Question by Frontier Reporter, Early September 1872:
Ahem....I hate to interrupt you fine ladies, but what brings you and your little baby here to Fort Griffin, out on this frightening frontier?
Rachel Foley, wife of Sgt. James Foley, answers:
Because James is here, of course. James is my husband. He's stationed here at the fort. He's Sergeant James Foley with the Fourth Cavalry. He's not here right at the moment or I'd introduce you. James is out on a scout, patrolling for Comanches that raided a nearby ranch. His regiment has been gone for days, camped somewhere north of Collins Creek, I think.
See that frame house behind me? That's where James, Bess, our baby girl, and I live. Do you think I'm crazy to leave civilization behind and set up housekeeping on a frontier army post? If you say yes, you won't be the first. A lot of my friends back home think so, too.
"Texas is a hideout for savages and outlaws," said one of my friends when she learned of our plan to move west. "A woman would have to be stark raving mad to move out there," said another. Mad, perhaps, or madly in love. I love my gallant soldier of a husband. I am willing to share his fate, wherever or whatever it might be.
There was no doubt in either James' or my mind that the baby and I would make the move with him. Before our departure, I was in high spirits and thrilled at the thought of such adventure. But then I heard some discouraging news. I learned that James was the only soldier in his regiment bringing along his family. His fellow soldiers refused to subject their wives and children to the hardships of frontier army life and were leaving them behind. I must admit this cast a pall on my plans but I went forth anyway, resigning myself to many lonely days of letter writing, mothering, and woman's work, as I knew that James would be away on Indian campaigns much of the time we were to be at Ft. Griffin.
So you can imagine my relief when I arrived and discovered other military women living at our new post. And, as if that wasn't blessing enough, shortly after my arrival, two more women, pioneer ladies from local ranches, came to call upon me. They, too, were extending to me the hand of friendship (along with fresh eggs, butter, and two hens). Southerners welcoming a Yankee to Texas! What joy to be among women again! I wasn't to be alone after all.
Now that the long heat of summer is past, we women look forward to more time to enjoy one another's company. During these past hot days, though, we haven't had time for leisure together. Being without ice, our entire summer was occupied in keeping wet cloths around the jars that contain our milk and butter. As the moisture from the cloths evaporates, it cools the dairy products and keeps them from spoiling.
Now, with the coolness of fall setting in, we women can once more breathe freely and enjoy every pleasure. Our soldier husbands have been away many of the past few weeks in a new effort led by Capt. MacKenzie to drive the Kiowas and Comanches out of Texas and back to the reservation at Fort Sill for good. So we women pass the days without them, visiting one another's homes, sharing dinner or sitting on our shady vine-covered porches tending our sewing and our children.
But we have to be very watchful. The other day, for instance, I killed an ugly, black, huge tarantula right inside our doorway! I picked up a basket and smashed it hard. What would have happened if it had bit Little Bess? It was Scout, our wonderful watchdog, who alerted me to the insect's presence by barking. There are no windows in our house and it's beastly hot in there. So we stay outside, often sleeping in hammocks strung across the porch.
If you have a moment longer, you can meet some of my friends. They're due at my place any second now. I baked plum pies for their visit and Mrs. Thompson is bringing her most recent Godey's Lady's Book to share with us. Maybe someone will have received a letter from home she'll share.
Life on an army post is exceedingly trying. We have had to accustom ourselves to fresh ways of living. We've weathered everything imaginabledrought, sandstorm, Indians, heat, dust, death, sickness, vermin of every kindwood-ticks, flying roaches, waspsdried-up vegetables, indecent houses, and unsanitary drinking water and facilities. Nevertheless, we cling to the refinements of life, making our little houses as comfortable as we can. We give them the woman's touch. I've added pretty, bright carpets to cover my dirt floors and strung lace curtains across the kitchen windows.
Oh, my friends have hearts of gold and Bess is a dream of a child, never cross except when she had the whooping cough last spring, but how I miss my funny James. How he can make me laugh. Just before he left on patrol, we all went down to the town, The Flat, they call it, and had our pictures madeeven Scout, our Number One Dog. Since Scout saved us from the tarantula, we think of him as a clever soldierguarding us from our foes. So James wanted to honor his heroism. He dressed him up like a soldier, plopping a military cap on his head and sticking a pipe in his mouth. You should have seen the expression on that photographer's face when he learned he was to photograph a dogand one in costume, too.
Oh, Jamesmy precious, precious James. What a funny man I'm married to. How happy he makes me. In all the West, there is no hardship terrible enough to take away my special joy of life with James.
Credits: Character dialogue by Lisa Waller Rogers; top painting by Charles Shaw; photos of Sgt. James and Rachel Foley, Foley baby, and dog, courtesy of Old Jail Art Center, Albany (Robert Nail Collection); photos of wildflowers and crockery by Susan Dial.