Camp Supply, Indian Territory, May 1872 – January 1873
This place is quite dreadful as it has been represented to us. There are more troops here than at Fort Lyon, and of course the post is very much larger. There are two troops of colored cavalry, one of white cavalry, and three companies of infantry[…] Camp Supply is certainly in an Indian country, for it is surrounded by Comanches, Apaches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes[…] No one can go a rod from the garrison without an escort. Only last week two couriers–soldiers–who had been sent down with dispatches from Fort Dodge, were found dead on the road, both shot in the back…
Located in present day Oklahoma, Camp Supply was an isolated army post with only one wagon road north to Fort Dodge -105 miles away, and one road south, 196 miles to Fort Sill. Over a twenty-five year period, military troops at Camp Supply – renamed Fort Supply, performed peace-keeping duties. The 1869 Camp Supply illustration from Harper’s Weekly shows a large military fortress as noted in Roe’s book.
Military duties consisted of peacekeeping and to restrict the illegal trespassing of boomers –unauthorized homesteaders, whisky traders and buffalo hunters on tribal lands.Government treaty stipulations with the Indian nations denied the boomers access to the Unassigned Lands. Buffalo hunters were notorious for unlawful slaughtering of the buffalo herds. In January, 1873 at Cimarron Redoubt, Roe shares General Dickinson and General Bourke’s experiences with the buffalo hunters,
He said that now there are very few buffalo in Colorado and Kansas, because of their wholesale slaughter by white men during the past year. These men kill them for the skins only, and General Bourke said he saw hundreds of carcasses on the plains between Lyon and Dodge. They are boldly coming to the Indian Territory now, and cavalry has been sent out several times to drive them from the reservation. If the Indians should attempt to protect their rights it would be called an uprising at once, so they have to lie around on the sand hills and watch their beloved buffalo gradually disappear, and all the time they know only too well that with them will go the skins that give them tepees and clothing, and the meat that furnishes almost all of their sustenance.
The military also dealt with the illegal whisky traders selling ‘fire water’ to the Indians. According to Robert C. Carriker, “In September 1869, Samuel Parker, the post hay contractor, was discovered to be doubling as a whisky runner, trading his potent wares to the Indians for horses. The following month, at the request of officers at Camp Supply, a whisky ranch –an inn that bootlegged liquor, on bluff Creek in Kansas was raided and destroyed by troops from Fort Dodge.” Military patrols and scouts were busily hunting renegade Kansan traders from the north and New Mexico whisky runners from the southwest. Frances Roe writes,
But the most exciting times are when the big ox trains come along that are taking oats and corn to the quartermaster for the cavalry horses and mules for in these sacks of grain there is ever a possibility of liquor being found. The sergeant carefully punches the sacks from one end to the other with a long steel very much like a rifle rammer; but so far not a thing has been found, but this is undoubtedly because they know what to expect at this place now. Faye is always present at the inspection, and once I watched it a short distance away.
Other military headaches included the illegal sales of arms and ammunition to the Indians. (above photo of a map showing Fort Supply and surrounding area 1864 – 1894)
I wrote you how everyone laughed at me on the march down because I was positive I saw heads of Indians on the sand hills so many times. Well, all that has ceased, and the mention of “Mrs. Rae’s Indians” is carefully avoided! There has been sad proof that the Indians were there, also that they were watching us closely…
Photo of an Indian Village. Two groups of Native American Plains men dance in concentric circles around two prisoners. c. 1880 ?
Just across the creek there is a village of Apache Indians, and as these Indians are known to be hostile, this particular road is considered rather unsafe[…] Last Monday, soon after luncheon, forty or fifty Indians came rushing down the drive in front of the officers’ quarters. They rode past the houses like mad creatures, and on out to the company gardens, where they made their ponies trample and destroy every growing thing.
Life was a precarious existence for the officers, soldiers, and families whether they were living inside a military fort, traveling between forts, and for the most part, everyday life. To add to their predicament, living standards were often tenuous with a diet of rations while fresh meat, fruits and vegetables were a luxury, and finding potable water was a commodity.
In the changing face of the western frontier, Roe’s descriptions of safety and survival are often a dangerous and deadly reality. Many occurrences with the indigenous tribes and desperadoes, onto violent weather storms, mosquito swarms, rattlesnakes, injuries, accidents, recurring illnesses and death were part and parcel of her daily life. With that said, it appears as if her letters were edited to omit a certain truth. That is to say, had the publisher D. Appleton & Co. modified her experiences? In reflecting on this possibility, wouldn’t it be fair in my armchair musings that her letters about the military’s tribal confrontations, hunting of whisky traders, evicting boomers and desperadoes, and all that came with westward expansion would have been more explicit? Or am I jaded by today’s constant barrage of commercialized media violence and sensationalized network news?
If anything -I’ve learned in my excavations of Roe’s Army Letters, she was forthright about her experiences with a few exceptions. The recounting of the army’s mission, actions, and removal of Native American tribes is absent for the most part. Possibly writing about military campaigns by a officer’s wife was considered improper for a woman writer. Carriker’s book, “Fort Supply, Indian Territory” examines the military campaigns in Indian Country. He quotes Roe’s “Army Letters from an Officer’s Wife, 1871-1888,” for its historical accuracy about Camp Supply. However, descriptions of dangerous and deadly clashes are based on military documents written by officers and soldiers with a no holds barred style. Just maybe, that was the domain of men’s writings and not considered a part of one woman’s extraordinary life and history too.
For more information about sources, see ‘links’ page.