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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Military posts had top jobs
Brass hired civilians for crucial work

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

All who read history are familiar with the deeds of those who were out in front leading the charges and living with destiny.

The great military fetes, the daring rescues and the thousands of forays against the enemy have been recorded in great detail. But there were others involved who often were not mentioned in the reports.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, seldom mentioned or remembered are the people providing logistical support and making it possible for the heroes to exist and operate. From the early Spanish Conquistadores to modern times, the behind-the-scenes people are usually ignored.

One example finds pages of text telling of the arrival of Gen. George Custer in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory in 1875. Fronting 10 companies of U.S. Cavalry with 1,000 mounts and two companies of infantry, the general presented a brilliant, overwhelming spectacle to the Sioux tribes who were watching from the hilltops.

Barely mentioned in the descriptions and reports were the logistical support of 110 heavily loaded wagons pulled by 660 mules plus a herd of 600 beeves driven along on the hoof until they were butchered and eaten.

Common sense tells us this was a formidable force until the wagons were emptied and the last beef consumed. Imagine the amount of planning, procuring and delivery of the supplies needed to keep such a force in the field. Crude communications, poor trails and equipment had to be considered in this detailed planning.

Most generally consider the establishment of a new military post on the frontier as the most important part of early settlement. On second thought, this may not be true. For example, within a few weeks after a post was started, the wild game was depleted, the nearby grazing became scarce, and the easy firewood burned. Disaster was in the making.

To continue, the post had to hire civilians for work crews to cut wood, haul hay, saw lumber, gather and haul rock, dig water wells, and start gardens for food. The longer the post stayed in one location, the greater the logistical problems.

In reality, it was not so much the actual presence of buildings and troops that started settlement and commerce as it was the need for service for the post to exist.

Serving a military post provided pay for labor and opportunities for contractors. A continual need for livestock for work or beef kept traders busy. Repairs on wagons and shoeing mounts kept blacksmiths working. Constant demand for firewood, hay and grain contributed to the local commerce.

Though only a mere dot on the maps of the western prairies, a post required a lot of activity, all done by hand as there was nothing else available. This was actually the first commerce on the frontier aside from the payrolls of the military.

When railroads penetrated the frontier, a means appeared to buy and get delivered certain machinery for processing raw materials along with improved farming implements. Ironically, this arrival of civilization also negated the need for the military and commerce turned to serving the civilian economy first created for serving the military.

In trying to sort out which was the first and most important, we come to the age-old question again. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" June 3, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

 
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