History of Fort Davis, Texas
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The Trans-Pecos military frontiers underwent dramatic changes during the 1880s. As railroads made their belated appearance, the army developed new subposts throughout the region. With conflicts against Indians diminishing, new post commander Col. Benjamin Grierson, who took over on November 20, 1882, sought to transform Davis from a temporary frontier cantomnent to a permanent military establishment. His herculean efforts to develop the army's presence neatly coincided with equally tireless attempts to provide financial and psychological security for his family. Grierson often blurred the fine line separating private gain and the public interest. In so doing, the colonel's actions were hardly unique—only the scope and intensity of his ventures separated Grierson from most of his peers. Garrison members followed their commander's example: land speculation, ranching, mining, and railroad development proved fertile fields for soldier-entrepreneurs during the 1880s.

Perhaps the illusion of quick financial coups encouraged rivalries within the garrison; perhaps Colonel Grierson's easy-going administrative style exacerbated problems of discipline, morale, and desertion. Whatever the case, Fort Davis officers proved a particularly fractious lot during this period. Infighting and pettiness seemed the rule rather than the exception. Military duties, especially drill and target practice, were adversely affected by such jealousies. Despite (or perhaps because of) these difficulties, most seemed to cope with life at Davis rather well. Dances, celebrations, theatricals, and dinner parties thrilled military and civilian communities alike, and contrast sharply with the false image of drab, colorless life on the American frontiers.

Grierson's administration, despite a series of personal disappointments, would mark the height of Davis's glory as a frontier military establishment. As commander of a black regiment, Grierson faced the enmity of racist officers. The colonel's efforts to insure fair treatment for Indians also antagonized many officers. His lack of a West Point education isolated him still further. Personal calamaties also took their toll. His brother John often needed money. Alice, his wife, lost two children in infancy; his eldest son Charles suffered a mental breakdown while attending West Point in 1877. As if this were not enough, the colonel's thirteen-year-old daughter Edith died of typhoid fever at Fort Concho the following year. [1]

His military career blocked by prejudice and petty disagreements, his personal life marred by recurring tragedy, Grierson strove to protect his remaining fortunes at any cost. The bearded, sharp-eyed colonel first saw Fort Davis while on an inspection tour of his District of the Pecos in early summer 1878, and was immediately taken by the region. "This appears to be a first rate country to go to sleep in," he advised Alice. The commanding officer's quarters were "a palace compared with our old rat trap at [Fort] Concho," he added. Only the fort's location bothered Grierson. Like many predecessors, he believed that it was situated too close to the overlooking mountains. [2]

Grierson returned to Fort Davis during the Victorio campaigns of 1879 and 1880. New personal reversals added to his family's woes. His brother fell deeper into debt. Thomas Kirk, Alice's brother, committed suicide in January 1881. And while attending the University of Michigan medical school, their son Robert suffered a nervous breakdown. Concluding that academic pressures had caused his sons' illnesses, Ben sought to place them in less stressful environments. [3]

Changes in military administration allowed Grierson to go about realizing his dreams. With the defeat of Victorio and the construction of the Southern Pacific and Texas & Pacific railroads, the existing system of West Texas forts seemed obsolete. From Fort Davis, friend and confidant Samuel L. Woodward wrote Grierson on March 13, 1882: "This is a rather desirable post. We wish you could get it for Regimental HdQrs." Grierson concurred. Rumors of impending change were confirmed in June, when Grierson received word of the army's determination to abandon Forts McKavett and Stockton. The Tenth Cavalry and Sixteenth Infantry would garrison Forts Concho and Davis; he had his choice of regimental headquarters. [4]

The decision proved easy. Grierson told his wife, then visiting her family in Illinois, "A change any where would be desirable, as we have been so long at Concho." The anxious colonel soon "commenced packing in earnest." He received official confirmation of his move to Fort Davis on July 6. Grierson, who owned more than five thousand acres in the Fort Concho region, determined to invest any future profits from the sales of these lands "in a ranch in the vicinity of Davis." [5]

Grierson's struggles on behalf of himself and his family conveniently paralleled his natural proclivities as a builder, which were in turn strengthened by the army's changing regional needs. Indian scares had became increasingly rare since the defeat of Victorio and his supporters. In May 1882 several persons attempted to steal some horses about five miles from the fort. Although observers initially attributed the crime to Indians, the Texas Rangers later concluded that individuals "disguised as Indians" had committed the deed. Rumors of trouble that summer led both Rangers and regulars to dispatch patrols along the Rio Grande; neither group found any signs of Indians. The following year, department commander Christopher C. Augur concluded that no tribesmen deemed hostile had entered Texas. [6]

The garrison took a minor role in Brig. Gen. George Crook's 1885 campaigns against the Apaches. Anticipating Crook's pursuit into Mexico, the War Department wanted to block escape routes into Texas and alerted Fort Davis and its subposts to watch "all crossings . . . especially those points where Victorio crossed in eighteen hundred and eighty." Geronimo and his followers stayed west of Texas, but troubles in the Indian territory that summer again put the garrison on call. By late 1885, the Army and Navy Journal reported that although scouts frequented the Rio Grande, "of late no Indians have been seen within the confines of Texas." [7]

As campaigns against the Indians became less frequent, the coming of the railroads to the Trans-Pecos had fundamentally changed army designs. Dreamers had long envisioned steel rails linking West Texas to the rest of the nation. A. B. Gray surveyed a path through the Guadalupe Mountains as early as 1854. But building came only later. In the summer of 1881 the Southern Pacific's Collis P. Huntington negotiated a deal with the smaller Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad to build a railroad between El Paso and San Antonio, which would become part of the Southern Pacific's transcontinental system. Construction from El Paso ran through Marfa in January 1882 and linked up with westbound construction teams near the Pecos River twelve months later. Chinese immigrants provided the bulk of the labor force. [8]

Another line further improved access to the Trans-Pecos. Shortly after the Civil War, the Texas & Pacific Railroad secured a charter to build a "military and post road" from Marshall, Texas, to San Diego, California, via El Paso. Construction began at once, only to be slowed by the panic of 1873. Builders later agreed to link up the Texas & Pacific with the Southern Pacific at Sierra Blanca, some twenty-five miles east of old Fort Quitman. It reached its terminus in December 1881. [9]

The army had long maintained a cozy relationship with the railroads. Realizing the benefits of the iron horse to military operations and to the expansion of non-Indian settlement, officers like William T. Sherman and Phil Sheridan courted railroad officials. Soldiers commonly conducted surveying expeditions or provided escorts for construction teams. From Fort Davis, for example, men from A Company, Twenty-fifth Infantry, had assisted a railroad surveying team in January 1878. Two years later Capt. William R. Livermore's expedition helped lay out the Southern Pacific route. And in early September 1881 regulars responded promptly to a request from the Texas & Pacific's general manager for protection. [10]

Military officials realized that the lines necessitated major changes in defensive schemes. Augur tied the lingering problems along the Rio Grande, which Congress and the army had debated throughout the latter 1870s, to the progress of the Texas & Pacific and the Southern Pacific. He believed the railroads made Forts Concho, McKavett, and Stockton unnecessary. Fort Clark could also be abandoned if new barracks were built at San Antonio. In place of the older system Augur envisioned two lines of posts. One would buttress the Rio Grande between the mouth of the Pecos and the Presidio del Norte; the other should shield the northern flank of the Texas & Pacific. "Fort Davis," he asserted, "is well located as it is, and its resources are available for either frontier." [11]

In the spring of 1882 commanding general William T. Sherman embarked on a grand western tour. Bored with life in Washington, D.C., and anxious to bring order to the army's crazy-quilt positions, Sherman took the Southern Pacific cars whenever possible. The general acknowledged that the railroad had completely changed the southwestern frontiers. "I would have every Post if possible on the bank of the Rio Grande or on the Railroad," wrote Sherman. "The Southern Pacific Railroad will be the best possible picket line we could have along our Southern border." He agreed with Augur's earlier recommendations; Concho, McKavett, Clark, and Stockton should be decommissioned. Although Davis was neither on the river nor on the railroad, Sherman deemed it, with its subposts at Presidio and Camp Rice, one of the "strategic points of the Texas frontier." [12]

But military strategy never occurs in a vacuum; politics and economics did not allow the neat shifts Sherman had envisioned. Planners hoped to transfer Stockton's garrison to Fort Davis. However, the lack of quarters at Davis forced the army to maintain its former position. In September 1883 Augur also recognized political influences. As he explained, "the proprietors of the site of Fort Stockton, and citizens in the vicinity, being so anxious to keep the post there as to offer the site for another year at a mere nominal rent, it was thought best to allow the troops to remain there another year." beset by such forces, the army would not abandon the post for three more years. [13]

