This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

11th U.S. Cavalry Band

17 May 2010

It's a hot day in Iowa in 1904. The 11th U.S. Cavalry is passing in review on the parade ground of Fort Des Moines. The mounted band executes a left turn led by their drum major holding his saber in salute as they pass the photographer. The band's mascot trots along in front. Perhaps he knows the parade order better than the bandsmen and their horses.

Ft. Des Moines is new. The houses in the background are the officer's quarters which were just completed in November of 1903. The 11th Cavalry are also new. These soldiers have only recently arrived in May from northern Luzon in the Philippines, via Honolulu and San Francisco, where they served 3 years during the Philippine Insurrection. At full complement there are about 520 enlisted men and 29 officers in this cavalry, under the command of Colonel Earl D. Thomas. Their stay in Iowa will be a short one, for in October of 1906 they will transfer to Cuba to deal with yet another insurrection.

In anticipation of introducing this new regiment to Des Moines, the local Iowan civic leaders have invited the commandant to bring the 11th to the Iowa State fair for "Old Soldier's, Children's, and Des Moines Day" on August 23rd. The mounted band consists of 28 men - 1 Chief musician, 1 Chief trumpeter, 1 Principal musician, 1 Drum major, 4 Sergeants, 8 Corporals, 1 cook, and 11 Privates. Somewhere in this photo is young Jesse Orr Romig from Reading, Pennsylvania who was assigned to the band in July 1904.

Wanting to impress his parents, Jesse bought a copy of this large size photo probably from an enterprising local Des Moines photographer. On the back of the heavy card mount, he wrote in pencil,  
The 11 Cav. Band
at Guard Mounting
Passing in Review
With our mascot in
the front. He is a nice dog.
Don't he look like Tess.
To Father, Mother, Elsie, Arthur.
From Jesse Orr Romig   
a soldier

Jesse was 19, though the army thought he was 21. He was 5'5", with a ruddy complexion, blue eyes, and dark brown hair. He was born on May 28,1885 to William J. and Emma S. Romig of Reading, PA and he had an older brother Arthur and a younger sister Elsie. William Romig listed his occupation on the 1900 U.S. Census as foreman at a hosiery mill, but in 1910 he was a salesman at a music store. Perhaps Jesse and his siblings learned to play a musical instrument from their father while growing up in the Romig household.

1904 Register of Enlistments
Ft Des Moines, Iowa

Jesse signed up for the army in Reading as a laborer in July of 1904, but was sent to Ft. Des Moines to join the 11th Cavalry band. He may not have been the ideal soldier. His service record shows he was discharged in Iowa on Nov 8, 1905 on a "Surgeon's Certificate of Disability, without honor." He returned to Reading, married at least twice, worked as a printer at a newspaper, and died in New Jersey in 1965.

1904 Register of Enlistments
Ft Des Moines, Iowa

Jesse Romig was paid $13 a month for a 6-day work week. The drum major received more,  NCO's earned from $18 to $45 a month, and a 2nd Lieutenant got a $1500 annual salary. Work must have been hard since caring for the horses was part of each soldier's responsibilities. One bandsman from a reserve cavalry band thirty years later was quoted  "I still don't like the thought of a McClellan saddle, [it's] like sitting on the top rail of a fence." {Mounted Musicians - National Guard, Feb 2004 by Bruce P. Gleason}

The instruments at the front are helicons, a kind of tuba that was a smaller cousin to the sousaphone. Cornets and clarinets are behind them, struggling to read their music as they guide their horses with their knees. Colonel Francis Moore, the first commander of the regiment made a report in 1901, "I have 400 men who have never seen a horse, I have 400 horses who have never seen a man, and I have 15 Officers who have never seen a man or a horse."  No doubt that was still the case for many of the soldiers in this photograph.

The 11th Cavalry began in 1901 in Ft. Myer, Virginia as additional units were added to the army after the Spanish-American War. After service in the Philippines, Des Moines, and then Cuba in 1906, the 11th returned to the US in 1909 but went to Ft. Oglethorpe in north Georgia. In 1914 they were sent to restore peace to Ludlow, Colorado after violence broke out during a miner's strike. Then the conflict with Mexico and Pancho Villa gave the 11th a singular place in history when troops under Major Robert L. Howze led the last mounted  charge of U.S. Cavalry on May 5, 1916. The regiment then moved on to the Presidio in Monterey, CA where in 1924 they participated in fighting a horrific oil fire and 26 soldiers were lost. John Philip Sousa did write a march in 1924 called, "The Black Horse Troop", but it was written for a unit of the Ohio National Guard which was famous for its black horses. In the 30's the horse troopers of the 11th were used in several Hollywood films, including "Sergeant Murphy" which starred future president, Ronald Reagan. By the 1940s mechanized vehicles took over from horses and by the start of WWII the 11th Cavalry became an all armored unit. Blackhorsetroopers history

Des Moines Capital
15 March 1905

The best photographs have great clues. Just the addition of one soldier's full name and his unit made the virtual doors of internet research fly open. There is so much more trivia I could add, (I do wish Jesse had written down the mascot's name too.) but I'll finish with this. Col. E.D. Thomas, the commandant of 11th wrote a full page article in March 1905 for the Des Moines Capital newspaper. Clearly a man who took pride in precision, he itemizes every expense and statistic of his new post so as to impress the Iowa public on the economic rewards that came to a community from a military presence. His long list of the annual requirements for feeding his soldiers includes "8,541 three-pound cans of tomatoes, and 949 gallons of cucumber pickles."


