Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Walk-a-Heaps- Infantry Soldiers of the Frontier Wars by Zina Abbott


In the old Western movies, and even among the Western novels, including romances, the cavalry are the glory guys. On their trusty steeds, they come riding to the rescue, guns blazing. Most unfamiliar with the weapons used by various military groups think they shot rifles. 

By the end of the American Civil War, repeating long guns had been invented. One tended to be rifles--longer barrels which allowed for greater accuracy at longer distances. The other was carbines--shorter barrels which could more easily be handled, aimed, and fired while riding on an equine. Cavalry carried carbines.

The truth was, the infantry were the mainstay of the U.S. Army during the frontier Indian Wars era. 


Cavalry soldiers in campaign dress

What distinguished them from the cavalry was, they fought with the longer-barreled rifles, not carbines. Rifles were unwieldy weapons when fired from horseback. However, when the soldiers on the ground fired rifles, they were able to shoot targets at a greater distance and with far more accurately than any soldier--mounted or on the ground--firing a carbine.

An example was the Rosebud Campaign in 1876. When the cavalry fled one ridge because the Natives threatened to overwhelm them, they were forced across a ravine held by the enemy. It was the infantry soldiers with the accuracy provided by their long rifle barrels, who were positioned on the destination ridge, who prevented a greater loss of cavalry life than would have happened otherwise.

Infantry soldiers in campaign dress

Some infantrymen, like the soldier on the horse in the above image, were mounted infantry. They rode horses or mules to get from point A to point B. However, because they carried and fought with the longer barreled, more unwieldy rifles, they dismounted and shot while on the ground. Infantry soldiers also often traveled in wagons or ambulances when crossing long distances.

Infantry soldiers carrying full campaign gear

Mostly, infantry soldiers walked. They were required to carry everything they might need for severals days of survival on their bodies. Because of this, the Plains Tribes called the infantry soldiers Walk-a-Heaps. (or Walks-a-Heap / Walk-a-Heap)

One might think that cavalry soldiers could cover more ground more quickly. If covering a longer distance, the cavalry mounts required extra fodder over and above what they could graze on the Great Plains. Also, the horses needed to be rested. Often, although cavalry units could out-distance infantry soldiers in the short-term, well-seasoned companies of infantry soldiers marching on foot often caught up with, and maybe passed, cavalry troops.


Infantry soldiers in campaign dress

Here is an image of infantrymen and their gear. The kneeling soldier looks most like Asher Henderson, my hero in Florence's Good Deed, in both appearance and attitude when confronting conflict.


I have written western romance novels with cavalry officers as heroes. However, for both Elise and Florence's Good Deed (and a future book, yet unrevealed), I chose infantry soldiers. To find the book description and purchase options for Florence's Good Deed, please CLICK HERE

In my most recent book, Lucy, released today, the main characters also did a lot of walking a heap across the plains and deserts of the California Trail, the Central Overland Route, and the Central Overland Trail.

To find the book description and purchase options for Lucy, which is Book 46 in the Prairie Roses Collection, please CLICK HERE

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