William T. Sherman retired from the army in 1883. Hoping to smooth the transition to his successor, Phil Sheridan, Sherman reiterated his belief that Davis and San Antonio "should be made permanent large posts, with out-posts along the Rio Grande." Sherman later wrote that "with San Antonio and Fort Davis as first class posts, and small stations at Ringgold, Laredo, Duncan, Del Rio, Presidio, Rice, & El Paso, the frontier can be easily guarded. All of Texas else has ceased to be Indian territory or raiding ground," he concluded. [14]

But the new commanding general, who undertook an extensive tour of his own, believed that the army needed to maintain Fort Clark as well as San Antonio. Sheridan championed Clark's importance, citing its healthy location and strategic position near the Rio Grande. In a compromise move, Brig. Gen. David S. Stanley, recently appointed commander of the Department of Texas, listed all three forts—San Antonio, Clark, and Davis—as principal sites. "Though the latter is too far (22 miles) off the railroad, the salubrity of the climate, the low price of wood, hay, and grass make it the best site for a military post in the wide territory of the Rio Grande and the Rio Pecos," wrote Stanley. [15]

Troops from Fort Davis or its subposts could quickly respond to threats along the Rio Grande, as Stanley explained. The army could assemble troops via the railroad in case of more distant emergencies. As such, the military drew up contingency plans for embarking troops at the Marfa rail stop, twenty-two miles south of Davis. Indeed, the Davis garrison used the Southern Pacific's Marfa station much more frequently than the Texas & Pacific's Toyah depot, which was nearly three times as far. Relations with the local railroads generally proved cordial, although thirsty field detachments occasionally watered their animals at railroad supply tanks, a practice for which the owners billed the War Department five cents per head. [16]

The new post commander, Benjamin Grierson, further influenced the region's defensive positions. Although he had supported the building of a cantonment at Peña Colorado in 1879, Grierson now deemed Paisano Pass more suitable for a military camp. He believed the latter site, located south of Fort Davis between the newly established railroad towns of Marfa and Murphysville (later known as Alpine), boasted the best water supply. Furthermore, it was thirty-five miles closer to Fort Davis than Peña Colorado. The colonel also wanted to erect a subpost at Viejo Pass, forty miles west of Davis and ten miles from the railroad station at Valentine. [17]

Grierson, a veteran of frontier political maneuvering, moved to secure land title for his proposed military posts. As ranchers had already snapped up areas with permanent water, quartermaster officials finally abandoned attempts to rent land at Paisano Pass in February 1884. But military officials leased railroad land at Viejo Pass, and ordered C Troop, Tenth Cavalry, to establish a camp there in December 1883. The army, however, soon aborted the latter scheme. The failure of the Viejo Pass venture disappointed the enterprising Grierson, who had purchased several thousand acres just north of the site and bought a number of town lots in nearby Valentine. His son Charles also owned a ranch on the road between Davis and Viejo. [18]

Land transactions at Peña Colorado partially explained Grierson's projects at Viejo Pass and Paisano as well as the army's refusal to implement his plans. Lt. William Davis, Jr., a Tenth Cavalry officer who was married to one of the colonel's nieces, owned the Peña Colorado tract when the army occupation began. Davis allowed the troops to remain, hoping that the military presence would raise property values. He then sold the tract to Francis Rooney, a prominent Fort Stockton rancher and realtor. Cattleman Monroe B. Pulliam eventually purchased the site and demanded that the troops leave in August 1882. [19]

The War Department reached an accommodation with Pulliam and was renting the post for fifty dollars per month by 1886. The crumbling adobe quarters needed constant repair and the garrison battled high rates of alcoholism; Helen M. Morrison, wife of Capt. John T. Morrison, described it as "a fearfully lonely place." Still, Peña Colorado became one of the army's major bastions in the Trans-Pecos. In contrast to Mrs. Morrison and most of the officers' wives, "all the male population of the garrison like it and are more satisfied with it than the females." Formerly a subpost of Fort Davis, Peña Colorado was given independent status as part of an army economy move in July 1884 and went on to outlive its mother post by nearly eighteen months. [20]

Fort Davis's defense responsibilities also extended to the west. Detachments from Davis had frequently occupied Fort Quitman during the late 1870s, but continuing land litigation and wretched living conditions finally led the army to abandon the site. The army then reconsidered, and Capt. Samuel L. Woodward and K Troop, Tenth Cavalry, staked out a site six miles northwest of Quitman on April 15, 1881. Known as Camp Rice, this subpost of Fort Davis was moved to a point on the Southern Pacific Railroad in July 1882. Against the advice of Colonel Shafter, Christopher Augur deemed it necessary to maintain troops there. But upon personal inspection, Augur again found the site untenable. "It is not a good location for either wood, water or grass," he advised. Two miles further up the railroad, however, he found an excellent tract belonging to the Texas & Pacific company. [21]

Camp Rice was moved according to Augur's wishes. By July 1884 several cottonwood log huts housed the garrison, commanded by Capt. Theodore A. Baldwin, Tenth Cavalry. Only by throwing up a hasty levee had Baldwin's troops saved the post's buildings from recent flooding. Like Peña Colorado, Camp Rice received its independent status that summer, though General Stanley opposed sinking any more money into the fort: "the amount of the allotment for building the post if spent on quarters at Forts Clark and Davis, would go much further towards sheltering troops in this department," he reasoned. An officer unfortunate enough to be stationed there described the environs as "a Godforsaken-appearing country . . . in close proximity to the supposed haunts of 'Beelzebub.'" Despite such comments, Washington authorized extensive building projects totaling $47,200. Subsequently renamed Fort Hancock, it was not abandoned until 1895. [22]

Map 9:7. The Grierson era. Map drawn by the author. (click on image for a PDF version)

In November 1884 an attack against a Chisos Mountains mining camp led Washington officials to demand that Fort Davis help establish still another outpost. To garrison the new site, Stanley recalled several recently discharged Seminole Negro scouts. The new camp was located in the heart of the Big Bend country at Nevill's Springs in February 1885. Detachments from the Third, Eighth, and Tenth Cavalry regiments manned the isolated subpost, with forts Davis and Clark sharing responsibility. In June 1885, although garrisoned by men from Clark, the post was under command from Fort Davis. The army continued to list it as a subpost of Fort Davis in November 1887, but had transferred it back to Clark by March 1889. The army abandoned the camp two years later. [23]

The long and controversial relationship between Fort Davis and Presidio continued to invite the army's attention. Detachments from Davis suffered a miserable existence along the river. During his 1882 inspection tour General Augur found the company located outside of Presidio at the old Burgess ranch, rented from William Russell for fifty dollars a month. The adobe building was "not a fit place for troops, even for one company, and how two companies and a field officer ever lived there I cannot understand," wrote Augur. Presidio businessmen remained anxious to have a military presence nearby, but conditions had become intolerable by 1883. Commanding the Presidio station, Robert Smither described the deteriorating conditions in a series of scathing letters. "The more I examine the country the more I become disgusted with it," wrote Smither, who asked that the subpost be abandoned. In June he reported: "With the thermometer at 115, a man can scarcely be expected to retain sufficient energy to get up a good growl." [24]

In accord with Smither's wishes, the army pulled out of Presidio on June 30, 1883. The poor living conditions, difficulty in obtaining title to a suitable location, and diversion of trade to the newly completed El Paso-Chihuahua railroad had made the continued occupation of Presidio impractical. Problems, however, did not end so easily. Apache raids convinced the Ojinaga mayor to request permission for Mexican troops to cross the border. The army refused to grant such a permit, instead advising "that if you can make known to the Commanding Officer at Fort Davis, the hiding place in Texas of the two or three depredating Indians . . . that officer, or the one at Camp Peña Colorado, will promptly send out a suitable force to search for them." But the army's policy was rarely consistent. Less than two months after the War Department had rejected the Mexican proposal, Capt. Robert G. Smither led a joint command from Davis and Peña Colorado across the Rio Grande after those suspected of murdering a family in the Big Bend region. [25]

Cattle thefts also poisoned relations along the border. In December 1885 parties from Fort Davis and Camp Rice examined allegations that Mexican soldiers had been stealing cattle in the Van Horn area. Five months later the adjutant general's office sternly warned the commanding officer at Fort Davis to step up patrols in the area between Fort Quitman and Presidio. "These troops will be relieved from time to time," the order read, "but the relief will take place in the field and on or near the line and not at Fort Davis." Despite more vigorous scouting, charges against the Mexican government filtered in to Fort Davis through most of 1886. Skeptical officers, however, believed many of the claims fraudulent. [26]

