Lifestyles Along the Border

The one thing that absorbed the thoughts of the Huachuca soldier more than any other was his pay.


As small as the amount was, it alone meant freedom from the confines of Army routine. It enabled him to afford the temptations of the community outside the reservation, to dream of parlaying his pitiful salary into an inconceivable fortune at the barracks craps or card games, or to carefully set aside a few dollars month after month to eventually claim some worthwhile stake in life. It was the reward, no matter how modest, for sweating out the rigors of a soldier's days on the Southwestern frontier.

May 1908 legislation enacted a new pay schedule which gave a private $15 per month, a cavalry sergeant $30, a first sergeant $45, a second lieutenant $1,700 per year, a captain $2,400, a colonel $4,000, and a lieutenant general $11,000 annually.

The 1916 Defense Act gave all enlisted men a raise; $15 per month for those who made less than $24 a month, $12 for those who made $24 monthly, an $8 increase for those who made between $31 and $40, and a $6 raise for those who made $45 or more. So a private now made $1 a day.

In 1920 Congress granted another pay raise, about 20 percent for enlisted men, with annual increases for officers amounting to $600 for colonels and lieutenant colonels, $840 for majors, $720 for captains, $600 for first lieutenants, and $420 for second lieutenants.

In 1920 new pay grades were created. Enlisted men were graded from one, at $74 per month, to seven, at $30 per month. For each five years of service, they received an additional 10 percent until they reached a ceiling of 40 percent. There were six different classes of specialist ratings within grades six and seven and these ratings could bring from an additional $3 to $25 monthly.(25)

After the 1929 Depression, Army pay was reduced by 8.33 percent by mandating a payless furlough, and again in 1933 by 15 percent across the board.

George Looney, both a dependent and soldier at Huachuca in the 1930s, recalled: "In the summer teenagers earned $25.00 a month doing KP for the soldiers who would rather pay than do the job themselves. The soldiers' salaries were $19.00 a month. At the end of the summer the kids had $75.00 and they had been kept occupied."(26)

Headquarters Detachment, 2d Battalion, 25th Infantry.

Second Lieutenant John B. Brooks remembered some of the perks an officer received and some of the extra pay that might be earned by an enlisted man in 1914.

A principal mount, at a cost through remount, of $151.10. Allowance for two horses, first mount; second mount, a polo pony. Forage furnished by the government.

Allowance of $150 for the first horse, $50.00 for the second horse, total $200 per annum.

An orderly excused from most formations, $5.00 per month to take care of one horse; $7.50 for two.

A striker to take care of equipment at $5.00 per month. Mostly two orderlies each. The striker served table and his wife acted as a cook.

Lucious Smith was recommended for Medal of Honor as a result of having carried a badly wounded officer off the field at San Juan Hill under heavy enemy fire. The recommendation for Medal of Honor was not favorably considered by the War Department, but in lieu thereof they issued a Certificate of Merit, the equivalent of the present Soldier's Medal. This resulted in $2.00 per month extra pay.

... The private got $15 per month and every month 20 cents was taken away for the support of the Soldiers' Home. He got a net of $14.80, and then there were no privates first class in those days. An increased pay scale would come to the wagoner, each troop had one wagoner and he drew $18 per month. Then the next was the farrier. He was a very important man in a troop because the horses were constantly kicking each other and he had to look after all breaks and bruises and of course, they had two regimental veterinarians, but every troop had a farrier and he got $21 a month. They also had a horseshoer and he got the same pay as a farrier. Then the corporal got $24, as I recall it, and the sergeant got $30 and the cook-they had a rating of cook, and a man could retire on that rating, as cook he got the same pay as a sergeant. Of course, this was all subject to the regular longevity increases. Then the First Sergeant, who was the highest paid enlisted man in the troop, got $45 a month.

Sergeant Hamilton had $14,000 on deposit with the Quartermaster. ..I of course wouldn't ask Sgt. Hamilton about it because it wasn't any of my business but I waited until Capt. Rutherford was well and I remarked about. this. "Oh, yes," he said, "Hamilton used to be one of the best gamblers in the regiment. About six years ago when he was made First Sergeant, I called him in and told him I wanted to make him First Sergeant, but if he was going to continue his gambling with the men, I couldn't have him as First Sergeant. So he said he would give up his gambling, and I think he was glad because he was afraid he might lose this stake. You see they were all laying for him."(27)

If the soldier's pay was the most consuming of his concerns at the isolated post on the Mexican border, it was also, ironically, his least consideration when joining up. With the pay scales in the U.S. Army historically lower than the lowest economic rungs of civilian society, no soldier ever enlisted with the idea of getting rich. If money was important to the soldier, it was precisely so because he had so little of it. Financial motivations did not play much of a part in the trooper's decision to make sacrifice a way of life.

Reasons for Joining

The campaigns and battles of the American Army have undeniably changed the course of history.But the Army has had a profound influence upon American society, beyond providing for the common defense. More than any other American institution, it has touched the lives of citizens throughout history in an indelible way.

Pvt. Tom Prowl with his horse.
Photo courtesy Prowl Collection,
Fort Huachuca Museum

According to Peter Karsten in his book Soldiers and Society, military service has come to be a common experience in America with "nearly half of its households headed by veterans." What was the effect of that experience on these veterans? "It imparted greater self-confidence, self-control, and understanding to some; it broadened the horizons and opportunities of others; it cosmopolitanized certain localists." It stabilized some felons paroled into the military. It made other soldiers politically aware. It provided minority groups a greater degree of acculturation to the Anglo's system and increased their chances to move up in that system. The G.I. Bill educated many and the Veterans Administration provided loans and free health care services.

"Although the effects of military service on the lives of those who served are complex and often partially dependent on preservice values and experiences, it is still fair to say that the years in uniform were, for many, the most interesting years of their lives, and consequently it is not surprising that about one in every five joins a veterans' organization and attends various veterans' outings, Memorial Day ceremonies, and reunions."(28)

Why do men and women come into the Army? Some don't have much choice. They were conscripted under the Selective Service Act. Draftees made some of the best soldiers. Also some of the worst. The question is intended here to be asked of volunteers. It is they who have chosen the life of the soldier. Why?

The answers are several according to Karsten. A sense of duty to country plays a part in choosing military service, but patriotism is probably the least considered factor in electing a military career. Some enlistees are influenced by family and friends. This reason is present when family members have chosen a military career or when peers have enlisted. Others have the need to put their manhood to the test. This category Karsten calls "self-challenge," and this is often the reason for choosing an elite arm of the service. Closely related to the self-challenge motivation is the search for adventure. The pursuit of glory has been a dominant theme in deciding to pursue a military career. Far outweighing patriotism as a reason for enlisting was the need to find security. Surveys made in the 1960s showed that most high school seniors were looking to the Army to provide socio-economic opportunities or career training. For many minority groups the Army offered social mobility. Some blacks perceived the Army as a way out of the ghetto and a means to establish a place for themselves in American society.(29)

Recruiting Office, U.S. Army, 1898, William Allen Rogers.

Vance Marchbanks, who first enlisted in 1895, claimed "the soldier bug" had gotten into his blood as a small boy, so when he was 19 and thought that his parents, well off farmers, could do without him, he took his "chances with an unknown world." He said, "I wanted to learn and was not satisfied just to grow up in the backwoods of Tennessee."(30)

For James Clark, the 16-year-old son of a slave, who joined in 1918, the Army was "the best place I could find a position. ... Jobs were hard to find, especially for blacks." The 30-year veteran said, "If I had to do it all over again, I would choose an Army career.(31)

Despite the drawbacks of military life, low pay, separations from family, unrelenting discipline, and possibly a warrior's death, few regretted their choice of careers and the sense of accomplishment that accompanied them. Like Sergeant James Clark, most would readily do it all over again.

George Looney describes his enlistment in the 1930s:

When I finished high school I had hoped to go to college and study music, but circumstances necessitated my getting a job to help support the family. Not prepared for anything in particular but well acquainted with the Army, I chose to enlist. The only hitch was no black could join the Army unless one was leaving; there was a strict quota system in operation. Luckily one of the buglers went permanently AWOL and I was allowed to join the Infantry at Fort Huachuca. I wanted to join the band but the older fellows advised against this if I hoped to move up in the ranks. They pointed out that the band was a one-way street; promotions and advancements did not exist. Since my instrument was a trumpet, they suggested I become a bugler. I would still be able to play my horn but would be a regular Infantryman. I took their advice. Being able to carry a forty-five instead of a rifle impressed me. Besides, buglers did not have to work details in the afternoon; they withdrew to the drill field and practiced.(32)


25. Ganoe, William A., Histofy of the United States Army, Appleton-Century, NY, 1924, 432, 464, 478, 480.

26. Motley, Mary Penick, The Invisible Soldier: The Experience of the Black Soldier in World War II, Wayne State University Press, 1975, p.79.

27. Brooks interview in Fort Huachuca Museum files.

28. Karsten, Peter, Soldiers and Society, Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., 1978, 35.

29. Karsten, 18.

30 .Marchbanks mss.

31. Clark, Master Sergeant James, videotaped interview with Specialist
Four Paul Moake, 1985, copy in Fort Huachuca Museum files.

32. Penick, 80-1.

8. The Situation in Mexico

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