Did US cavalry soldiers wear yellow kerchiefs, as depicted in the movies?
Bandanas were not military issue, so their use was unofficial. But they were common—they came in handy during a dust storm, could help keep a rider warmer in winter, or it might just protect his neck from the hot sun. Sometimes a lieutenant’s wife could secure enough material to make matching neckerchiefs for her husband’s troop. But often, the soldiers made do with whatever they had.
But yellow was not a favored color since it made for an easy target. In fact, the uniform of the campaign cavalryman bore little resemblance to the yellow-striped and yellow neckerchief image of Hollywood fantasy. As Capt. Charles King noted, on the long scouts in Arizona, “you could not have told an officer from a private.”
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.