At forts Sill and Concho, Colonel Grierson had overseen major construction projects. Playing upon the continued strategic value of Davis, he hoped to do the same at his new home in the Davis Mountains. His attempts to expand the size of the military reservation certainly reflected this attitude. Efforts to enlarge the garrison and to inaugurate new building programs further augmented Grierson's intricate schemes for self-promotion. Increasing the number of troops stationed at Davis seemed crucial to the projects; under his direction the post secured its largest military complement, a paper strength of 39 officers and 643 enlisted men, in February 1884. [27]

Grierson submitted a range of proposals for additional construction. After all, the big new garrison needed shelter. In so doing, he followed the practice set by virtually every post commander. Even William Shafter, who had initially doubted the need for more buildings, had undertaken major new projects during the early 1880s. Shafter extended officers' row to the south by overseeing the erection of three new sets of officers' quarters. Additional housing for commissioned men and their families was built along the base of the rocky cliffs to the north; and in a departure from previous examples, one of the two sets of officers' quarters here eventually boasted two stories. Shafter also guided construction of another enlisted barrack, a new guardhouse, and housing for the band and staff. Each of these structures lay north of the four enlisted barracks already in existence. [28]

The additional buildings still failed to satisfy the needs of the bulging garrison. Laundresses and married men occupied ramshackle structures north and east of the main parade ground. Even the officers lacked sufficient space. "The quarters are very limited," remarked Charles Grierson shortly after his arrival in the summer of 1882, "and I expect there will be lots of growling." Indeed, the dread process of "ranking out"—whereby senior officers forced junior officers to vacate their quarters upon demand—continued through 1883. In describing the process, Alice Grierson noted: "Capt. Lebo came in Sunday—he chose Capt. Morrison's quarters—Morrison [Charles L.] Cooper's, and Cooper the Viele house." Apparently, the "Viele house" was then occupied by the ill-fated Lt. Leighton Finley, who, being away on a scout, would not find out about his eviction until he returned to the post. [29]

Such a condition was made to order for a man like Benjamin Grierson. Q.M. Gen. Rufus Ingalls had completed in September 1882 a "crude estimate," which anticipated ultimate construction costs at Davis to be $83,250. Seizing the opportunity, Grierson requested $51,000 for his new command. Officers submitted a request for another $30,000 in 1885, most of which covered projected construction. Although actual funding was much lower, Grierson plunged ahead. He initiated a number of projects—new commissary and quartermaster storehouses northeast of the parade ground; substantial remodeling of the cavalry corrals; a spacious new forage house; another set of officers' quarters; two new enlisted barracks; a new wing for the hospital. Adobe walls and tin roofs marked the buildings. Conveniently enough, he had found enough time to approve several Davis projects while serving as acting department commander. [30]

Repairing the post's various structures proved a constant headache. "The quarters are unfinished and in a poor state of repair," wrote a typical observer, "and many of the adobes are already sleeping quietly with the parent earth." Leaky roofs, shabby construction materials and techniques, fire, and natural disasters necessitated regular attention. In 1885, for instance, ten officers' quarters required repairs costing between $63.40 and $153.73. Two structures used by married men and noncommissioned officers took another $1,300; various storehouses demanded an additional $2,600. [31]

Fig. 9:29. View of Officers' Row, ca. 1885. Photograph from Fort Davis Archives, HG-30.

Fire and nature also took their toll throughout the postwar era. In late 1883 a New Year's Eve fire destroyed the chimney of Lt. William H. Beck's quarters. Chaplain George Robinson's parlor burned down seven years later, damaging much of his furniture. "Unfortunately the chaplain was not a member of the Army Co-operative Fire Association," observed one newspaper wryly. "A number of officers joined the next day." Violent hailstorms on May 25, 1884, struck twenty buildings. Seventy-two-mile-per-hour winds damaged several structures in July 1886. [32]

The demands kept the post pineries, sawmill, and adobe makers extremely busy. Extra duty men provided the bulk of the unskilled labor. For finer tasks the army hired civilian mechanics whenever funding became available. In April 1883, for instance, it paid sixty-one employees $2,417. But August 1884 found only ten civilians working at Fort Davis. William Ryan seemed by then to have cornered most of the current building contracts. Ryan was still at it as of December 1885, making and laying adobe bricks, completing a roof, and crafting and setting window and door frames. [33]

Fig. 9:30. View of Fort Davis from the north, ca. 1886. Photograph from Fort Davis Archives, HG-14.

By expanding the garrison and sinking additional government monies into the buildings, Grierson hoped to increase the army's stake in Fort Davis. Such actions would spur new settlement, which would in turn increase demand for local products and drive up land values. To profit from these machinations, Grierson invested heavily in Trans-Pecos real estate, claiming at one time or another at least 45,000 acres in what ultimately became Jeff Davis, Brewster, and Presidio counties. He also purchased 126 lots in the little hamlet of Valentine, forty miles west of Fort Davis. The colonel was not alone in his efforts to make a quick dollar. At least seven officers stationed at Fort Davis during Grierson's years of command bought land in the vicinity, with Lt. John L. Bullis acquiring title to 53,520 acres in Pecos County alone. [34]

Grierson and his cronies were everywhere. A fellow officer noted: "Wherever Bullis saw fine land he located it with script [sic] which was in the market at 12-1/2 cents to 15 cents per acre." And the colonel saw to it that two of his supporters, Lieutenant Woodward and Capt. Charles Cooper, held positions of authority at Fort Davis—Woodward as post adjutant and Cooper as Acting Commissary of Subsistence and Post Signal and Ordnance officer. George A. Brenner, chief musician, real estate agent, and Grierson's personal friend, kept a sharp eye out for the colonel's pecuniary interests whenever the latter was away from the post. [35]

Grierson sought to profit from real estate sales as well as ranching, exploring the possibility of acquiring land around the water holes at El Muerto and Van Horn. The latter area indeed proved lucrative to the colonel; in one instance, he earned a $2,000 profit from the sale of 2,560 acres near Van Horn. Meanwhile, Grierson set up his son Robert with a cattle and sheep ranch near Fort Davis. Robert initially showed promise as a farmer, producing ample quantities of cabbages, pumpkins, and squash. On a visit to the ranch, Alice commented that she and the family "all like living here." She continued, "I've. . . been here now a week, and I like it better all the time—have planted some seeds." Taking no chances, the colonel secured his son a lucrative job with the quartermaster's department, adding a steady seventy-five dollars a month to Robert's income. [36]

Like many of his colleagues, Grierson mixed personal pecuniary advantage with the best interests of the American army. Upon coming to Fort Davis he found the perfect opportunity to establish a comfortable life for his family as well as to improve conditions on the military post. The process had been set in motion long before Grierson's arrival, with inconclusive negotiations taking place during the mid-1870s. General Sherman finally designated Fort Davis a permanent post in the spring of 1882. Anson Mills, then commanding the fort on the Limpia, promptly recommended that the government purchase the site for $20,000. Although the current lease cost only $900 per year, the rent could always be raised. With existing buildings at Fort Davis valued at $100,000, the army would have to pay whatever the owners demanded. [37]

Talks reopened in January 1883, two months after Grierson returned. Using tactics similar to those employed in earlier real estate negotiations, owner John W. James offered to sell the 640 acres comprising the post plus four surveys totaling 1280 acres (known collectively as "the pineries") for $30,000. Colonel Grierson, however, deemed the current 640-acre military reservation too small, too rocky, and too prone to flooding. He recommended that instead of buying the present position for "the exhorbitant price of $20,000," the military continue paying the $900 annual rent and investigate other local sites for purchase. [38]

By February negotiations had become more complicated. James presented a new proposal—he would sell the 640 acres encompassing the actual reservation for $27,500. But Grierson, armed with the authorization of department headquarters, quietly solicited proposals from other area landowners. The colonel eagerly proceeded, implying that such efforts might be best handled by military personnel acting as private citizens. Although General Augur did not officially sanction such measures, he also refused to order Grierson to cease and desist. "It is very desirable citizens should manifest interest in procuring land for post," read the carefully worded message. [39]

Grierson had already consulted with a prominent local landowner, the venerable Daniel Murphy. Murphy agreed to sell for $3,500 his three-hundred acre tract which lay immediately east of Fort Davis. Another desirable survey lay adjacent to the existing military reservation and north of the Murphy land. According to Grierson, "private parties—Mr. George A. Brenner and Mr. M. Maxon," had snapped up the land the previous fall. Investing $3,500, Brenner and Maxon had laid out a town site and already sold enough sections to recoup their original costs. "These transactions have greatly increased the price of real estate in the vicinity of the post, and therefore, to secure now at moderate rates propositions from the owners to sell their lands to the government, has required time much work and quiet financiering," Grierson advised his superiors. "Quiet financiering" was indeed necessary, for the colonel had not disclosed the full identities of the land owners in question. George A. Brenner was his longtime friend and chief musician. Mason M. Maxon was in fact the husband of Grierson's niece, a trusted ally, and lieutenant in the Tenth Cavalry. [40]

In mid-March 1883, Grierson concluded the negotiations. Several land owners promised to sell their property at "reasonable rates." The army could also purchase 960 acres directly from the state. Such expansion would allow the garrison to conduct more efficient target practice and better parade marches. Grierson also revealed his own initiatives. "About the 1st of February I furnished One Thousand Dollars to procure the two homestead tracts west of the military reservation . . . to prevent the land from falling into the hands of objectionable parties." To ensure that deal, he had spent $500 on another survey two and a half miles away from the fort. "The land, or any part of it that may be needed for military purposes, will be transferred to the government at cost," he assured his superiors. [41]

Fig. 9:31. Lt. Mason Maxon, one of Grierson's coterie. Photograph from Fort Davis Archives, AA-33.

