History of the Buffalo Soldiers

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The “Buffalo Soldiers” is a name of endearment given to the black soldiers of the US Army of the western frontier by Native Americans. The 9th and 10th Cavalry along with the 24th and 25th Infantry were established by Congress, during the post-Civil War restructuring of the Army of the United States of America. The 9th Cavalry along with the 24th and 25th Infantry were assigned to the Army of Texas and stationed in New Mexico Territory. These units were assigned to the western frontiers and were instrumental in the efforts to settle the Western states.

 

In 1866, the Buffalo Soldiers enlisted the first and only documented African American woman to serve in the regular Army in the 19th century, even though the U. S. Army forbade the enlistment of women.  Her name was Cathay Williams, known to her comrades as William Cathay. She was born into slavery in Independence, Missouri in 1844. In 1861, she fled her master’s plantation in Jefferson City, Missouri seeking the protection of the Union troops occupying the city at the time. She informed her recruiting officer that she was a cook. She passed the examination given by the Army Surgeon, and was assigned to the 38th Infantry of the Buffalo  Soldiers.  She traveled with her unit throughout the Western frontier. After approximately two years of service, she was given a disability discharge, and her true identity was revealed.  After her discharge, Cathay Williams worked in towns across Colorado as a cook, laundress, seamstress, and nurse.

 

The Buffalo Soldiers assigned to the 10th Cavalry were assigned to the Army of Kansas and initially stationed at Fort Leavenworth, KS. The headquarters was moved to Fort Riley in 1867 and later to Fort Sill in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), a post that was built by the 10th Cavalry.  During the 10th Cavalry’s time in Kansas and Oklahoma their primary duty was guarding the Kansas Pacific and Union Pacific railroads during construction.  Other responsibilities were building roads and forts, installing thousands of miles of telegraph lines, as well as guarding and protecting U.S. settlements and mail routes from Native Americans. In the spring of 1873, companies of the 10th Cavalry were transferred to the Army of Texas. At various times, Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments served at virtually every Texas frontier from the Rio Grande to the Red River and on into the Panhandle. They also joined in the campaigns to capture Victorio, Geronimo, and Nana, and engaged in action in Colorado, Arizona, the Dakotas, Idaho, and Montana.  By the end of 1877, the Buffalo Soldiers had established order in the Western frontier, and were known for their equal treatment of Native Americans.

 

In 1888,  the first commander of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson, also known for his equal treatment of Native Americans gave a fitting tribute to the dedication, bravery, and devotion to the duty of the Buffalo Soldiers. He once remarked that:

 

The officers and enlisted men have cheerfully endured many hardships and privations, and in the midst of great dangers steadfastly maintained a most gallant and zealous devotion to duty, and they may well be proud of the record made, and rest assured that the hard work undergone in the accomplishment of such important and valuable service to their country, is well understood and appreciated, and that it cannot fail, sooner or later, to meet with due recognition and reward.

 

From the turn of the century to WWII, Buffalo Soldier regiments served in Nebraska and Wyoming (1902-1907), the Philippines (1907-1909), Fort Ethan Allen, near Burlington, Vermont (1909-1913), West Point, (1907-1946), and in Naples, Italy (1944-1945). Although they faced hardships that other military personnel were not expected to meet, Buffalo Soldiers gained their share of victories, and welded together organized bands of true and tried Veterans that fought and died so that Americans could be free.

 

In 1948, President Truman issued an executive order that ended racial segregation in the United States Military. Since then, the Buffalo Soldiers are remembered and celebrated as  Veterans for their cavalry tactics and skills, selfless service, rugged tenacity, commendable valor, and for restoring order on the Western frontier in the United States of America.

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