Army pay scale during the “Indian Wars.”

Model of Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, circa 1866. Photo by James Ulvog. (I’ll get a better photo next time I visit.)

Fort Buford, in what was the Dakota Territory at the time, was the major supply depot as the US Army deployed on the frontier during the Indian Wars of the 1860s and 1870s.

A display at Fort Buford, which is now administered by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, gives an insight to pay rates on the frontier.

Private earned $13 a month, the same as during the Civil War.

Officers at the rank of First Lieutenant through Colonel were billed for their rations. Second Lieutenants down to lowly Privates were provided food at no charge. All were provided housing, such as it was, at no charge.

Over time I will have a lot more to say about Fort Buford. I am just starting to learn. I’m quickly gaining knowledge about the frontier and finding it to be fascinating.

Pay scales were as follows: 

Colonel         3,500            292              67
Major         2,500            208              48
Captain         1,800            150              35
1st Lieutenant         1,400            117              27
2nd Lieutenant            264              22                5
Corporal            180              15                3
Private            156              13                3

This is based on the following display at Fort Buford:

Pay scale explanation at Fort Buford, North Dakota. Photo by James Ulvog.

There is no citation for the source of the information, but based on what other things I have seen at the museum, and in particular based on a separate conversation I had with the site supervisor on July 8, 2023, I seriously doubt the State Historical Society is going to make any claim unless they have solid source information to support their statements. So I will go with this information.

A couple of observations. Note the radical difference in pay between a colonel and private, even between a captain and private. Ratio of pay of colonel to private is 22:1 and Capt. to private is 11.5:1.

Quite surprising to me is the jump from a 2Lt to 1Lt which is increase in pay by factor of five, granted the First Lieut. then had to start paying for his own food, but still that is a huge increase in pay.

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