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PATTERN 1876 US ARMY MOUNTED TROOPER’S BOOTS –– STAMPED “US QMD” - A VERY RARE PAIR IN SOLID CONDITION:  This matched pair of US Army Pattern 1876 Boots were worn by the mounted enlisted men during the height of the Indian War period, and have the added value of being stamped with a legible “US QMD” stamp, indicating they were produced within the army’s internal manufacturing system as opposed to being made by a civil manufacturer under contract.  This set presents as having been together forever, as if the trooper just kicked them off at the end of the day.  And, I suspect that is exactly what happened.  He finished his final enlistment and packed the boots away.   

In his seminal work, Boots and Shoes of the Frontier Soldier, Sidney Brinckerhoff provides a detailed study of the evolution of the post-Civil War cavalry boot.  After only four years in service, the design of the Pattern 1872 Boot was reviewed by the 1876 Uniform Board and minor changes to the pattern were ordered.  In response to requests from the soldiers who wore them, the boot front was increased from 15” to 15 ½” high, and the circumference of the leg of the boot was increased to more readily accommodate the trouser leg inside the boot top.  Compared side by each, the leg of the Pattern 1876 Boot is noticeably larger than that of the Pattern 1872 Boot.   

Although the tops of this pair of boots have relaxed due to being worn, and the leather has formed the characteristic “wrinkles” around the ankle, when the leather is expanded to its full height, the boot fronts measure the proper 15 ½” high. 

Brinckerhoff goes on to document that in 1874 Congress created the Military Prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and that the same law specifically provided for the production of Army footwear by prison labor.  The boots and shoes produced at the prison were marked “USQMD” and “MP”, however examples have been noted which do not bear both stamps on the same boot or shoe, or even in combination on a pair.  The left boot of this pair is legibly stamped “USQMD” on the inside of the front top, indicating “U.S. Quarter Master Department”. 

This presence of this stamp and the dimensions of the boots, serve to firmly identify this pair as Pattern 1876 Boots produced by the army, rather than by a civilian contractor.  As a significant number of the civilian-made boots were used by the army at the same time the QMD produced boots were issued, finding a surviving pair with the Quartermaster stamp is a rare event.   

These boots are manufactured of the proper “waxed calf” leather - that is the rough side of the leather is outer surface of the boot rather than the smooth finished side.  The rough nap was finished with a wax coating which prevented the boots from hardening and subsequently cracking due to repeated wetting and drying cycles as they were exposed to wear in the field.  The leather is very strong, remains live and supple, and retains much of the original waxed finish.  The boots are made with a one piece front and one piece back, sewn along the sides with a reinforcing welt to protect the stitches.   

Despite the obvious evidence of wear, these boots have survived in very respectable condition.  The uppers are fully intact with none of the characteristic heavy wear around the toe area.  The leather on both boots is supple, has not hardened, and the finish is overall excellent.  The right boot of this pair has a repair on the outside of upper just above the sole and just forward of the front edge of the heel, where this soldier’s boot would have rested and worn against the wooden frame of his stirrup, confirming that these boots were worn by a mounted soldier.  The left boot shows light cracks in the leather surface at this same location, likely the beginnings of stirrup wear to this boot as well.  The boot tops are of the diameter of the Pattern 1876 produced by the army, increased from the diameter of the Civil War boots and again larger than that of the Pattern 1872 Boots in order to better accommodate the wearing of the soldier’s pant legs inside the boot tops.   

Both boots are complete with all components to include both sets of boot pulls.  The boot pulls all bear the same stamped numeral – “6350”, and I will offer a thought on these numbers.  Leather workers in the 19th Century, like other tradesmen, were "piece workers" rather than hourly employees.  A worker was literally paid by the number of pieces he produced on a given day, an accounting made by the shop foreman in the course of, or at the end of, the work day.  This was true for the army’s arsenal workers as well, with small sets of initials stamped on the accoutrements produced at the arsenals during the 1870-1918 period, applied by the worker as he finished each piece so he would get credit for it.   

