that it was my ration of bread. Now I believe my digestive organs are about as strong as the majority of the white race and I would no more attempt their powers on that piece of bread, than I would on a 12 lb solid shot. I politely thanked our gentlemanly cook, but declined eating any of his fresh bread, prefering "hard tack" which had been baked in some mechanical bakery in the first year of the late Rebellion." [87]

     Matthews also testified that the soldiers did not always receive full rations as regulations required. In 1874, when his company quartermaster sergeant was shorting the enlisted men on beef and bread at Fort Union, Matthews complained to his company captain, Louis T. Morris. Captain Morris investigated the complaint and, finding it to be true, ordered the errant sergeant to see to it that full rations were issued "hereafter." Matthews, who had only six months left to serve, explained to his parents:

     "This is the first time during my service that I made a report of the kind. And would not have made this one, only the living was getting too bad. And as my time was getting short did not want to die of starvation at this stage of the game. The men of the Company have been praising me all day for making such a change in their living. And say had any other man in the Company made the same report very likely he would have been put in the "Guard House" and no change made after all." [88]

     The quality of food issued remained much as it had been prior to the Civil War. From the war years through the early 1890s, the basic army menu included hash (comprised of meat and desiccated potatoes, sometimes with other vegetables such as onions), slumgullion stew (meat and vegetables), beans, fresh beef, hardtack, salt bacon, coffee, vinegar, molasses, and bread. Bread was baked for the garrison at the post bakery and by designated cooks when troops were in the field. [89] Fresh vegetables were provided in season by post and company gardens (gardens were cultivated at Fort Union until the post was abandoned). Occasionally dried fruits (especially apples and prunes) were issued and usually cooked for serving. As before the war, fresh milk, eggs, and butter were not issued, and company funds (raised primarily from the sale of surplus rations issued to the company) were sometimes used to purchase these when available. Other purchases with such funds included, when available, fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, pickles, sauerkraut, raisins, and condiments. [90]

     The soldiers usually were treated to special meals on holidays, a pleasant break from the usual fare. Eddie Matthews described the "elegant dinner" served to the 20 men of his company present at Fort Union on Thanksgiving Day in 1873: "Had four roast turkeys, (nice ones) none of your old Gobblers, two hams, . . . biscuits, butter, pickles, (Cucumber and Beet), Coffee, bread and for desert pudding and pies in abundance. . . . We had enough left for our supper and breakfast." [91] Matthews always expressed appreciation for good food, and he was also critical of unsavory fare.

     Enlisted men, as well as officers and their families, could spend some of their pay for produce brought to the post by New Mexican farmers and gardeners. In the summer of 1870 Private Matthews reported that raspberries, apples, and peaches were available from local citizens, but he complained that the berries were expensive and the apples and peaches were small, about the "size of a plum." [92] Soldiers were also able, at their own expense, to purchase all types of food from the post sutler's store, where a wide variety of basic foods and delicacies (including sardines, canned oysters, and candy) were available. After 1866 the commissary department was authorized to supply to enlisted men as well as officers, at cost, a number of foods not issued as part of the regular ration (including such items as canned fruits, vegetables, and meats). The post sutlers generally opposed this because they considered the sale of such items to be competitive and an invasion of their monopoly trade rights. Canned tomatoes and other canned vegetables were added to the regular rations issued to the soldiers in the late 1880s. [93]

     Matthews testified that many soldiers spent a portion of their pay to supplement the rations they received, and he confessed that he had "spent more money perhaps than I should have since have been in the Army." He justified what he had spent to augment the army rations of "plain and substantial food" of which "one tires," and noted that a soldier "in five years will spend considerable money for little extras which help his health and living wonderfully, and which added to his government rations one can live very well." [94]

     Throughout the postwar era, as before, the quality of the food was affected by the skills of the cooks. Soon after his arrival at Fort Union in 1870, Private Eddie Matthews, was "elected for a turn in that disagreeable business" of the "Cook House" for a period of ten days. He informed his family back home that,

     "I am very much opposed to working in the Cook House, but under the present circumstances am better off than would be, were I in the company for duty. Out of 56 men, we have only 12 for duty. Those twelve have to go on Guard every other day, only get one night in bed [out of two]. And it will be that way for two months, and perhaps more. . . . Another advantage I have in the cook house, is I always get enough to eat. And can always make some fancy little dishes to coat the appetite. At least something better than Hard Tack, and Pork. But I must say we are living very well since we came here. In the morning have Beef Steak, Bread and Coffee. Dinner Beef, Bean Soup and Bread. Supper, Coffee, Syrup Bread and Pickles. Splendid cucumber pickles. The 1st Sergt, Quarter Master Sergt & three Cooks, mess by ourselves. We always have something extra. Such as Eggs, Milk, Butter, Bread Pudding, Doughnuts &c. How is that, don't that make your mouth water. Eggs are worth 25 cts doz., Butter 50. Beef Steak 10 cts. lb., Milk 10 cts Qt. Prices here for everything is very reasonable. Very much the same as prices in the States. So different from miserable Arizona." [95]

     When he was not assigned to kitchen police, however, Private Matthews frequently complained about the quality of the meals. For example, he facetiously informed his family on Sunday, June 12, 1870, that he had "just finished devouring a sumptuous repast composed of tough roast Beef and burnt beans." [96] In April 1874 he described his dinner, which included a piece of roast beef "about the size of a small sized mouse." He continued in his typical style:

     "And that little piece of meat contained about as much toughness as anything of its size I ever saw, not excepting rubber. I hardly think there is a dog in the Garrison (and there are about five hundred) that could make an impression on that bit of meat. Am sure he could not eat it and live. Then I had soup, soup that would make an invalid die to look at, and a well man sick to indulge in. This soup was composed of three nearly equal parts, namely cabbage, rice and sand, if there were any perceptible difference in the equalization of the ingredients it was in favor of sand. Of course I enjoyed the soup, for desert we had dry bread, so you imagine how good I feel at the present moment. It is a singular thing that here in one of the best stock raising countries in the world we get the poorest meat. One would imagine from the toughness of the meat served up to us that we are consuming some of the old pioneer cattle that crossed the plains in 49. And I guess some of it did." [97]

     Later, after serving several weeks in the field and subsisting on a diet in which the principal ingredient was beans, Matthews wrote:

     "When I say we have had bean soup for dinner, and baked beans for supper every day for the past month and that I have eaten heartily of them at every meal, and that I like them, I only tell the truth. Still when one has beans for about a thousand meals in succession the thing becomes monotonous and considerable on the order of sameness. And I have no doubt but that I would fight if any person said beans to me when I leave this bean bellied Army." [98]

     Food was always something about which soldiers could grumble. One veteran, Sergeant George Neihaus, recalled that the food at Fort Union was "rough." He remembered that the enlisted men constantly complained about the vittles and discussed how they would redress the privations endured when they returned to civilian life. [99] Eddie Matthews frequently disclosed his plans to eat well when he returned home, often expressing his desire for a chicken dinner. After the meal of tough beef and sandy soup he described above, Matthews concluded: "If I don't make those chickens wish they had never come out of their shells when I come home, it will be because I can't run fast enough to catch them." [100]

Page Three

Santa Fe Trail Research Site

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.
© "Forever"