One of the most famed cavalry units of the old west was the 10th US Cavalry, an African-American Regiment formed on September 21, 1866.
The term “Buffalo Soldiers” was given to the 10th Cavalry by the Native Americans. Though we don’t know the exact reason for the name, there are a couple of tales on how they received the moniker.
The first story tells of a private named John Randall coining the term. He was sent out to protect 2 hunters who quickly came under attack by 70 Cheyenne Warriors. The 2 hunters fell quickly but Randall continued to fight, armed with only a pistol and 17 rounds of ammunition. He was rescued when troops from a nearby fort found him with 1 gunshot wound and 11 lance wounds. Private Randall survived and was described by Native Americans on the scene as fighting like a trapped buffalo.
The next story tells of a Colonel laying claim to the name – Benjamin Grierson, a hero in the Civil War who was one of the commanders of the 10th. He clams the term was given to his troops by Apache Warriors in 1871.
It is also noted, that while the term “Buffalo Soldier” originally referred to the 10th Cavalry, it eventually was a term used to encompassed several Regiments during 1866, the 9th US Cavalry, the 24th and 25th US Infantries.
However the name came about, by 1877 “Buffalo Soldier” was firmly ingrained into the Native American language.
They honored the soldiers for fighting so well.
The job of the 10th Cavalry was to protect the settlers moving west, the mail lines, train lines, and to break up gangs of outlaws and raiders, including Mexicans who threatened the US territories. When war broke out with Spain in Cuba, they were among the first to be sent to fight and continued to serve in the Philippine-American War in 1899. They served in the Mexico Expedition in 1916 and in the First World War in 1918.
They fought the last Native American uprising in Arizona at the Battle of Bear Valley in 1918 and served as peacekeepers during the Johnson County War in Wyoming. They were among the first forest rangers to serve the US, Smokey Bear actually being patterned after the World War 1 Buffalo Soldiers.
Originally the “Buffalo Soldiers” were led by white officers. As time passed, they were also led by black officers, including the first African-American to graduate West Point, Henry O. Flipper.
In the 40’s and 50’s, the US Army decided to integrate black and white units. This did not mean everything was equal but it was a start.
July 28th, was established as a day to honor the Buffalo Soldier by the US Congress in 1992. A monument was built to commemorate their service to this country and stands in Ft.Leavenworth, Kansas, dedicated by Colin Powell.
These men were true heroes in every sense of the word. The last of their unit, Mark Matthews, lived to be 111 year old, dying in 2005 and being buried in Arlington Cemetery.
How to celebrate – Read about the “Buffalo Soldiers” and their accomplishments. Visit their monument at Ft. Leavenworth. Study the service of the African-Americans in defense of America.