It seems I may have mentioned Sharlot Hall, Arizona’s first historian, and the wonderful museum named in her honor from time to time in earlier posts. Okay, I know I have. The Sharlot Hall Museum is one of my favorite places to learn, do research, and immerse myself in memories of Arizona’s history.
So when I received an email sent to museum members announcing a special living history presentation put on in conjunction with the nearby Ft. Whipple Museum, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about experiences in frontier Arizona.
Established in 1864, Ft. Whipple served as a tactical base for the U.S. Cavalry until 1882. It was also the headquarters for the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Today, the museum is housed in one of the military officer’s quarters on the grounds of the VA Hospital just north of Prescott.
On the day I visited, two reenactors—one representing a private, the other a sergeant in charge of the post commissary—stood waiting on the porch, ready to give visitors a look at the care and feeding of officers, as well as the enlisted men under their command.
I was especially interested to hear how soldiers ate while on the march. The young private informed us that when they were on the trail, the rations for each man consisted of one pound of flour and one pound of beef per day.
And that beef was fresh. Really fresh, since a herd of cattle traveled along with the men. Every third day, more beef would be butchered and doled out to the troops, each man receiving three pounds at a time to last him for three days.
Both the beef and the three pounds of flour would be carried along in a soldier’s haversack—like the one on the table behind the private in the photo below.
I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what those haversacks would smell like before long. According to our informative private, after three days, the bags would reek like a dumpster. Whew! Can you picture yourself dining on meat that had gone unrefrigerated for that long?
It seems the soldiers were no more enamored of the idea than we would be. One solution they came up with was to eat hearty the first day, finish up the rest of the meat early on the second day, and go hungry on the third, knowing that another ration would be forthcoming the day after that. This was practical in more ways than one, since it also reduced the weight each soldier had to carry.
Then there was the issue of the flour. It sounded like a nice supplement to their diet, until we learned that was all they got…flour. No baking powder, soda, lard, or other ingredients for biscuit making or the like. Resourceful soldiers would add water and form the mixture into a paste, then wrap it around a stick and cook it over the fire. The results were filling, though not particularly tasty.
By the time the soldiers reached the garrison, they could look forward to a little more variety in their meals, although the standard fare featured staples like hardtack and salt pork. Speaking of hardtack, I’ve heard of it, of course, but never had an opportunity to see it up close before.
Apparently, it lived up to its name, as soldiers often had to resort to crushing it with their rifle butts before they could eat it. It was sometimes known by another name, as well—worm castles. Again, I'll leave it to your imagination to supply the reason for that.
Officers, however, dined on a whole different level than the enlisted troops. Take a look at the items below that could have been found in the commissary.
|Canned peaches and bacon didn't strike me as unusual, |
but I was surprised to see oyster crackers and pastas like
spaghetti and macaroni along with them.
At the other end of the table, we find split peas and rice, along with the inevitable hardtack and salt pork. The jug in the rear contained vinegar…and I was pleased to see the coffee grinder, much like the one Caleb and Melanie used in their mercantile in Trouble in Store.
While officers were able to enjoy the tastier items as a matter of course, enlisted men were allowed to purchase them at the commissary…assuming they had enough money to cover the cost.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like my cooking gets into a rut, with me offering up the same assortment of meals on a steady basis. But now I can tell my family they can at least be grateful they don’t have to subsist on a diet of beef and hardtack!
Repetitive or not, I’m glad we’re able to choose what we eat and don’t have to rely on someone else’s mandate. And when it comes to spiritual food, we have options, as well. Do we spend time nourishing ourselves in the Word, or try to survive on spiritual hardtack? The choice is ours, but I know which will serve us better in the long run!
Until next time...