Phil Sheridan, commanding general of the United States army, inspected Fort Davis a week later. He agreed with the $3,500 purchase of Daniel Murphy's 300 acres. This move would prevent the burgeoning town from completely encircling the post. Following Sheridan's advice, the Secretary of War authorized the Murphy deal from the much disputed $200,000 appropriation for acquiring military sites in Texas. The final purchase was concluded in May. [42]

However, Sheridan refused to support Grierson's other schemes. His opposition to Grierson came as no surprise—the two men were acknowledged enemies. Without Sheridan's support, Grierson's expansion projects had little chance of reaching fruition. Adj. Gen. Richard C. Drum, always suspicious of the additional purchases, noted that Grierson inevitably followed his requests for new sites with assurances that the last mentioned proposals would provide the Davis military reservations with ample space. After filing such recommendations, Grierson would then propose still more purchases, always claiming that just one more purchase would do the job. Convinced by the logic of Drum and the powerful voice of Sheridan, Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln denied the colonel's proposals in November 1883. [43]

Meanwhile, negotiations with James for the existing reservation continued. The Secretary of War authorized the purchase of Fort Davis for $23,500 by October 1883. Concurrently, Gov. John Ireland of Texas ceded jurisdiction over lands adjacent to Fort Davis to the United States, thus enabling the federal government to legally purchase additional property. The following June, however, a quartermaster's missive approved an asking price of only $20,000. In July the owners rejected the army's latter proposal; subsequent negotiations raised the annual lease from $900 to $2,400. [44]

But the tireless Grierson refused to give up his efforts to expand his cherished post. Upon hearing of a proposal to spend $47,000 at Camp Rice, once a lowly subpost of Davis, Grierson confided: "I propose giving the powers that be a tussell for part of the $47,000 for Fort Davis. It might as well be thrown into the Rio Grande as to be expended at Camp Rice for all the benefit it would ever be to the Government." The failure to block construction at Rice did not deter Grierson, who proposed that Davis become a twelve-company post in September 1884. Six months later, 1st Sgt. Pollard Cole and Pvt. George W. Forster, both of H Troop, Tenth Cavalry, relinquished their claims to a valuable property lying east of the tract recently sold by Murphy. Exchanging their claims "for value received," Grierson's "quiet financiering" undoubtedly had helped convince his enlisted men of the wisdom of such a sale. [45]

A railroad linking Fort Davis to either the Southern Pacific or the Texas & Pacific would also serve Grierson's designs. On October 18, 1883, the Fort Davis and Marfa Narrow Gauge Railway Company was formed. Original subscribers, who invested between $2,000 and $5,000 each, included George H. Abbott, John D. Davis, R. L. Moreno, William L. Lampert, C. L. Nevill, John M. Dean, George Brenner, Robert Grierson, Charles Grierson, and Samuel L. Woodward. Benjamin Grierson, though not an original stockholder, later took Moreno's place among the group. The colonel called in loans and favors to raise money for the project, which proposed to connect Fort Davis with the Southern Pacific at Marfa. [46]

Grierson's Jacksonville banker, Marshall P. Ayers, supplied initial cost estimates. But Grierson's brother John, manager of the Grand View Mining & Smelting Company of Rico, Colorado, counseled caution. Noting that Ben had estimated the cost to be $150,000, John Grierson argued that expenses would run about $50,000 higher. He repeated rumors that the military would soon abandon Fort Davis. "Should they be true," warned John, "or should you not get the patronage of the Government, you could never make the investment pay." He advised his brother to sell the franchise after establishing a right of way "for more money than you could ever make out of it by building the road." [47]

But the starry-eyed Davis investors proceeded. Grierson hoped to secure the cooperation of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad (the Southern Pacific remained the parent company). In a January 1884 proposal to Thomas W. Pierce, president of the GH & SA, Grierson said that the narrow gauge line between Marfa and Davis could be constructed if Pierce's company would provide materials "at fair rates." But negotiations proved maddeningly slow. Grierson finally handed the matter over to his trusted banker, Ayers, in January 1885. "Everything depends on having a sure thing in connection with the So. Pac. interest—or we might yet get caught with a permanent indebtedness that would floor both of us," cautioned Ayers. [48]

That month the company deleted the words "narrow gauge" from its charter. The banker advised Colonel Grierson to insure his dominance over local stockholders as negotiations continued. He should engineer elections so that the secretary was "one of your own side [but] not one of your sons." Preferably, one of the Griersons should be president with Ayers as director holding power of attorney. Convinced the project neared fruition, on February 11 the colonel informed his son Charlie: "I do not doubt but that the railroad will soon be constructed." [49]

But the deal remained tenuous. Ayers heard that the Tenth Cavalry was to be transferred. "Will not that removal subtract very largely from the business of the road?" wondered Ayers. "The whole success depends on the station as a govt. post. . . . Pierce would hesitate if he knew that the Post were to be reduced." As a last-ditch option, the banker asked Grierson to pass along any and all information regarding coal mines. In so doing, Ayers was probably referring to the efforts of a miner named McKenzie, who was opening a coal mine northwest of Marfa. The combination of government contracts and mineral promise might convince wary railroad investors. [50]

With Grierson's assurance that the post would not be reduced, Ayers concluded initial arrangements with President Pierce. Informally Pierce agreed to accept company bonds in exchange for "old chain rails not much worn." But the GH & SA would neither provide ties nor subsidize all construction. The president, noting that Grierson had led him to believe that coal was to be found along the route, wanted to determine the mining issue before concluding official negotiations. In sum, Pierce's proposal left open the question of finding funds for the ties, bridge timber, and construction costs. "One thing is certain, I must know where all the money is before we embark," advised Ayers. Pierce must endorse the bonds "so that money can be raised on them." [51]

Both Grierson and Ayers agreed the "old chain rails" were, even at a discount, "a poor operation." Everything depended upon Pierce. "We must not get involved in debt and cannot move until the question is settled," counseled Ayers. Finally, in October 1885, with railroad construction projects mired in a statewide slump, Ayers notified Grierson of Pierce's death. The latter's demise "of course cuts off in that direction," wrote Ayers. Until they could be certain of a profitable business with Fort Davis, other potential investors would also shy away from the project. "If the boys have good ranches, they have a good thing I expect," Ayers consoled. The grand scheme was dropped. [52]

"The idea of the army being 'one happy family' was a considerable exaggeration," remembered one officer's wife. Indeed, internal bickering among commissioned personnel characterized the postbellum army. Sharp differences separated those trained at West Point from those who had not attended the academy. Civil War veterans often scorned younger officers who had not participated in America's bloodiest war. But while setting themselves apart from those who entered the service after 1865, the Civil War soldiers frequently clashed amongst themselves over who had taken what position at what time with the most glory. Interregimental and service rivalries further divided the officer corps; regiments "looked after their own," according to contemporary observers. Slow promotion, infrequent pay, and repeated slights from the rest of society only exacerbated the existing tensions. [53]

Controversies between officers often went public, further increasing tensions within the service. According to one Third Cavalryman, The Army and Navy Journal "wields more power, probably for good or bad in army matters than any other agency." Commissioned personnel eagerly scanned its pages for army news, lines of promotion, articles, and letters. Any hint of personal criticism often touched off controversy. As the Third Cavalryman noted cogently, "in military life character and reputation is the most of our stock." [54]

Fort Davis proved no exception to this divisiveness. Of the 259 officers known to have served there after the Civil War, 81 (31 percent) had been graduated by the U.S. Military Academy. A sizable number (33 percent) had joined the service as enlisted men, a figure largely explained by the huge numbers of promotions from the ranks during the Civil War. Such a practice became less common in the following years. [55]

