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Unit 3: Set 6: Section 1: Scurvy in the Frontier Army - Surgeon Reports

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Introduction | Reports

p. xxxii. “When a man enlists as a soldier it is with the understanding, expressed or implied, that as his food, clothing, and dwelling place are to be regulated by others, they shall be selected, so far as possible, with reference to his health and comfort.”

Department of Dakota

Fort Abercrombie: Assistant Surgeon W. H. Gardner.
p. 376. [The post has experienced a] “remarkable immunity from disease. . . . Scurvy has prevailed to some extent, owing to a want of care in providing the troops here with sufficient vegetable diet.. . . The Indians about here use in their diet a tuber like the artichoke, called Indian turnip, wild plums, and also cranberries and gooseberries, in the seasons when they are ripe, but these fruits are inconstant, and make but a small portion of their diet.”
1868: scurvy cases 1
1869: scurvy cases 0

Fort Wadsworth: Report of Assistant Surgeon B. Knickerbocker.
p. 379. “The gardens are three in number, and distant over a half mile from the post. That belonging to the hospital contains a little over seven acres, which was under cultivation last season. The officers’ garden is located east from the post, and embraces about two acres. The company garden yielded last year 350 bushes of potatoes.”

Ft. Ransom: Report of Assistant Surgeon C. E. Munn.
p. 382. “There are 8 acres of land at this post appropriated for garden purposes, each company cultivating about three acres, and the remainder giving gardens to the hospital and officers. Some potatoes have been raised, but the main crop of vegetables has been destroyed by grasshoppers, which come in clouds from the northwest, and in a few hours destroy the entire garden.”

Fort Totten: Report of Acting Assistant Surgeon J. F. Boughter.
p. 384. “Each company has a kitchen and mess-room in the rear of the barracks. . . .
The route of supply is, at present, by the Missouri River to Fort Stevenson, thence by wagon road. The river route is cheaper . . . [but] not enough to pay the risk of loss on the river, together with the damage and wastage, which are great. . . . Twelve months’ supply is usually kept on hand at the post.”
1869: scurvy cases 4

Fort Rice: Report of Assistant Surgeon Washington Matthews.
p. 394. “During the first years, scurvy was a formidable malady, destroying many lives, and otherwise seriously reducing the efficiency of the garrison; but since the commissary has been better supplied the disease has almost entirely disappeared.”
1868: scurvy cases 3
1869: scurvy cases 2

Fort Stevenson: Report of Assistant Surgeon Washington Matthews.
p. 395. “Gen. Sully’s third northwestern Indian expedition arrived, on its return march, at Berthold, August 8, 1865, and here Gen. Sully issued an order directing the evacuation of Ft. Union at the mouth of the Yellowstone. The evacuation was completed on the 31srt of August and from this time until the establishment of Fort Buford, in 1866, Berthold was the most extreme garrison in the valley of the upper Missouri.
The troops consequently suffered from scurvy. No death from disease is known to have ever occurred among any troops at Berthold. On the 14th of June 1867, the troops moved from Ft. Berthold to a point 17 miles further east, where a post at that time, designated as “New Fort Berthold,” was about to be established. Ft. Berthold was never owned by the Government, nor as far as I am able to learn was any rent ever paid for it. The use of it was given by the agent of the Northwest Fur Company, who erected offices, quarters, and warehouses for himself outside of the fort, which he occupied as long as the military remained.

p. 396. During the summer of 1867, the Sioux made three raids on the camp in force, and one attack in a small party. The troops were compelled to labor very hard after the building of the post was commenced, and as their food was deficient in variety, and being lodged in tents during the severest weather, they suffered greatly in health. Acute dysentery was the first prevailing disease. This reached its height in September 1867, when there were some fifty five cases on the report, besides a number of mild attacks not recorded. After this scurvy prevailed. This reached its height in April 1868, during which month there were sixty-one cases reported among the enlisted men alone, besides some forty or fifty able to perform light or partial duty, whose names were not taken upon the sick-list. The scorbutic taint was, however, even more widespread than these number would seem to indicate. The men were prone to contract diseases, slow to recover, and little able to bear their hard labors and the rigors of the climate; frost-bites were common. The troops were not completely housed until January 3, 1868.”

p. 399. “On the bottoms near the mouth of Douglas Creek, about three-quarters of a mile from the post, an irregularly shaped piece of ground, containing between four and five acres, was cultivated as a post garden. Irrigation by hand was practiced during the dry season. Peas, beans, and lettuce grew well; cabbages and potatoes, being later in season, were eaten up by the grasshoppers before maturity. There are no hospital nor officers’ gardens.”

p. 399. “Slight scorbutic symptoms have again manifested themselves this winter, but they are readily dispelled.”
1868: scurvy cases 79
1869: scurvy cases 5

