Saturday, April 8, 2017

Daily Life at a Frontier Army Post: Fort Tejon, California

Present-day Fort Tejon

Most of us don't associate either frontier army forts or the Civil War with California, land of Hollywood and palm trees. But Fort Tejon, located near present-day Bakersfield, was a frontier post for the United States Army during the 1850s and again for about a year during the Civil War.

I introduced Fort Tejon when I guest-posted here for Marilyn Turk a couple of years ago. Now that I've been blessed to officially join this team of wonderful writers (hi, everyone!), I thought it would be fun to dig a bit deeper into what daily life was like for soldiers stationed at this frontier fort.

At Fort Tejon, while the purpose of a military presence was ostensibly to guard against hostilities between Native peoples and white settlers, the soldiers didn't really do much fighting. They spent a lot more time drilling, as we can see in a snippet from a typical daily routine from the 1850s. After a lengthy morning prep routine beginning at 5:30 am, the soldiers had this to look forward to:

8:50 am: Guard Mounting, Assembly of Trumpeters

8:55 am: Guard Mounting, Assembly of Guard Detail

9:00 am: Guard Mounting, Adjutant's Call

9:15 am: Watering Call (for the horses)

9:55 am: Drill, First Call

10:00 am: Drill, Assembly

11:00 am: Recall from Drill

11:30 am: Recall from Fatigue

Reenactors drilling at Fort Tejon today

Then dinner (lunch), and the calls and drills started all over again!

The soldiers were often put to work when they weren't drilling, especially during the 1863-64 time frame, repairing buildings damaged in the 1857 earthquake or performing other manual labor.

Doesn't sound too glorious, does it? And indeed, the soldiers did get bored, as we learn from their journals and a couple of letters published in a local newspaper. One soldier lamented the lack of a local brothel, while others wrote scathing complaints against their commanding officers, like these published in the Visalia Delta in May, 1864:

One soldier lamented,

"Many, and we believe a large majority of the citizen soldiers serving their country here in California...are men of intelligence, men of keen sensibilities, who when they enrolled their names held, as it were, their warm pulsating hearts, for Union and Liberty...and now, to be spat upon, made scullions of; mere 'hewers of wood and drawers of water,' to gratify the whim, caprice or malice of men every way their inferiors, except in military grade and the social position growing out of it, is a leetle more than the most amiable can bear."

And another, calling himself by the ambitious pen name "Veretas," gave this grumbling account:

"As regards the garrison here, I cannot do otherwise than state that matters are about as bad as they well can be....The present officers of this batalion always have been bad enough, God knows, but for the last month or two they have been worse than ever before. I cannot account for this state of things otherwise than that they are endeavoring to get revenge upon the men for their refusal to re-enlist which they did to a man, simply because they did not like thier officers..."

Fort Tejon historical landmark

Historians now consider these largely the frustrated complaints of young men who were bored, eager to leave the army, and resentful of being put to work. I confess I find these writings a bit amusing, but at the time, the frustrations and tensions were very real. Interesting how time and distance change our perspective, isn't it?

So how do you imagine life at a frontier army fort? Did any of these tidbits surprise you? Please comment and share!

Kiersti Giron holds a life-long passion for history and historical fiction. She loves to write stories that show the intersection of past and present, explore relationships that bridge cultural divides, and probe the healing Jesus can bring out of brokenness. Kiersti has been published in several magazines and won the 2013 ACFW Genesis Award - Historical for her manuscript Beneath a Turquoise Sky. She is currently revising her third novel manuscript, a Civil War story set at Fort Tejon in frontier California. A high school teacher and member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kiersti loves learning and growing with other writers penning God's story into theirs, as well as blogging at She lives in California with her wonderful husband, Anthony.


  1. Intriguing post. I'm sure their life at the frontier army posts was rigid and not the norm for the young men. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing, Marilyn! It's certainly been intriguing for me to learn more about these men and their lives 150 years ago. Blessings to you

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Welcome, Kiersti! Thanks for the fun post--a few years ago I attended a Fourth of July event at Ft. Tejon. So much fun for the whole family!

    1. How lovely to hear from you, Susie! And thank you for the warm welcome. What fun that your family has actually been to Fort Tejon--I don't meet many people who've even heard of it! Their Fourth of July celebration sounds like lots of fun. Thanks for sharing! :)