Many of the problems among Tenth Cavalry officers were attributable to Colonel Grierson's personal machinations and lax administrative style. "I do not admire General Grierson's ways," wrote one enemy. "He is a great talker and full of himself and his works." Another foe deemed Grierson dishonest, and claimed that Texas Sen. Samuel B. Maxey had assured him that the colonel would never be promoted to brigadier general. Maj. Anson Mills believed Grierson too easy on his troops, too willing to forgive mistakes, and too eager to promote his own personal schemes. "He left the details of the post and regiment entirely to us," complained Mills, "signing only papers which went to his superiors." [56]

Grierson also favored his own regiment to the detriment of others. Soon after their transfer to Fort Davis, Companies I and K, Sixteenth Infantry, soon found themselves dispatched to the pinery. Capt. William H. Clapp angrily reported that he and his men "had been shamefully treated." Grierson repeatedly pressured his subordinates to get the reluctant soldiers to work. His directive that the officer in charge of the pinery must not "allow target practice or drills to interfere with" shipping lumber to Davis clearly expressed the colonel's determination to use his infantry as a source of cheap labor. [57]

Whatever Grierson's failures as a commander, the officers of the Tenth Cavalry battled constantly amongst themselves. Their squabbling had begun in earnest even before the colonel took over at Fort Davis. While campaigning against Victorio, Lt. Leighton Finley overheard a fellow officer denounce a superior's report as an "infamous lie." One of Grierson's allies, Samuel Woodward, kept his colonel well-advised on social conflicts at the post on the Limpia. Major Mills "is very jealous of his staff being ordered over his head.... So this letter is only for your private information." Woodward later described Mills as "a sorry excuse," and "the worse [sic] apology I ever struck." In return, the major described his antagonist as "slow to obey." Refuting Woodward's allegations, Mills assured Grierson that "a more contented and congenial garrison I have never seen at any post." [58]

Despite Mills's optimistic portrait, petty quarreling seemed the rule rather than the exception. "Some of the doings of these men are worse than anything I had imagined and too vulgar to be recorded in my journal," wrote one diarist. Upon temporarily losing his position as post quartermaster, Lt. Mason M. Maxon got his father to write a formal letter of protest to his senator. Captain Smither feuded with Mills, Grierson, and authorities in the commissary department. Lt. James Jouett, Tenth Cavalry was in constant trouble, remaining "continually intemperate for a long time" before being dismissed from the service in 1885. Lt. William Beck drank excessively, was an addictive gambler, and reportedly had loose moral values. The entire family was little better than a plague, thought one officer. "Mrs. Beck is a great gossip and the boys are a bad lot." [59]

A major fracas occurred in late December 1884. On the eighth, Lt. William Davis, while "in his usual [drunken] condition at the traders store," blasphemed former President Abraham Lincoln. Captain Clapp, jealous of the cavalry's preferential treatment, preferred charges against Davis, who had married Colonel Grierson's niece, Helen Fuller. Of the marriage, a fellow officer scoffed, "Why she married him [Davis] is a hard question to answer. She is a nice woman and he is a vagabond, lazy as can be and a drunkard besides." In Grierson's temporary absence, post commander Anson Mills seized the opportunity to fan the flames against his rival, Colonel Grierson, by forwarding a report of the incident to department headquarters. But others struck back angrily against Major Mills, who had allegedly trumped up "petty charges" against Davis. "Mills ought to be a picket in a penitentiary," wrote one dependent, "& get his fill of lynx-eyed watching." Upon his return, Grierson prevailed upon Davis to formally retract his offensive remarks. But the Davis-Clapp conflict had just begun. [60]

On December 30 Davis and Clapp exchanged blows in the sutler's store. Lieutenant Davis slapped his adversary in the mouth, taking a black eye in return. The feisty lieutenant promised to slap Major Mills the next time he saw him. Mills responded in kind. In an official communication sent through regimental headquarters, Mills threatened to kill Davis if the latter dared touch him. "The Lieut. still lives, but the Colonel's [Mills'] mouth has not been slapped," quipped one wag. [61]

The lure of easy mineral profits further divided the officers. A long history of rumors of silver and gold deposits preceded Grierson's tenure. The locals showed one 1870s traveler gold-bearing veins, supposedly from the mountains near Dead Man's Hole. An officer of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad carried out an ore sample rich in silver, reportedly found in the Chinati Mountains. In 1879 a well-known professor, William H. Steeruwitz, led an exploration team through Fort Davis to Presidio del Norte, where he found lead and silver ore in the Chinatis. From the post at Presidio, Captain Woodward kept his friend Benjamin Grierson apprised of their actions. Woodward believed the minerals were there, but remained unsure if there was enough water to make mining practicable. "I am keeping my eyes open, however," he noted. "There is certainly a big effort being made to get up mining excitement in the interest of railroads and people who own land." [62]

Woodward proved an accurate soothsayer. Mineral wealth would increase property values; the International & Great Northern, Texas & Pacific, and Galveston, Houston, & San Antonio railroads, which owned huge amounts of West Texas land, sponsored a major expedition. Escorted by Lt. John Bullis and a detachment of Seminole scouts, the party arrived at Fort Davis on January 23, 1880. Assayer E. S. Nicolls led the prospectors south from Fort Davis. They interviewed long-time resident John Spencer, who claimed to have found a rich galena mine bearing a high proportion of silver. They sunk an exploratory shaft on Spencer's property, but failed to turn up anything of real value. At least one member of the party, Burr G. Duval, discounted Spencer's story. "He [Spencer] is an ignorant man and while I have no doubt of his good faith I haven't such confidence in his judgment." [63]

Although these initial efforts had proved fruitless, Bullis must have seen something he liked. Giving credence to Spencer's assertions, a group formed of Spencer, Bullis, Colonel Shafter, and Lt. Louis Wilhelmi gobbled up land about eighteen miles north of Presidio. Lacking the financial resources or the technical knowledge to exploit their claims, within a year they leased their land to what later became the Presidio Mining Company. The vision of Spencer and the officers proved correct—the area south of Davis ultimately yielded small amounts of coal and paying quantities of silver and mercury. Little towns like Shafter and Terlingua, established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, became centers for mining activities in the Big Bend. [64]

But the discoveries led to lawsuits rather than massive profits for the soldiers. In March 1883 the Presidio Mining Company had applied for an extension of its lease; army business, however, had scattered the officers, and only Shafter, Wilhelmi, and Spencer could be reached. The mining continued, but Bullis and his wife Alice, in whose name some of the land had been purchased, filed an injunction to halt operations. Although a Presidio district court finding favored the Bullises, the Presidio Mining Company appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. In savage attacks, the lawyer for Mrs. Bullis charged that Shafter deliberately mislead Bullis and attempted to cover up the new lease. Shafter's action, according to the attorney, "stamps him as a man unfit to wear the uniform." In "stabbing his brother army officer in a court of justice," he "had betrayed Bullis in the land transaction." [65]

Still, the supreme court reversed the earlier decision, holding in favor of the company. But the lawsuits continued until at least 1890, when Shafter was recalled to testify in a new civil action. "We feel sure of beating him [Bullis] as he has behaved like a scoundrel from the beginning of our relations," charged Shafter. In sum, dreams of mineral riches had further splintered the fractious officers of the United States Army. [66]

Infighting extended beyond the commissioned ranks. An act of July 15, 1870, had made it unlawful for officers to use enlisted men as servants. Commissioned personnel at Davis, like most army posts, openly ignored the prohibition. Civilian labor proved scarce and expensive; too, army traditions died hard. Efforts by such workers to negotiate better conditions usually failed. Striker George Washington asked for a five-dollar-per-month raise when his lieutenant, John Bigelow, added cooking to his job description. Bigelow preferred to hire another man rather than buckle to the demands of a black soldier. In a similar incident, the Griersons hired a former soldier to work on their ranch. But when it came time to settle accounts after two weeks of work, Alice was incensed that this "flighty, fidgety individual" refused to accept her offer of $1.25 per week. [67]

Clearly, such one-sided relations did little to encourage harmony and trust between military castes. Many officers, particularly those outside the immediate Grierson coterie, saw harsh punishment for even the most minor offenses as a good way to instill discipline and to command respect. But others found such iron-handed rule distasteful. "I am trying to make a good company but it seems to be up grade," complained Capt. Robert G. Smither. "I have some worthless characters that annoy me very much, neither moral suasion nor gar[rison] courts seems to be of much assistance. . . . I do not like to punish men, if I can help it, and if I do, I feel like going for them." Yet Smither's constant diatribes against the pickled pork issued his men won only official reprimands from superiors. Lieutenant Bigelow, so unwilling to negotiate with his striker, worried that his insistence upon strict discipline and extra drill threatened company morale. In an effort to gain the trust of his men, Bigelow ordered a half-dozen new baseballs. [68]

