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Army Letters from an Officer's Wife

Frances Marie Antoinette Mack Roe

Book Overview: 

Frances was the young wife of a West Point Army officer, whose career took them both to frontier garrisons in what are now the states of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming. Her letters home to her family in upstate New York, written between 1871 and 1888, are a fascinating chronicle of life on the frontier. Despite the grittiness of keeping house in tent-and-log-cabin quarters, Frances took to Western life, learning to shoot and ride (side saddle), fly fish for trout and hunt buffalo. Her letters, chatty and detailed, open windows on varied aspects of frontier and army life: army protocol (including the right of senior officers to bump subordinates out of their housing ); the Indian tribes--Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Apache, Kiowa (ceremonial visits from chiefs as well as Indian warfare); the black cavalry troops (at Camp Supply in Indian Territory); Chinese cooks (also Polish, Irish, and enlisted men doing kitchen duty). Her letters span years of rapid change in the West. They touch on the disappearance of the buffalo herds, the decline of the Indian tribes and the coming of the railroads. Even Yellowstone Park, established in 1872, gets a mention: “Now that the park can be reached by railroad, all of the generals, congressmen, and judges are seized with a desire to inspect it--in other words, it gives them a fine excuse for an outing at Uncle Sam’s expense.”

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Red Man's strategy is not quite equal to that of the Great Father's soldiers, or he would have known that troops would be sent at once to protect the horses.

There were a great many pony tracks to be seen in the sand the next morning, and there was a mounted sentinel on a hill a mile or so away. It was amusing to watch him through a powerful field glass, and we wished that he could know just how his every movement could be seen. He sat there on his pony for hours, both Indian and horse apparently perfectly motionless, but with his face always turned toward the post, ready to signal to his people the slightest movement of the troops.

Faye says that the colored troops were real soldiers that night, alert and plucky. I can readily believe that some of them can be alert, and possibly good soldiers, and that they can be good thieves too, for last Saturday night they stole from us the commissary stores we had expected to last us one week—everything, . . . Read More

Community Reviews

I'm a sucker for primary sources. These letters from 1871 to 1888 provide a unique look at life on Army posts in the west--mostly Montana. A fun read, especially for the insights into Mrs. Roe herself.

A map would have been helpful as many of the posts mentioned no longer exist.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Largely because of the humor I found in the similarities to life in the the military in 1871 compared to 2013. Funny what things don't change. If you have a familiarity to being in the military, this book should give you a good laugh. Its an easy read and I enj...more

My own grandmother, born within memory of the West as it was, yearned to go and see it. I imagine her reading this book as a girl, a few years after it came out. This book, and that of Laura Ingalls Wilder, are so evocative of that Frontier, post Civil War, bordering on the Century of most of our...more

This is an excellent read for anyone who is really interested in the life of an army wife. There are times when I was irritated with her less than politically correct opinions of people and races, but those were the views in those days and it is wrong to expect political correctness in days befor...more

Read between January & June 1984.

Original notes on book from 1984: Good book. True. Interesting history.

This is a collection of letters written by a woman in the 1870s who moved to "The Far West" (Colorado Territory). It's really interesting so far! Lots of discussion of the local tribes and the buffalo soldiers. She was really on the leading edge of American expansion into the west. She was incred...more

Frances Roe is a woman worth knowing-- a vivid and intelligent personality. This collection of her letters places the reader in the middle of life on frontier military posts.

Like military wives through the ages (my mom, for one) she had to follow her husband from post to post at the whim of the A...more