Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
GUARDIANS OF THE BORDER

FOR A CENTURY after the founding of the republic, the Indians were regarded by the Government of the United States as a foreign nation within our boundaries. The existence of this warlike race on the margins of settlement naturally called for the occupation of the borderland by troops. In addition to garrisoning posts, guarding a vast frontier line, and protecting the white settlers from the Indians, the troops had also the unique task of enforcing the treaty stipulations that protected the Indians from white aggressors. Furthermore, they were called upon to conduct exploring parties, protect trade-routes, escort surveying parties and railroad-builders, and even to build roads themselves. These duties often carried them among the Indians far beyond the frontier. For this reason the soldier stationed at a post on the western fringe of civilization or beyond was indeed a frontier figure, although he did not evolve into a peculiar type as did the trapper or the cowboy.

During the frontier period it seems that very few frontiersmen joined the Army. The enlisted personnel were often down-andouters, adventurers, or men who for one reason or another found it comfortable to be absent from their home communities for a time. A recruit's morals were not scrutinized. Family trouble, disappointment in love, participation in riots, or irregular personal conduct involving difficulty with the law often caused the enlistment of men who proved to be the best of soldiers. Many German and Irish immigrants entered the service as a means of livelihood until they could get a better knowledge of the new language. Some of these foreigners were men of excellent education. The native-

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