The Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the all black 10th Calvary Regiment of the United States Army. They were called Buffalo Soldiers out of respect from the Native Americans. The Native Americans called them this because of their fierce fighting style, the color of their skin, and mainly because of the way their hair looked, it was curly, thick and matted, just like that of a buffalo’s hair. The term became synonymous with all the African-American regiments formed in 1866.
The soldiers fought wildfires and poachers in Yosemite and Sequoia National Park and supported the park’s infrastructure. Buffalo soldiers battled in the Spanish-American War. They fought heroically in the battle of San Juan Hill, the Battle of El Caney, and the Battle of Las Guasimas. Even with their historic deeds, the soldiers were often confronted with racial prejudice from other members of the U.S. Army. Civilians attacked the Buffalo Soldiers during racial disturbances in; Rio Grande City, Texas, Brownsville, Texas, and Houston Texas.
Excess extra curricular drama notwithstanding, the Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest military desertion and court-martial rates of their time. Many of them won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
If I finished the article at this point, it would not only appear as a 7th grade civics paper but also exclude one very important point. The Buffalo Soldiers were used as an instrument to systematically eliminate Native Americans. The key point of forming the Buffalo Soldiers regiment was to subdue wild, hostile and “savage” Native Americans, all for the purpose of advancing the U.S. “Manifest Destiny” march west. They also fought against Mexican bandits and marauders because they were a “nuisance” to the U.S.
The Soldiers did good things too, like capture cattle rustlers and thieves, protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews throughout the western front. These objectives came a distant second and third to their primary aim. Once, the pesky “Indian problem” was taken care of, the Buffalo Soldiers then moved on to focus on the fore-mentioned accomplishments. I assume the Buffalo Soldiers had no choice of whether to follow orders. This was the 1800s after all, yet it doesn’t excuse the decision not to take the individual moral high road. Morals were around in the 1800s, even it wasn’t readily practiced in America much.
The U.S. government used one set of oppressed people (African Americans) to help eliminate another set of oppressed people (Native Americans). The irony is, that it was the enemy of both, that was pulling the strings on the entire plan. African Americans were second-class citizens in the U.S. because the U.S. was still under the “Separate but Equal” doctrine. This doctrine was never just or “equal”, but it took another century for African Americans to be considered “equal.” Native Americans were violently forced off their lands and pushed west and subjected to many broken treatises. If only the Buffalo Soldiers and Native Americans realized who their true common enemy was.
Originally published at https://mwmblog.com on August 28, 2020.