01 October 2016

 Yesterday I received a copy of a wonderful book
by Bruce P. Gleason on the history of American mounted military bands.
This extraordinary photograph was used with my permission
as the image for the front cover.

Sound the Trumpet
Beat the Drums

Horse-Mounted Bands
of the U. S. Army, 1820-1940

by Bruce P. Gleason

Bruce P. Gleason is Associate Professor of Music Education and Music History at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the founding editor of Research and Issues in Music Education. His numerous articles have been published in the Journal of Band Research, Military History Quarterly, National Guard Magazine, the Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, and other journals.
Sound the Trumpet, Beat the Drums:
Horse-Mounted Bands of the U.S. Army, 1820–1940
Published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
ISBN-10: 0806154799
ISBN-13: 978-0806154794.
available in hardcover at Amazon and other bookstores.

  2 October 2016 

As I have learned over the past several years
of doing research for my blog
upturning one more stone in the river of history
will sometimes produce unexpected rewards.

Tonight I decided to check again
for any new material on the Eleventh Cavalry Band
in the Iowa newspaper archives.

What I found is not a little unsettling
because of how it coincides with updating this story
on the very weekend that Bruce Gleason's book is released
with Jesse Orr Romig's photo on the cover .

On August 10, 1904 the Des Moines Register and Leader printed a story on a concert by the Eleventh Cavalry Band.
They included a photograph of the band.

Somewhere in this group of army musicians
could be a young soldier named Jesse Orr Romig.

How cool is that?

Des Moines Register and Leader
10 August 1904

In August 1904, the 11th Cavalry band had 29 members with plans to increase the number to 40. Their bandleader was A. Perwein, an Austrian-German American with thirteen years service in army bands. He was formerly a solo cornetist with the United States military academy. The band was also with the regiment in the Philippines where they lost three musicians to cholera. 

Des Moines Register and Leader
11 August 1904

The following day the newspaper ran a brief review of the band's performance before 5,000 people. When the band played "The Star Spangled Banner" apparently not everyone followed the military rule to bare their heads.

One of the 11th Cavalry bandsmen commented:

"In Manila I tell you every one takes off his hat when he hears The Star Spangled Banner, and if he doesn't take it off it is knocked off, and the natives will help knock it. Over here the most of the people act as if they never heard of the United States or cared very little about it."

In 1904, the "Banner" was typically played only when raising the American flag. It did not become our national anthem until 1931.


Des Moines Register
21 August 1904

The band's music program concludes with the march American Patrol by Meacham. It was this tune that was given to me in the 5th grade when I was transferred to a new school and auditioned for a place in the school band. At the time I had absolutely no clue how to read any of the rhythms, so I failed miserably and nearly gave up ever learning to play the horn. Fortunately I transferred again in 6th grade and somehow recovered the notion that music might be fun. 

And it still is too. 


This is my contribution to October's Sepia Saturday
where everyone is on  the move.


Anonymous said...

My great-great grandfather, Sgt William J. Bartell, was a soldier in the 11th Michigan Cavalry. I have records, photos, and reunion booklet with the names and photos of the other officers in that regiment. It's great to see others post about the cavalry, and that perhaps my great-grandfather wound up in other images from that time. - Deb (Hagler) Wong

Jofeath said...

Coincidental indeed! Now you just need to identify Jesse and all the other bandsmen. I must confess that all I know of Des Moines comes from Bill Bryson's disparaging remarks about it as his place of origin, and what he says doesn't make me want to go there any time soon.

La Nightingail said...

Coincidental happenings are so interesting. How do they happen? ARE they coincidental? Are they fate? Does something guide us to that specific point of coincidence? Or are they simply moments of chance? All of these theories have occurred to me at one time or another and I'm still not sure which answers questions I have about any of my "coincidental" encounters which happen often enough to keep me wondering. Sometimes I think I'm 'guided' to them - such as when, upon receiving that book, you decided to check for new information about the band and found a timely coincidence. In other instances, I feel being 'guided' would have been rather improbable. So it remains a mystery and maybe that's just as well. :)

Wendy said...

Perfect photo for the book. Now I'm dying to know why Jesse was discharged "without honor." Did he do something dishonorable that led to a medical issue?

Barbara Rogers said...

How timely! You answered my main question, mainly how did they play instruments and 'drive'a horse! Great to hear about the real-time connections too. Glad you stayed interested in music!

Little Nell said...

It would be great if Jesse was indeed in that photo, but I too am wondering why he was discharged without honor.

Katy said...

A relative was in the 11th cavalry, troop M, 1901. I have what appears to be a dance Programme, embossed with the crossed swords, "11th/ M". The programme booklet lists 14 songs, with the type of dance step one would use and also 4 'extra' songs. The front has this at the bottom, "Troop M, 11th Cavalry, Fort Des Moines, February 14th, 1906."

I also have 2 metal (bronze?, brass?) "U.S." pins and 2 crossed sword pins with the 11/M emblem. I assume from a uniform my distant cousin wore. I'd like to find more information about the pins and Troop M members. Based on a photo I have, it appears he's was in Phillipines and possible Cuba. Any help with finding more info is appreciated. thank you, Katy Francis


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP