Army Letters from an Officer’s Wife, 1871 – 1888 simply states this a book of letters. Yet, I’ve wondered, is it really a compilation of letters or not? In the late 19th and early 20th century, many military wives published their personal journals with book entries similarly formatted like Army Letters…
Today I came across very interesting news about Army Letters that gives credence to the background of Frances Roe’s book, and whether these were the actual letters written by Frances to a family member. Well, the answer is found in the first ‘teaser’ published seven months prior to the book. The first installment of Army Letters is prefaced by the editor of Appleton’s Magazine in April 1909:
THIRTY-EIGHT years ago, a young army officer, just graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, went with his bride to begin service on the Western frontier. Into this new life of an army post the young girl from the East found herself plunged, with buffalo hunts and sand storms, Indian raids and bandits but casual incidents of the day. Fortunately her letters to her family were preserved, and from these Mrs. Roe has permitted APPLETON’S MAGAZINE to select the material for this article and others that are to follow. The freshness of her impressions of a life and conditions now practically past, the naive and courageous optimism of the young wife in such unfamiliar surroundings, give to the letters a quality of intimate human interest and value rarely excelled in such material.—THE EDITOR.
Appleton’s Magazine published three installments with illustrations from April to June 1909. Unlike the book, Appleton had not received permission from the military officers mentioned in her letters to publish their names. The installments are filled with General and Mrs. P—, General P—, Mrs. P—, Mrs. C—, Lieutenant B—-, Lieutenant A—, and so forth. In fact, it seems the publisher and Frances had not yet been granted permission from her husband F—,
I was so disappointed when I was told this, but F—- says that he is very much afraid that I will have cause, sooner or later, to think that the grade of captain is quite high enough…. But in F—-‘s company, the captain is called general, and the first lieutenant is called major and as this is most confusing, I get things mixed up sometimes. Most girls would.
The installments closely follow the published book with few changes such as F— who’s later identified as Faye! I assume he finally gave permission to use his actual name. Or at the least, Frances had been persuasive and proved it was in his best interests! However, many of the military officers and soldiers names were not published. In the University of Nebraska journal, The Great Plains Quarterly, Robert M. Utely wrote about the substitution of fictional military names in his 1982 book review of the republished Army Letters (introd. Sandra L. Myers):
Because they are contemporary [details and insights], they are all the more fresh and valuable. They tell of soldiers, Indians, badmen, and settlers, of life at remote army posts, of the land and its flora and fauna, and of the personalities she knew. These last she thinly disguised with altered names, but readers familiar with the frontier army will have no trouble recognizing Phillips as Penrose, Dickinson as Davidson, or Bourke as Brooke. Mrs. Roe thus becomes a major source for characterizations of particular frontier military figures.
When I first read Army Letters, I quickly learned there was very little information about her other than the book and Fayette W. Roe’s obituary. Even the book became a challenge in finding sources to verify the authenticity of events and places. Let alone, if the book was truly letters she had written during her time in the far West and as she states, are truthful accounts of experiences that came into my own life with the Army. Nearly 106 years ago, she had written about her adventures with the army on the Western frontier. A daring adventure that had taken place over 38 years prior to publication. Can you imagine Frances finding this treasure trove of saved remembrances found somewhere bundled by a family member? Maybe they were sent to her mother and held closely to Mary Colton Mack’s heart. A mother’s treasured keepsake of her only daughter and child who left on an adventure far away from home.
See Links, Sources and Publications for Appleton’s Magazine first installment of Frances Roe’s Army Letter’s from and Officer’s Wife, 1871-1888.