Fort Buford: Report by Assistant Surgeon J. P. Kimball.
p. 403. “Gardens are cultivated, producing lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and green corn in sufficient amount to furnish a fair supply to the entire garrison during the season; also a limited amount of green peas, cabbages, turnips, and beets. Tomatoes have not done well, the season being too short. Potatoes have proved a failure during the last two years, producing nothing but tops. The corn raised is a variety cultivated by the Ree [Arikara] Indians, which comes quickly to maturity.”
“Rations, procurable from the commissary, are of good quality and sufficient in quantity. During the fall of 1868, and the winter of 1868 – 69, after the supply of vegetables from the garden was exhausted, the following articles of food, in addition to the regular ration issued from the commissary department, in the quantities stated, were found effectual in preventing scurvy and maintaining the command in excellent health, viz; Per 100 rations, ten pounds of dried fruit and five gallons of krout [sic] or curried cabbage twice a week; one gallon of molasses, twenty-five pounds of corn meal, and two and one-half gallons of pickles once a week.”
1868: Scurvy cases: 33
1869: no scurvy

1874 Department of Dakota:

Fort Abercrombie: Surgeon W. H. Gardner, U.S.A.
p. 390. “Scurvy has prevailed to some extent, owing to a want of care in providing the troops here with sufficient vegetable diet.”

p. 391. “During the past year the production of the ordinary culinary vegetables supplied the wants of the garrison and left a sufficient surplus for winter use. A large root-house was in course of construction at the date of the latest information.”

Fort Abraham Lincoln: Surgeon James F. Weeds, and Acting Assistant surgeon J. Frazer Boughter.
p. 393. “The cellars of [the infantry barracks] are small and not frost proof.”

Fort Buford: Assistant Surgeons J. P. Kimball and J. V. D. Middleton.
p. 401. “Under each commissary storehouse is a cellar for the storage of vegetables, etc. A good supply is kept on hand for issue and for sale to officers. In the fall of 1873, a supply of potatoes was received sufficient to last until the opening of navigation in the spring. In favorable years, the post garden affords a valuable accession to the supply of fresh vegetables.”

Fort Pembina: Assistant Surgeon Ezra Woodruff.
p. 416. “A plat of 8 acres in extent, lying southeast of the post, has been inclosed with a rail-fence and plowed for a post garden. This piece of ground, owing to unskillful management, has yet produced but little. A smaller tract has also been cultivated the principal products have been potatoes, onions, beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, green peas, and beans. The supply has never been sufficient for the wants of the garrison. A hospital garden was to be commenced in 1874. There are no officers’ gardens. Summer vegetables can be procured in limited quantities from the settlers in the vicinty.

Fort Rice: Assistant Surgeon J. W. Williams.
p. 424. “During the first years of occupancy, scurvy was a formidable malady, and destroyed many lives. The “scorbutic taint” has never been absent until this year, when the daily allotment of vegetables is set at one pound per man. The intimate relation of the vegetable allowance to the percentage of sick at this post is instructive. In 1871, daily allowance of fresh vegetables per man, 9 ounces; annual per cent of sick, 261. In 1872, daily allowance of fresh vegetables per man, 12 ounces; annual per cent of sick, 188. In 1873, daily allowance of fresh vegetables per man, 16 ounces; annual per cent of sick, 108.”

Fort Seward: Acting Assistant Surgeon E. W. Du Bose.
p. 427 “On the bottoms west of the James River, about one-fourth of the mile from the post, a piece of ground, containing about eight acres, has been inclosed for post and hospital gardens, The soil is good, and produces beets, beans, cabbages, corn, lettuce, onions, pease, parsnips, potatoes, and turnips.”

Fort Stevenson: Assistant Surgeon Washington Matthews.
p. 438. “For agricultural purposes only the lower lands seem to be available, but without irrigation none but the hardier vegetables will thrive. In most seasons, and when grasshoppers are not as abundant as usual, careful husbandry may be rewarded by fair produce. At Fort Berthold, and other point in this neighborhood, the Indians have raised on the bottoms of the river, without irrigation, corn, squashes, and beans, with varying success for probably more than a century.”

p. 440. “On the bottoms, near the mouth of Douglas Creek, about three-quarters of a mile from the post, an irregularly shaped piece of ground, containing between four and five acres, is cultivated as a post garden. Irrigation by hand is practiced during the dry season. Pease, beans, and lettuce grow well. Potatoes and onions are produced in quantities sufficient to last the command the greater portion of the year; turnips, beets, cabbages, are raised in less quantities. . . . The hospital is supplied with vegetables from the post garden.”
Scurvy appeared rarely and only as a secondary disease to another.

Fort Totten: Acting Assistant Surgeon James B. Ferguson.
p. 448. “Post gardens have been cultivated for the past three or four years. Potatoes and other roots crops grow well; also onions, pease, beans, cabbage, corn, etc. . . . The only apparent drawback to agriculture in this region, so far as observed, is the destruction caused by countless hordes of grasshoppers, which make their appearance about midsummer every two or three years, and destroy every green thing above ground. .
. . . “Butter, eggs, fresh vegetables, etc, for winter use, cannot be purchased here, and are usually procured from either Saint Paul or from some of the small towns on the railroad, as Fargo, etc.

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