The Wild West: Archaeological and Historical Investigations of Victorian Culture on the Frontier at Fort Laramie, WY (1849-1890)

Homsley Grave west of Fort Laramie

Publication: University of Arizona

Author: Sarah Wolff

Date of Publication: 2016

PDF File: The_wild_west_Archaeological_.pdf


This dissertation addresses how Victorian class hierarchy persisted on the frontier, and manifested in aspects of military life at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Historians have argued that Victorian culture was omnipresent, but forts were located on the frontier, which was removed from the cultural core. While social status differences were a central aspect of Victorian culture, few studies have investigated how resilient class divisions were in differing landscapes. The U.S. western frontier was a landscape of conflict, and under the continual stress of potential violence, it is possible that Victorian social status differences weakened. While status differences in the military were primarily signaled through rank insignia and uniforms, this research focuses on subtle everyday inequalities, such as diet and pet dogs. Three independent lines of evidence from Fort Laramie, Wyoming (1849–1890) suggest that Victorian social status differences did persist despite the location. The Rustic Hotel (18761890), a private hotel at Fort Laramie, served standardized Victorian hotel dishes, which could be found in urban upper-class hotels. Within the military, the upper-class officers dined on the best cuts of beef, hunted prestige game birds, and supplemented their diet with sauger/walleye fish. Enlisted men consumed poorer cuts of beef, hunted smaller game mammals, and caught catfish. Officers also owned well-bred hunting dogs, which were integrated into the family. In contrast, a company of enlisted men frequently adopted a communal mongrel as a pet. This project increases our knowledge of the everyday life on the frontier and social relationships between officers and enlisted men in the U.S. Army. It also contributes to a larger understanding of Victorian culture class differences in frontier regions.