Book Review: Class and Race in the Frontier Army: Military Life in the West, 1870-1890


by Kevin Adams

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009. Pp. xvi, 276. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0806139811

Class and Race in the Frontier Army , Prof. Adams (Kent State) examines how perceptions of "class and race" affected not only the inter-personal relations of the men of the "Indian Fighting Army," but also their relations with the people they were serving to protect, settlers of various races, and the enemies they had to fight, who were also multiracial, for although much of the soldiers' work involved Native Americans, they also pursued bandits of various races. 

This is a much more complex subject than it might seem.  Consider how issues of class and race intertwined; enlisted men were clearly lower class, but white enlisted men had higher status than blacks, while the few black officers were an anomalous phenomenon. In between were the Indian scouts, often highly regarded enlisted soldiers. There's more, for example, how did Mexican-American or Native Americans or white American settlers view black soldiers or Indian scouts, who were, after all, representatives of "white" America .  Surprisingly, Adams discovered that although about 40 percent of enlisted men were foreign-born, their ethnicity was less important in the Army than in the civilian life of the nation, where their presence was considered quite disruptive.  

Adams stresses the often overlooked point that the army actually did little fighting. Indian "uprisings" were relatively rare, police duties rarer still.  Most troops spent years in mind-numbing routine duty, for the relief of which many posts had libraries.  Most officers were avid readers of magazines, newspapers, and books, while others spent their time doing ethnographic or scientific research, some becoming prominent authorities or well-published authors in their own right. Some men, of course took to drink or other vices. 

A very detailed work, this will be of value to anyone with an interest in the "Old Army," the Indian Wars, or the West.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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