In 1866, Congress created six African-American Army regiments, among them was the 10th Cavalry. The men were assigned to the harshest, most desolate out posts in the western frontier. Their mission was to make way for the Transcontinental Railroad by clearing the land of Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws and American Indians.
"To the Citizens of Oswego: Ladies and Gents, As you all know I left my home, my dear loving mother, sisters and brothers, and friends to come out here to this unknown country, in defense of the stars and stripes, under which you people are now living in peace. I did not volunteer to come here to be called a brave kid; but because I thought it my duty to defend the stars and stripes of my country even although it may cost me my life." (Buffalo Soldier Simon Brown)
In the summer of 1867, 40 black cavalrymen from Ft. Hays, Kansas engaged over 800 Cheyenne Indians. Heroically, they fought them off. Such battles inspired the Plains Indians to call the cavalrymen "Buffalo Soldiers".
"The Indians call them 'buffalo soldiers,' because their wooly heads are so much like the matted cushion that is between the horns of the buffalo. The officers say that the Negroes make good soldiers and fight like fiends." (Army Wife, Frances Roe)
The Buffalo Soldiers surveyed vast areas of the southwest, strung hundreds of miles of telegraph lines and built and repaired frontier outposts. As Native Americans watched their tribal lands disappear, warriors fought desperately to preserve their way of life.
"It is bad to live to be old. Better to die young. Fighting… Bravely in battle." (Native American warrior chant)
Often, when Native Americans encountered Buffalo Soldiers, the fights were fearsome.
"Private John Randall, 10th Calvary, was attacked in company of two civilians by a band of Cheyenne Indians numbering sixty or seventy. In the fight which ensued the two citizens were killed; one of whom was scalped. Private Randall was shot in the hip and was given eleven lance thrusts to his shoulders and back. So effective had been the fire from Randall and his friend, that the savages, weary with losing so many of their number, disappeared leaving thirteen braves dead. (Regimental Reminiscences, 10th Cavalry)
During the Indian Wars, the Buffalo Soldiers would receive 18 Medals of Honor. Corporal Clinton Greaves was among the recipients.
"Corporal Clinton Greaves fought like a cornered lion. He fired his carbine until it was empty and then, swinging it like a club, he bashed a gap through the swarming Apaches, permitting his companions to break free." (Charles Hanna, Medal of Honor Historical Society)
As the Buffalo Soldiers were taming the west, back east, in June of 1877, Henry O. Flipper, an ex-slave from Georgia, became the first black man to graduate from West Point. He had arrived a semi-celebrity, having refused a $5,000 offer from a white man to have his son take his place.
Buffalo Soldiers in World War II
In August of 1944, the Buffalo Soldiers arrived in Italy. Ulysses Lee, the official government historian for the "Employment of Negro Troops" during World War II, was there.
"As the thousands of black fighting men debarked from the crowded troop ships, they presented an impressive and awe-inspiring spectacle. Armed with basic weapons and full field battle dress, proudly wearing the circular shoulder patch with the black buffalo, they moved smartly and efficiently into their unit formations. As they marched away, every man in step, every weapon in place, chins up and eyes forward, a low rumbling babble of sound came from the troops on the dock, then swelled to a crescendo of thunderous cheering which continued until the last Buffalo unit had disappeared from sight." (Ulysses Lee)
The Buffalo Soldiers are featured in the documentary of Black Military History, "For Love of Liberty."