Health of Early Texas: The Military Frontier
JAMES O. BREEDEN*
THE ROLE OF THE ARMY IN THE FILLING IN OF THE WEST HAS RE-
ceived considerable attention. But within this large body of material
there is an easily discernible pattern-the lion's share of it is concerned
with the post-Civil War period and military action against the Indian.
Consequently, the important antebellum phase and the drabness, drudgery,
and danger of the day-to-day life of the frontier soldier have received
only an occasional fleeting glance. A variety of reasons account for this
situation, chief among which are the brevity of the earlier era, the greater
degree of activity in the later one, the relative availability of sources, and
the public's pronounced preference for what one writer has aptly termed
"patriotic gore." It should be remembered, however, that the heroics of
the years after Appomattox had their antecedents in the antebellum period
and that the average soldier spent far more time battling the monotony
and misfortunes of garrison life than he did fighting Indians.'
Among the most persistent of problems which plagued the antebellum
frontier soldier were disease and injury. They posed an ever present threat
and exacted a heavy toll in human misery. A good case in point is the
experience of the soldiers serving in Texas during the years between the
war with Mexico and the Civil War (specifically, 1849-1859). An exami-
nation of the health profile of the Military Department of Texas, moreover,
not only shows the impact of disease and injury on the soldiers sent there
but sheds important light on the health of the settlers of early Texas as
Unfortunately, in-depth epidemiological studies of America during many
of her stages of growth have been hampered by the unevenness or absence
*Mr. Breeden is associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University.
The author presented a shortened version of this paper at the I975 meeting of the
Southwestern Social Science Association.
'The best study of the army on the frontier during the period between the war with
Mexico and the Civil War is Robert M. Utley, Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States
Army and the Indian, 1848-1865 (New York, 1967). The term "patriotic gore" was ap-
parently first applied to the literature of the Civil War, but it seems appropriate to
expand its usage to include the entire body of patriotically inspired works chronicling
American valor and military success. See Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore: Studies in
the Literature of the American Civil War (New York, 1962), ix-xxxii.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 80, July 1976 - April, 1977. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101204/. Accessed November 27, 2014.