Fellow officers often criticized such approaches. In 1884 Pvt. William Carter, having received permission to take his horse for a ride, promptly went into town for a few drinks. Returning to his barracks, the boisterous soldier uttered a stream of profanities and hurled a rock at a fellow enlisted man. His sergeant ordered Carter into confinement. Carter proved a tough opponent, kicking one guard in the face and biting four others before he could be secured. The garrison court-martial board pointedly noted that none other than Captain Smither had recently dismissed several charges of drunkenness and neglect of duty against the recalcitrant private. [69]

Commissioned personnel generally took a dim view of their enlisted charges. Much of this was attributable to prejudice. Reflecting the views of contemporary American society, War Department officials wanted white, native-born, strapping young sons of agriculture; actual recruits were in fact much different. After the Civil War, thirty to forty percent of recruits were foreign-born; laborers outnumbered farmers by nearly three to one; substantial numbers of blacks enlisted in the armed forces. White recruits were roughly twenty-seven years of age; blacks about twenty-four. Thus despite the stereotypes, soldiers reflected a tremendous diversity of backgrounds, occupations, and ages. [70]

Officers found this difficult to accept. Many soldiers indeed displayed little discipline or military bearing. A drunken Pvt. William Lynch once reported to his superior's quarters without shoes, blouse, or uniform cap. Upon being ordered back to his barracks, the private retorted: "God damn your heart, catch me if you can," and began an unsuccessful flight from authorities. Particularly in the black regiments, officers magnified such episodes and assailed what they perceived as the poor character of their men. "Negroes have no moral sense," alleged Major Mills. Another Tenth Cavalryman believed that "darkies are natural thieves." [71]

Much of the rough and tumble excitement of the early 1880s centered around the little community of Chihuahua. Described as a "squalid little Mexican settlement about half a mile from the garrison," Chihuahua's saloons, gambling houses, and brothels attracted soldiers thirsting for action of a nonmilitary nature. Sgt. Thomas White of M Troop, Tenth Cavalry, secured a pass to go hunting but instead spent several days in the company of "disreputable women" in Chihuahua. White lost his sergeant's stripes as a result. Others died at the hands of local toughs. [72]

Most officers avoided Chihuahua. The notorious community also drew fire from Fort Davis surgeons for its dismal sanitation. Hoping to brush up on his Spanish, Lt. John Bigelow temporarily defied social custom to attend a few religious services in the Hispanic chapel. Upon noting a "very dirty and slovenly subject," however, even Bigelow decided to stop going "in view of the various maladies one is liable to catch from the congregation." Bigelow also complained that the "common Mexicans" were uncommunicative; he rarely heard good Spanish during his years at Fort Davis. [73]

While generally winking at prostitution and alcohol abuse as long as such activities did not keep too many troops from their military duties, commissioned personnel held themselves aloof from most of the activities of their men. Virtually the entire military community upheld the strict separation between officers and men. Officers' children played with those of their own class, rarely mixing with the offspring of enlisted personnel. When later asked about this topic, John Bigelow's daughter remembered: "We weren't allowed to!" [74]

The rigid lines separating officers, their families, and enlisted personnel were only occasionally blurred, even during the relatively loose tenure of Colonel Grierson. Several officers and their wives attended a passion play on December 30, 1884, held at the home of a retired buffalo soldier, Archie Smith, and his Hispanic wife. Lieutenant and Mrs. Bigelow, along with Maj. William H. Gardner and his wife, also watched a Catholic pastoral play at another Hispanic home two days later. The Grierson children also broke the unofficial barriers. Both George and Harry nurtured friendships with enlisted man C. H. Fairalds, organizing hunting parties and corresponding frequently. George even gave Fairalds a series of hand-drawn sketches he made of himself, an antelope, and several comrades, as if to give his friend something "to Rember [Remember] me by." [75]

Holidays proved a time for special festivities at Fort Davis. Christmas Eve saw a celebration in the library for the children. On Christmas Day each troop prepared a special feast replete with wild game, turkeys, chickens, pigs, pies of all types, puddings, and special sauces. Following tradition, the officers and their ladies inspected the company tables, then returned to their own quarters for separate celebrations. In 1884, for instance, Lt. John J. Bigelow and his wife Mary exchanged gifts before dining with Lt. and Mrs. Charles G. Ayres. "It was quite like civilization," Bigelow remembered, with raw oysters, soup, turkey, vegetables, plum pudding, fruit, nuts, "a cold blanc mange-like dish," and "Claret and Cook's Imperial." All, however, did not go as planned; Bigelow was "mortified" when Lt. James B. Hughes, a former student of his at West Point, was too drunk to attend the banquet. [76]

A celebration prepared and hosted by B Troop, Tenth Cavalry, also marked that Christmas. That evening Captain Smither's proud troopers threw a huge party to inaugurate their new barracks. A band played on an elevated platform at one end of the new structure and the dining room boasted five tables overloaded with food. Two fruit-laden Christmas trees also marked the holidays. On these occasions the strict military and racial caste system was loosened but not forgotten. At 9:00 P.M., the officers and ladies commenced the dancing with a waltz and a quadrille. An open competition waltz highlighted the entertainment, with a huge chocolate cake the prize. The strains of "Home, Sweet Home" signaled the ball's grand finale about 2:30 the next morning. [77]

Holiday celebrating continued through New Year's Day. Like the men of B Troop, the noncommissioned officers, band, and staff of the Tenth Cavalry hosted a New Year's Day hop in 1884. Officers and their ladies formally opened the gala affair, but spent most of their time at separate entertainment and dinners. That same year Alice Grierson and her cousin received guests at the commanding officer's quarters. Mrs. John Davis, wife of one of the post traders, hosted another large party. The daughters of prominent local entrepreneur Daniel Murphy prepared a third reception. Officers without wives seemed particularly well-served; custom allowed one to make the rounds of each get-together. [78]

The arrival of visitors always heralded an exciting series of card playing, balls, hops, and socials. "What an amount of kindness and goodness there is in the world," wrote a thankful traveler. Although every garrison sponsored such activities, those at Fort Davis won particular praise. "We were feted beyond all former experiences," recalled another visitor. A spectacular variety of meats, fowl, and homemade desserts could be found at such galas. [79]

Outside dignitaries also enlivened the post. During his July 1880 stay at Davis, Colonel Grierson was guest of honor at an officers' hop and an elaborate band concert. Two years later William T. Sherman, commanding general of the United States Army, visited Fort Davis with his entourage. Capt. Charles D. Viele met the Sherman party near Marfa and escorted the dignitaries to Fort Davis. Department commander Christopher C. Augur visited the post in August 1882, when a court-martial was also in session. "With balls, picnics, driving and riding parties, Mexican circuses and dinner parties," wrote one correspondent, "we have enough to entertain us and prevent this happy coterie from affliction with that languer [sic] so common to the society of a frontier military post." [80]

Other events interrupted the monotony of post routine. Commissioned personnel and their wives read books, magazines, and newspapers, and kept reasonably well abreast of contemporary developments. Practical jokes were common. Reports of "hops" and "Germans" inevitably included a careful accounting of the ladies present. Many affairs were held in the post reading room or library, gaily decorated with flags and special lamps by partygoers. Openings of local businesses attracted an elite crowd of officers, their dependents, and civilians. Elaborately organized hunting parties, which generally included a battalion of officers, a lesser number of women guests, and a few enlisted sharpshooters, added another popular form of amusement. [81]

The post commander's wife set the tone for such activities. Because of Benjamin Grierson's long reign at Davis, Alice Grierson dominated society during the mid-1880s. She seemed to enjoy her stay, although a leg injury incurred while getting out of a carriage left her lame for most of her tenure. Like many garrison members, she combed mail-order catalogs for clothes and as sorted goods not available from local merchants. Under Ben's tutelage, the children played musical instruments; the family's grand piano served as the centerpiece of many social affairs. But even Alice's patience sometimes wore thin, tested by the deaths of several family members and her husband's frequent absences. Exhausted by having to entertain while Benjamin was away, she once complained: "If only a little of your energy could be transferred to me, I doubt if you would be any the worse, and I might be all the better."