Brinckerhoff’s description of the labor arrangement at Leavenworth is brief, however the employment of prisoners in work shop settings has a long historical record.  While their wages were extremely low, what pay they did receive allowed them to keep themselves in coffee, tobacco, etc. that the prison would not have provided.  I have no doubt that the prisoners were paid as piece workers like any other bench workers of the period - just not as much.  Brinckerhoff does make the point that when the manufacture of boots was established at Leavenworth, the cost per pair of boots and shoes dropped dramatically.  I strongly suspect the four digit number on the boot pulls was a prisoner number - assigned by the prison system and entered in the record books, stenciled on his clothing and any other place that his individual identification was required.  If the records of the prisoners incarcerated at Leavenworth for this period exist, it would be interesting to see if this number shows up, and if indeed it does, do the records indicate that prisoner was employed in the leather shops at the prison.  

The top of the right boot has a triangle of leather pieced in the “knee lobe”, and at first glance it appears as an old repair.  Once again, Brinckerhoff’s research reveals that this piece of leather was not a repair, but rather part of the original manufacturing process.  On page 13, he shows a pair of what he describes as “1876 officer’s quality [boots]”, and the left boot of that pair shows this same triangular piece, sewn in the same manner, in the same location as on the right boot of this pair.  During the Indian War era, finances were a constant source of concern and the army made every effort to conserve expensive commodities such as leather.  When the patterns were laid out on the hides for cutting, that the pattern extended past the edge of the hide for this small amount would not have been sufficient for the cost-mindful workers to discard the hide.  Rather, they simply cut a piece to fill the void and stitched it in place.  At this place on the boot, such an addition would not compromise the comfort, strength or durability of the boot, nor did it affect the appearance.   

After discovering this feature and finding the photograph of the second pair, I realized I had seen this same pieced-in treatment on an item in my personal collection.  Years ago I purchased a Northern Plains beaded bag fashioned from what I recognized at the time of purchase as two pieces of army boot top leather.  The bag, measuring 10” long by 6” high, is sewn with sinew around the bottom and the sides, and is then beaded along those edges and along the open top.  The stitching pattern of the boot pulls (which were removed) is visible in the waxed calf black leather, and there is no doubt the maker of the bag salvaged the leather from a pair of high topped boots.  While the balance of the stitching on the bag is all hand done with sinew, and definitely of the period, there is a short 2” section of machine stitching, like the stitching which at one time anchored the boot pulls, where a triangular piece of leather was added to the main piece.  Before understanding that these additions were commonly executed in the manufacture of these boots, I had no context to understand this small stitched piece on the bag, but now this small triangular patch further explains the history of this bag as having been made from tops of a pair of Indian Wars era army boots. 

The sole and heel of the right boot shows light wear, but they are fully intact.  Evidence that this soldier had a problem with his gait on the left side, perhaps from an injury or wound, the left sole and heel show considerably more wear – almost as if the soldier was dragging his left leg when he stepped out.  If the wound was severe enough, and resulted in him being retired from the ranks, his release from the army may explain why this pair of boots survived.  After leaving the army, he may have found civilian footwear more comfortable and stored this pair of army boots as a keepsake of his service.  Without some compelling reason to keep army footwear after leaving the army, ex-soldiers, like everyone else, would be prone to use up a utilitarian item such as boots until they were no longer worth keeping.    

Soldiers’ footwear is generally not something that survived his period of service, or his post-military life in great numbers.  Comparatively little US Army 19th Century footwear survives today and even fewer examples of mounted soldier’s boots in any condition are available for purchase by the private collector.  Obviously worn by a cavalry trooper, these Pattern 1876 Boots present as a prime example of the footwear that bore the Frontier Army across the American West on any of the famous campaigns during the height of the Indian Wars.  That this pair of boots survives today in the condition they do is nothing short of remarkable.  Capturing all of the character of the frontier soldier who wore them, this pair of boots will be a historic addition to your Indian War Cavalry display. SOLD



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