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Frontier Cavalry Trooper

The Letters of Private Eddie Matthews, 1869–1874

Douglas C. McChristian

Publication Year: 2013

During his five years in the army, Private Edward L. Matthews wrote a series of exceptionally detailed and engaging letters to his family back home in Maryland describing his life in the Arizona and New Mexico Territories. Eddie Matthews’s letters, published here for the first time, provide an unparalleled chronicle of one soldier’s experiences in garrison and in the field in the post–Civil War Southwest.

Eddie’s letters record a vivid chronicle of day-to-day life in the frontier regulars. Included are operational details in his company, candid observations of people and places, intimate views of frontier society, and personal opinions that probably would have been forgotten or moderated had he recorded his experiences later in life. More subtle are his valuable references to the state of transportation and communication in the Southwest during the early 1870s. Matthews probably did not realize until later years that he was not only a witness to the nation’s rapid westward expansion, but was himself a tiny cog in the machinery that made it possible.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-8


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pp. viii-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

The post-Civil War era witnessed the resumption of the U.S. Army’s role as the vanguard of the nation’s westward expansion. Acting in this role was a daunting challenge for a force whose numbers were always inadequate for the task, a ref_lection of the Founding Fathers’ predisposition against a large standing army controlled by the central government. T_he volunteer force raised in response ...

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1: “Away from Home and Friends” September–December 1869

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pp. 1-34

Thinking he might be able to endure the army for three years, which would be enough time for his domestic troubles to subside, Eddie Matthews introduced himself to the recruiting officer, Captain James S. Tomkins. Eddie’s spirits plum-meted, however, when he learned that Congress had recently increased the term of The option of joining the army now seemed less appealing, and, having ...

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2: “His Throat Was Cut from Ear to Ear” January–April 1870

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pp. 35-71

By this time, Matthews had made a fairly comfortable adjustment to army life, even though he was already counting the days he had served. He liked most of the men in his company, which was somewhat unusual considering some of the hard cases who found their way into the ranks in those days, yet he had little respect for most of the officers. He was nevertheless making the best of his ...

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3: “Wind, Wind, and Sand All the Time” May-December 1870

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pp. 72-124

Upon the arrival of the Eighth Cavalry in New Mexico Territory, two companies, including Eddie’s, drew a comparatively plum assignment at Fort Union, with the remainder of the companies parceled out among smaller stations ranging from Fort Garland, in southern Colorado, to Forts Craig and Selden, far to the south along the Rio Grande. Others found a new home at Fort Stanton, in ...

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4: “We Only Shot to Scare Them” January–December 1871

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pp. 125-146

Having dined on field rations to celebrate Christmas, Matthews was only too happy to return to the comparative comforts of Fort Union and routine duty. He had clearly become a veteran soldier by this time, having mastered the art of bucking for orderly at morning guard mounting. Taking such an honor required much time and effort beforehand to ensure that his buttons and other brasses ...

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5: “Have Had All the Indian Fighting I Wish” January–December 1872

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pp. 147-192

Matthews’s demotion to private apparently had no lasting effect on his reputation. At frontier posts where recreational opportunities were few, many soldiers drank, often to excess, to offset boredom. Eddie’s abilities, personality, and soldierly bearing worked to his advantage, for the very day following his reduction, Gregg detailed him as a clerk in the regimental headquarters at...

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6: “Soldiers Are Not Given to Shedding Tears” January–June 1873

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pp. 193-241

Sometime after returning from the scout on the Staked Plains, Matthews was again promoted to the rank of quartermaster sergeant and was obviously con-tent to resume garrison duty. The lack of mail from home, however, continued to annoy and depress him, even though he apparently had not communicated with his family since shortly after the expedition concluded. Frigid winter weather restricted ...

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7: “I Shall Never Soldier Again” July–December 1873

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pp. 242-297

Summer at dreary Fort Bascom seemed to pass agonizingly slowly for Matthews as he endured the oppressive heat of New Mexico’s eastern plains, com-batted swarms of flies that stuck to the body “like wax,” and contended with the never-ending paperwork incumbent upon a quartermaster sergeant. The mails, delivered irregularly to the summer camp via Fort Union, offered the only ...

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8: “Every Day Is One Less for Me to Serve” January–March 1874

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pp. 298-336

By the beginning of 1874, disparate events were afoot in Kansas that would directly impact the remote Staked Plains that Eddie Matthews had traversed during Gregg’s reconnaissance two years earlier. For several years following the Civil War, large herds of longhorn cattle had been driven from central Texas up the Chisholm Trail to end-of-track shipping points on the new Kansas Pacific ...

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9: “When Eddie Comes Marching Home” April–August 1874

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pp. 337-392

In the spring of 1874, a group of enterprising Dodge City merchants, aware that the buffalo hunting grounds were shifting southward as the number of animals steadily declined in Kansas, seized upon a bold plan to establish a trading post on the Canadian River, thereby staking an early claim both on the hide business and supplying the hunters. The place they chose was well known as Adobe ...

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pp. 393-399

If I was only out of this miserable mob and home they would never catch me in it again,” Eddie Matthews once swore. For a man who found army life so distasteful and had so eagerly anticipated the day of his discharge, he would seem the most unlikely of candidates to ever again don army blue. Yet, At the age of twenty-seven, after being out of the service for more than ...

Abbreviations Used in This Volume

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pp. 400-419


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pp. 401-408


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pp. 409-414

Back Cover

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pp. 434-434

E-ISBN-13: 9780826352286
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826352262

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 831119158
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Frontier Cavalry Trooper

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Subject Headings

  • Matthews, Eddie (William Edward) 1851-1932 -- Correspondence.
  • Fort Union (N.M.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Indians of North America -- Wars -- 1815-1875 -- Biography.
  • United States. Army. Cavalry Regiment, 8th -- Biography.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Correspondence.
  • United States. Army. -- Military life.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- New Mexico.
  • New Mexico -- History, Military -- 19th century.
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