For a brief period during the mid-1880s, bicycles became "all the rage" at Fort Davis. In March 1884 the local newspaper, the Apache Rocket, proclaimed Lt. Samuel D. Freeman "the champion rider." Robert Grierson entered the fray in the spring of 1885. As a reward for his hard work on the family ranch, Colonel and Mrs. Grierson gave their son a trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Robert bought the bike there and picked up the newfangled contraption at the Marfa station; in his excitement, he rode the new cycle back to Fort Davis, a journey of just over three hours. With a huge front wheel spanning fifty-five inches, Robert soon began terrorizing the garrison. "I often take a little start at the QM office & coast clear down to the new town on my bicycle," he told his mother, "with my legs over the handlebars." [82]

Enlisted men enjoyed a range of leisure time activities throughout Grierson's tenure. Company and post funds supplied various board games in the enlisted barracks. Checkers, backgammon, and parcheesi sets seemed particularly popular at Fort Davis. Despite official proclamations, gambling proved endemic; most commissioned personnel concentrated their efforts against "the miserable gang" of civilians who worked about the reservation. The library and post reading room provided another widely used outlet heartily supported by the command's ranking personnel. Sharpshooters found themselves invited to well organized hunting parties sponsored by their officers. Baseball also grew to be a popular activity, with ball games involving company teams as well as private citizens' groups often marking Independence Day celebrations or the beginning of spring. [83]

Theatrical performances in one of the company barracks highlighted the social calender for November 1884. George Grierson described the action. With reserved seats costing seventy-five cents each, "the house was jamed full of people and we got our seats," wrote George, "and sat there for about two minutes before there was a fuss and they said we had to move on to the other side so I just got any where I could get." The opening performance delighted young Grierson. "They sang and acked very funy, they had about 14 peaces;" the "bad boys and the doctor" scene particularly impressed him and "brought the hole house down." Unfortunately, only about forty people paid to see the next evening's encore performance. Most who watched the second show did so without paying; like George, the lure of holes in the walls and curtains proved too great for the community. [84]

Military drill remained an important segment of daily life at Fort Davis after 1865. The propriety of such training widely divided officers. Older veterans saw little need for such antics. Service in the field and in combat, they maintained, had little relationship with drill or education. But the army hoped its officers might obtain a better grasp of new military developments. Although such instruction rarely went beyond the tactical level, officers were encouraged to attend lectures and discussions. In December 1878, for example, Captain Viele presided over "the officers school for cavalry" on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11:30 A.M. [85]

Yet West Point continued to turn out men with virtually no experience in handling routine duty or drill. Charles J. Crane, class of 1877, recognized his lack of preparation. "Knowing my deficiencies I carefully studied each day for the next day's drill," he wrote, "and I confined the exercises to those I had been studying." The old ways were changing, even though men like Benjamin Grierson remained more interested in personal fortune than endless drill. But under the goading of their superiors, commanders gradually insisted that officers take a more active role in such training. [86]

Fresh from a five-year stint as temporary instructor at West Point, Lt. John Bigelow seemed well-satisfied with his company's progress at Fort Davis in 1885. "I can maneuver with it at a trot," he wrote, "and gallop with some assurance that it will not go to pieces." Battalion drill proved more difficult, with company officers disagreeing on the propriety of certain exercises. In one notable incident, Major Mills demanded that the men execute a particularly difficult command several times in succession. Indignant officers later accused Mills of trying to "stove up" their horses. At the next scheduled battalion exercise, the companies of captains Smither and Lebo were noticeably absent. [87]

Fig. 9:32. The Griersons. Upper left: Cadet Charles "Charlie" Grierson. Upper right: Edith Clare Grierson. Middle left: Harry (Benjamin Henry, Jr.) Grierson. Middle right: Robert Grierson. Bottom left: Alice Kirk Grierson. Bottom right: Benjamin Henry Grierson.

Target practice became more common during the 1880s. Although post commanders occasionally tried to improve the marksmanship of their commands before this period, regular practice seemed prohibitively expensive. In addition, under constant pressure to fight Indians as well as to build quarters, roads, and telegraphs, the garrison often had too little time for such drills. The massed formations of traditional military tactics stressed volume of fire rather than individual accuracy. But the disastrous defeat at the Little Bighorn in 1876 highlighted the already recognized need for a fresh approach. [88]

The Fort Davis experience paralleled that of the army as a whole. In November 1875 Colonel Andrews had noted "the very unsatisfactory results" of recent firing drills. The next month he claimed that in accord with orders from San Antonio, weekly target practice was being conducted. "Improvement is evident," he explained. Efforts remained piecemeal, however, until the adoption of Col. Theodore T. S. Laidley's new firearms training system in 1879. Mounted firing practice for cavalry was finally initiated in the 1880s. Using cost-saving "gallery" loads, the amount of ammunition available for training was increased and a system of rewards for good marksmanship revived. In addition to various silver stadia, buttons, and medals, expert riflemen could gain passes, permission to go on special hunting trips, or relief from onerous military duties. The War Department instituted a series of shooting contests, with post and regimental marksmen winning substantial prizes at department, division, and national competitions. Orders and circulars flew thick and fast; even officers' wives could be found trying their hands at shooting on Sunday afternoons. [89]

Fort Davis officials placed less emphasis on target practice. In February 1884 the adjutant general's office demanded "a full and exhaustive report" explaining the low marksmanship scores at Davis, which maintained a shooting range east of the post proper. Only three of the garrison's ten companies had any qualified marksmen. Another critical report came down seven months later. Although B Troop, Tenth Cavalry, had expended 22,945 rounds (which represented four-fifths of its yearly allowance), Companies I and K, Sixteenth Infantry, had each fired less than 9,000 rounds. Citing the obvious, the report concluded that "instruction in target practice is not conducted upon a uniform basis." Low scores drew renewed fire from department officials in December. Indeed, the criticisms supported many of the charges against Colonel Grierson, whose easy-going style, interests in his own regiment, and desire to build a personal fortune often interfered with military duty. [90]

With minimal direction from above, the success or failure of a company depended heavily upon the abilities of line officers and sergeants. "The spirit of the company commander has very much to do with a company," wrote one officer. "If he is indifferent the Co. will be. If he is interested they will be." The workhorse first sergeant also assumed tremendous responsibilities over the equipment, morale, and training of his unit. "A good first sergeant is indispensable to the making of a good company, for without him the best efforts of the captain would be rendered abortive," explained one high-ranking official. [91]

Desertion remained the army's single most pressing problem, with annual rates averaging 14.8 percent between 1867 and 1891. But Fort Davis troops left far less often—5.1 percent. The lower figure suggests a degree of relative satisfaction among soldiers at Davis. It also reflects the fact that, nationwide, black troops deserted far less frequently than did whites. In 1879, for instance, a total of forty-three soldiers deserted from the four black regiments. But the First Cavalry Regiment suffered 107 desertions alone. The transfer of white troops to Fort Davis in 1881 dramatically affected desertion rates. From 1867 to 1880 desertion averaged only 1.8 percent per year. In 1881 it reached 6.6 percent; the following year, with the white regiments firmly ensconced, desertion claimed 19.5 percent of the garrison. At Fort Davis, not only did white troops desert at higher rates; the racial tensions between white and black soldiers apparently had convinced many blacks to leave their units as well. [92]

Army officials speculated widely on the causes of this phenomenon. Low pay, arduous non-military assignments which claimed so much time and effort, poor recruits, long delays in payment, and the desire of soldiers to get a free trip west were among the most commonly cited reasons. Initial investigations concerning the problem in Texas focused on "old offenders" and "indifferent, troublesome soldiers." According to these theories, desertion increased where "demoralizing influences"—alcohol and the "alliance with an element of loose population"— were greatest. Sure of their conclusions despite the absence of reliable data, military officials believed that tougher discipline, higher and more frequent pay, and stiffer recruiting standards would decrease desertion. The establishment of the central military prison at Fort Leavenworth in 1874 was also designed, at least in part, to deter potential deserters. [93]

Belatedly the army conducted a more thorough investigation in 1883. Of the 325 desertions in the Lone Star state, 200 came within ten days after being paid and 145 occurred during the first six months of a soldier's enlistment. Army apologists blamed the recruits themselves and called for tougher punishment. Others recognized more subtle problems. Without positive identification procedures, repeat offenders could join the army, receive free transportation, then melt into the background. But harsh discipline and punishment undoubtedly shocked many new recruits. Cruel, inconsistent penalties had long characterized the decisions of court-martial boards. Seizing upon the recommendations of a Department of Texas official, Judge Advocate Gen. David G. Swaim concluded that "severity of punishment is no deterrent." [94]

Reform-minded Adj. Gen. Richard C. Drum suggested an improved code of punishment, a reduction in the first term of cavalry enlistments from five to three years, more careful recruiting, and permission to purchase an early discharge. In Drum's view harsh punishment, rather than reducing desertion and improving discipline, simply fostered discontent. Gen. John Schofield emphasized the importance of the company commanders. "The character of the commanding officer has much to do with the extent of the evil," wrote the former Civil War hero. "It is true that lax discipline, coupled with great care for the comfort of the men, may give a captain a very contented company yet a very inefficient one, while very rigid discipline may cause half the men to desert, but make the other half extremely efficient soldiers." [95]

