Monday, 6 October 2014

Nothing to but drink 7th cavalry

The life of a frontier soldier in the American West involved more combat with boredom than forays against hostile tribesmen. Troopers adopted a variety of healthy ways to while away the endless hours of routine garrison duty, but for those with an inclination for alcohol abuse, whiskey offered an easy escape.
In the case of Lt. Lovell Hall Jerome, accounts of heavy drinking are evident in many parts of his service record. Jerome’s 1875 report of the “battle” of Blackfoot Pass brings to light his possible skirmish with the bottle rather than braves.
Born on August 6, 1849, into a wealthy New York family, Jerome grew up enjoying a life of ease. In addition to money, the Jeromes also had tremendous political influence. Some family members became especially prominent, such as his cousin Jennie, who married Lord Randolph Churchill and became mother to future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As a member of such a privileged family, Jerome gained a coveted appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in 1866. We can only guess if he began his apprenticeship as a heavy drinker at West Point, but after Jerome’s graduation in 1870, he certainly began his lifelong battle with booze.
Jerome received his commission as a second lieutenant and orders to join the 2nd U.S. Cavalry at Fort Ellis in Montana Territory along with classmates Charles B. Schofield and Edward J. McClernand. En route to their various assignments, many of the 1870 graduates passed through Omaha barracks in Nebraska. The three Montana-bound shavetails also stopped at the garrison where, in McClernand’s words, the “hospitality...for our preceding classmates continued to flow in our honor, and the post was indeed a merry place.”
The new officers consumed so much of the liquid cheer that they delayed their departure for days. The commanding officer had to order them to leave.
The military had established Fort Ellis in 1867 as a response to settlers’ imagined fears of an Indian invasion. Although the nearby hamlet of Bozeman never experienced an Indian attack, residents harped on the danger while also cheerfully selling whiskey to the idle soldiers every payday. Troopers didn’t even need to ride to town because the post sutler offered refreshment in a barroom inside the fort.
Peter Koch, the sutler’s clerk, described the situation as Jerome found it: “It is inspection day at the fort today, and the officers are here now on that duty, inspecting a few bottles of Champagne and some cigars, which is altogether one of their most important duties every day. They have never anything to do, except when officer of the day, drilling is something unknown, and consequently they have to drink whisky and play cards to kill time.”
Jerome’s defeats in his skirmishes with liquor are well documented. While on leave in 1872, he made New Year’s Eve visits to more than 100 New York City families and, according to a later newspaper interview, “does not remember if he took a drink at every house he visited, but thinks it very likely.”
Like most alcoholics in the 19th century, Jerome tried to fight alone what he perceived as a weakness, once reflecting that “as the habits of dissipation...grew upon me, my associates dropped off.”
Trying to hide the effects of his drinking from his superiors, and the cost of it from his father, became increasingly difficult for Jerome. Bozeman resident William W. Alderson recalled a bartender once confronted Jerome with a liquor bill that exceeded $500 and threatened to send the bill to the lieutenant’s father. After Jerome begged the man to send it to his mother instead, the invoice was quietly paid.
Desperate for money on another occasion, Jerome turned to gambling with humiliating results. He was slapped and kicked by an outraged Bozeman faro dealer when he discovered the young wastrel lacked the money to back any of his bets.

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