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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Portraits of the Past: A new Fort Leavenworth recruit's whopping payday

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  • Apparently a new recruit at Fort Leavenworth back in 1849 figured he had it pretty good, according to my grandmother.
    The average soldier, who probably had no money back home to speak of, now had a payday worth a whopping $8 a month, a dollar of which was kept out each month and retained until the end of his enlistment.
    The soldiers considered themselves very comfortable in those days with bed sacks filled once a month with fresh hay, which they called “prairie feathers,” a pair of soldier blankets, and an overcoat against the cold winter winds, which also served as a pillow.
    The soldiers would saw a few wooden barrels in two pieces and place them in the company kitchen every evening between supper and bedtime and those made very good bath tubs.
    One of the recruits, Percival G. Lowe, which arrived at Fort Leavenworth back then, left a pretty vivid picture of post life for us young 21st century dwellers.
    My grandmother — my mother’s mom — was a Lowe by birthright, and claimed relationship to Percival, so I’ve heard the stories all of my life. She was quite a good story teller and loved to tell me stories about her childhood and ancestors while I was growing up out on the farm with her and my grandfather.
    Her people came from Holland and were shoe carpenters by trade — they made those clumsy wooden shoes the Dutch children were lucky enough to wear.
    She even had a genuine wooden shoe sitting up on the shelf that was passed down to her through the generations. She would sometimes get it down for us kids to look at, but we were never allowed to touch it, so I never got to try it on my foot.
    Anyway, back to the soldiers.
    My grandmother said the very method by which the new recruits arrived at the fort was quite a challenge in itself. Uncle Percival and many of the enlisted men came from back East and attended boot camp at Carlisle, Pa. When it came time to join their post in the West, there were no airplanes to fly them there like there is today. In fact, back in 1849 there weren’t many railroads either.
    There were a few railroads back East, but none of them ran as far as the Mississippi River, meaning there were absolutely no trains to Fort Leavenworth. So, from boot camp they were sent by rail car as far as Harrisburg, Pa., and then transferred to a canal boat, which carried them to the foot hills of the Allegheny Mountains.
    They got off the boat and marched up and over the mountains to another awaiting canal boat on the other side. That boat took them on to Pittsburg, where they could then float the Ohio River by steamboat all the way down to the Mississippi, then up to the Missouri River at St. Louis.
    Page 2 of 2 - If they were lucky enough to arrive at St. Louis in the summertime, it was a good trip on up to Fort Leavenworth. However, the Big Muddy had a bad habit of freezing pretty solid during the wintertime and that presented a whole different picture.
    Uncle Percival Lowe was not one of the lucky ones; he arrived at St. Louis in the dead of winter and had to march by foot most of the way over difficult roads on up to Fort Leavenworth.
    Lowe served five years at the fort in the dragoons and afterwards in the Quartermaster Department.
    When he was mustered out, he settled in and around Leavenworth where he became a prominent citizen. I guess you could say he was the father of the Lowemont community.
     
    Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school group. To reach him, email teddy.stillwell@yahoo.com or call (816) 252-9909.

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