Fort Davis investigations did not always coincide with conclusions drawn by national figures. Low pay troubled many. Enlisted men frequently complained about the hard work and constant fatigue details—one noted that "he thought he had enlisted to be a soldier and not a slave"—and promptly deserted. Other Sixteenth Infantrymen quit the army rather than serve alongside black troopers of the Tenth. [96]

Officials at the post often linked desertion to the lure of female companionship. Pvt. James Brown was "given to running after women that fill the numerous towns about this post;" deserter David Anderson, "full of syphilis, deviltry and rascality," trekked from Peña Colorado to the little settlement of Chihuahua, "where there lives a woman by the name of Maggie Weber." Pvt. James E. Martin "was very much in love with a Mexican girl at Presidio del Norte and it is supposed he went there." Officials believed a woman claiming to be his wife at Fort Leavenworth caused Pvt. Daniel Bell's desertion. [97]

Other reports cited different factors. Many deserters were repeat offenders. Fear of prosecution for criminal activities caused others to flee their units. In 1883 Cpl. Thomas Gatewood, Tenth Cavalry, deserted rather than face charges stemming from his having lost a horse from the post herd. A cook departed after a twenty-pound bag of rice for which he was responsible disappeared. George McNeil, described as a "good" soldier, "was but a boy with no worldly knowledge . . . persuaded to desert by Private Layton,... who deserted the same night." According to one account, McNeil "was very much disheartened with the desertion of Pvt. Frank Brady . . . to whom McNeil had become greatly attached." [98]

Alcohol remained a key ingredient to postbellum desertions at Fort Davis. Reports indicated that Pvt. Henry Hardy, otherwise an "excellent" soldier, "was drunk and absent 2 or 3 days and was afraid to come back." "Good" soldier Charles Fillmore was last seen with a flask of whiskey; George Crossin was "a drinking man" who "complained of too much work." An "excellent" soldier in "splendid" health, Pvt. Daniel Clum had been drinking and was last seen carrying some money belonging to the men of his troop from one of the pineries back to Davis. [99]

Officials apprehended very few deserters. Of the 9,120 men who deserted the army in the three years preceding October 1884, 272 surrendered themselves and another 1,495 others were caught. Small teams dispatched from Fort Davis to track down deserters usually came up empty-handed. An 1886 Supreme Court decision making it illegal for police officers or private citizens to detain military deserters further weakened the army's efforts. Those unfortunate enough to be caught, of course, received stiff sentences. [100]

In the midst of such problems, Pvt. John Muchs reminds us of an often overlooked side of army life. Born a slave, Muchs joined the military in 1873. John helped support his destitute mother by sending part of his pay home. The illiterate private dictated his letters home to a fellow soldier who could write. Like the loyal son he undoubtedly was, he apologized for not writing more often, and promised to improve his future habits. Muchs strove to act as a Christian, as his mother had instructed, but acknowledged the difficulty of doing so at a rugged frontier community like Fort Davis. Tragically, the private died in the post hospital in August 1883, a victim of pneumonia. [101]

Grierson's Tenth Cavalry had occupied West Texas since 1873. Many of its officers (including its colonel) had undertaken a number of profit-making schemes which verged on the unethical, even by nineteenth-century standards. One critic claimed that private citizens, bitter about the colonel's unwelcome competition in local real estate bidding, actively encouraged the colonel's transfer in 1885. During the year officials would soon investigate Lieutenant Maxon's alleged mismanagement of public funds as post quartermaster; Lieutenant Jouett was being tried for a second time; two officers would shortly file charges against Lieutenant Davis. Its fractious officers indeed set high standards for pettiness in an army filled with ambitious men. One believed the Tenth had degenerated into a "contest for supremacy . . . between the good element and the bad and that the two elements are pretty evenly matched." Major Mills, a Grierson foe, saw that such matters reached the desks of officials in San Antonio. [102]

The army generally attempted to transfer regiments on a regular basis; the Tenth's turn was long overdue. Department commander E. O. C. Ord, mindful of "the influence of demoralizing localities," suggested that the regiment be shifted from Texas. In December 1884 General Stanley again called for such a move. Although he had recommended Grierson for a promotion less than a month earlier, he found the Tenth wracked by internal turmoil. As Stanley reasoned: "The regiment has become 'localized' to an extent as to have an effect prejudicial to the public interest. . . . I regret that the localization tends to demoralization." [103]

Rumors of the impending transfer had commonly circulated in and about Fort Davis; indeed, such gossip had slowed the Fort Davis and Marfa railroad project. In November 1884 one officer claimed the move was "no doubt to make room for some regt. with a wirepulling colonel who is coveting our good quarters and pleasant climate at Fort Davis." Colonel Grierson, who had left Fort Davis on October 31 to vote in his home state of Illinois and to visit Washington, D.C., campaigned furiously to be allowed to maintain his position at Davis. But by February 1885 the colonel recognized that the Tenth's transfer was imminent. A slim hope that Pres. Grover Cleveland's incoming Democratic administration, "with a view to retrenchment," might revoke the order was shattered when official transfer orders arrived in early March. The Tenth was to exchange positions with the Third Cavalry, currently stationed in Arizona. Grierson secured Whipple Barracks as new regimental headquarters. [104]

Although many found the marches a refreshing change of pace, the hurried packing and preparations involved in a major transfer caused tremendous logistical problems for every frontier military family. In 1882, for instance, the Sixteenth Infantry had replaced the First Infantry. Several months after the First's departure, baggage belonging to the regiment's members remained in storage at Fort Davis. The army did not have enough wagons to move it to the Marfa railroad station. The War Department paid for only one thousand pounds of personal effects per officer, meaning that excess goods had either to be paid out of pocket or auctioned off to local residents. [105]

The Tenth Cavalry left Texas in 1885. Companies formerly stationed at Concho and Stockton rendezvoused at Davis in preparation for the westward march. On the afternoon of April 1, the Tenth Cavalry passed out of Fort Davis in a grand review. The band, mounted on dapple gray horses, preceded the column before doubling back to camp to leave the following day. Two abreast, the eleven companies made an impressive sight never matched in community annals. When I Troop joined the column near Camp Rice, it was the only time prior to the Spanish-American War that the entire regiment had assembled. The twelve troops and their baggage train stretched for nearly two miles across the plains. Many women remained at Fort Davis until their husbands secured quarters in Arizona. One who did accompany the soldiers concluded that "the ladies who remained at Davis showed their sense." Another, however, remembered that she "was very comfortably fixed for the trip." [106]

Colonel Grierson and regimental adjutant Mason Maxon remained at Davis until April 9, cleaning up loose ends of a military as well as a personal nature. "This is decidedly a deserted castle," wrote Ben. Hired hands helped Robert with the family ranch, but Benjamin leased out one large section to Jonathan A. Jackson (probably a former Tenth Cavalryman) for a third of his annual production. After his father's departure, Robert described the temporary administration of Capt. William H. Clapp, Sixteenth Infantry. "Fort Davis is like 'the deserted village' now," according to Robert. But not all was grim—profits from the sale of the ranch's eggs to Fort Davis took a dramatic turn for the better. "Captain Clapp has had all the chickens removed from the officers' line," noted Robert contentedly. "There is a great fight going on between the people and the bugs." [107]

Benjamin Grierson longed to return to Texas in an official military capacity. Angling for the command of the department and hoping his family ranch near Davis would solve his financial needs, Grierson made several trips back to Fort Davis in subsequent years. Continued investments fell upon hard times, however, as drought and the overstocking of the ranges devastated the local cattle industry. Meanwhile, the independent-minded Robert worked for several more months in various civilian jobs on the post. [108]

Col. Albert G. Brackett, Third Cavalry, assumed command of Fort Davis on May 12, 1885. A veteran cavalryman and officer of a widely used history of that branch, Brackett's arrival signaled many changes. He quickly ended commissary sales to civilian employees, thus closing Robert Grierson's source of cut-rate food. "Of course I can't afford to run my mess at the prices you have to pay outside," reported Robert indignantly. In his view, the tighter restrictions antagonized all of the workers. Robert smugly reported that his replacement had been dismissed for drunkenness, and added that General Stanley was "not at all pleased with Col. Brackett's administration." Indeed, Stanley, upon his own transfer from Texas, requested that Grierson replace him as department commander. But politics and seniority intervened—Grierson remained on station in Arizona. [109]

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Last Updated: 13-Feb-2008