An Officer’s Lady on the Frontier

Elizabeth Proal Norvell

Elizabeth Proal Norvell (1848-1931) was the wife of Colonel Stevens Thompson Norvell, an officer of the 10th Cavalry, one of the famed Buffalo Soldier regiments on the great plains.    Life for these women who accompanied their husbands to the prairie and south west forts was often difficult.

Even something  meant to lift their spirits such as an outing could be come a trial for them as evidenced in this story written by Alice Kirk Grierson, about her experiences on the frontier (From The Colonel’s Lady On the Western Frontier: The Correspondence of Alice Kirk Grierson, University of Nebraska Press, 1989)

Fort Sill I.T. Nov. 5th 1871.

The Ladies Raid.—Five Ladies and Six children all went to a camp down on Cache Creek on a gloomy morning.

So of course one of them was Mrs. Norval [Captain Norvell’s wife]. It was ten miles. Before they got down there it began to rain and blow a regular Norther very cold. When they got down there all the Officers had to give their tents to the ladies.

The next day Major Schofield rigged a government wagon up with blankets and buffalo robes for them. Lieutenant Orlaman (Orlemanj was drunk and he went to put Mrs. Myers into the wagon and he turned her heels up and her head down. Mrs. Myers said I’m afraid you can’t put me in. He said oh yes I put you in…

They got in here in the evening and it was so muddy that Dr. Kilburn had to carry Mrs. Norval in his arms from the wagon to our porch. Mrs. Norval said she enjoyed the trip very much.  — Alice

Even this semi-disastrous break in the bleak life of the frontier, seemed welcomed.

Like many military wives of the time she endured great hardships, often left alone with her small family at one of the many forts that dotted the mostly empty American south-west.   Her husband was often gone on long patrols to keep the frontier quiet.   Sometimes these patrols encountered very real dangers and there was often the possibility that they would find themselves widows with no further means of support.

Sarah had four children all born on the frontier. One, Walker Norvell, died three days after his birth in November 1873 and is buried in the Ft. Sill Cemetery.

Walker Norvell Grave

The others all survived and found their lives entwined with the military.  Guy Stevens Norvell (1875-1958) was an Army Colonel like his father;  Sarah Hodgkiss Norvell (1872-1961) married two military men, the first one died from yellow fever contracted during the Spanish American War, the second one she divorced;  the last Alice Walker Norvell (1879-1971) also married an Army officer.



About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Norvell Family History, US Army and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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