During the 1860s and 70s, the frontier forts resembled little more than rundown villages, and the enlisted men’s barracks were often poorly ventilated, insect infested hovels. The only bathing facilities usually consisted of the local creek. As a result, diseases such as dysentery, bronchitis, and tuberculosis were a common problem. Rations throughout the Indian campaigns consisted mainly of beef or bacon, potatoes, beans, fresh vegetables from the post garden, and sometimes fruit or jam.
The work week was seven days, with the exception of the fourth of July and Christmas. The monthly pay for a private was a mere $13. When available, many of the African-American troops spent leisure hours in schools established to alleviate the illiteracy mandated by slavery. The schools were normally run by chaplains assigned to the Black units, for this purpose. Other leisure activities were few, especially for the African-American troops stationed in west Texas.
Only a small percentage of enlisted men were able to bring their wives with them to the frontier posts. The small villages which grew up around the forts were usually little more than a collection of saloons and gambling parlors, inhabited by some of the more unsavory characters on the frontier. Here, partially due to the federal government’s harsh reconstruction policies, racial prejudice by both local citizens and law officers was severe. When disputes arose among Buffalo Soldiers and locals, the local law and juries consistently sided against the troops.
The most serious problem faced by the Army during the Indian War period was desertion. In 1868, the desertion rate for enlisted personnel was approximately 25 percent. Desertions among White regiments were roughly three times greater than those among Black units. Also, both African-American cavalry and infantry regiments had lower rates of alcoholism than their White counterparts. While in the field, both the troopers and their horses faced not only hostile Indians and outlaws, but also extended patrols of up to six months and covering more than 1,000 miles.
Adding to their ordeal was the scarcity of water and the extremes of weather common to the southwest.