Percival G. Lowe wrote a book titled, “Five Years a Dragoon” in which he details his life as a dragoon recruit and as a civilian. Lowe provides insight on what life was like during the period between the Mexican War and Civil War when the frontier army’s focus was establishing itself in the largely uncharted West.
Formation of the Dragoons
The need for a mounted force to protect trade with Mexico became apparent during the first escort duties in 1829. The Infantry was not mobile enough to succeed in this duty. Many travelers and traders, along with Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton petitioned Congress to raise a mounted force. The Mounted Rangers was a volunteer force formed whose members provided their own horses and firearms, but it was short lived. In 1833, the Mounted Rangers were disbanded and Congress authorized the formation of the First Regiment of Dragoons. The first official Santa Fe Trail escort duty was in 1834 when Captain Clifton Wharton, commander of Company A was ordered to join the Santa Fe caravan. A second regiment of Dragoons was raised in 1836 and served in the Seminole Wars in Florida. In 1861 the two regiments of Dragoons were re-designated as the 1st and 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
In the late 1840s Fort Leavenworth took on the additional role of a supply depot. The post’s location along the river made it ideal to receive supplies from the east and then ship them overland by wagon to posts further west. Both Army supply wagons and contractor wagons were used to deliver supplies.