The Bugler

Bugler Newsletter

Buffalo Soldiers

The Buffalo Soldiers formed in 1866, the year following the Civil War, when Congress created six segregated regiments which were soon consolidated into four black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry, whose enlisted composition was made up of African-Americans, the majority of whom had served in all black units during the Civil War. Their legendary name was bestowed by the Cheyenne, Comanche and other Plains Indians, who regarded the black cavalry troopers as formidable and worthy adversaries with the strength and dignity of the real-life American buffalo, and who saw a resemblance between the soldiers' dark, curly hair and the tufted cushion between the horns of the buffalo.

The 9th and 10th Cavalries' service in subduing Mexican revolutionaries, hostile Native Americans, outlaws, traders, and rustlers was as invaluable as it was unrecognized. It was also accomplished over some of the most rugged and inhospitable country in North America. A list of their adversaries reads like a "Who's Who" of the American West: Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Victorio, Lone Wolf, Billy the Kid, and Pancho Villa.

Lesser known, but equally important, the Buffalo Soldiers explored and mapped vast areas of the southwest, opened hundreds of miles of new roads and laid hundreds of miles of new telegraph lines. They served in Yosemite National Park and nearby Sequoia National Park evicting poachers and timber thieves, extinguishing forest fires and ending illegal grazing of livestock on federal lands. They built and repaired frontier outposts around which future towns and cities sprang to life and, to a large extent, built Fort Sill. Without their protection, crews building the railroads were at the mercy of outlaws and hostile Indians. Buffalo Soldiers consistently received some of the worst assignments the Army had to offer. They faced fierce prejudice to both the colors of their Union uniforms and their skin by many of the citizens of the post-war frontier towns. Nevertheless, the troopers of the 9th and 10th Cavalries developed into two of the most distinguished fighting units of the Army.

Daily life on the western frontier
For the troopers of the 9th and 10th Cavalries, life was harsh, but similar to that of their white counterparts. During the 1860s and 1870s, the frontier forts resembled little more than rundown villages, and the enlisted men's barracks were often poorly ventilated, vermin-infested hovels. The only bathing facilities usually consisted of the local creek. Not surprisingly, diseases such as dysentery, diarrhea, bronchitis and tuberculosis were common. Rations throughout the Indian campaigns consisted mainly of beef or bacon, potatoes, beans, fresh vegetables from the post garden, and sometimes fruit or jam. The work week was seven days, with the exception of July 4th and Christmas. The monthly pay for a private was a meager $13 (reduced from $16 in 1871).

When available, many of the African-American troopers availed themselves of after-hours schools established to alleviate the illiteracy mandated by slavery. The schools were normally run by chaplains assigned to the black units. There weren't many other leisure activities. Only a small percentage of enlisted men were able to bring their wives with them to the frontier posts, and the villages that grew up around the forts were often little more than saloons and gambling parlors, inhabited by some of the more unsavory characters on the frontier. Racial prejudice by both local citizens and law officers was severe.

Desertion was high, but desertion among white regiments was roughly three times greater than those among black units. Also, both African-American cavalry and infantry regiments had lower rates of alcoholism than their white counterparts. While in the field, troopers and their horses faced not only hostile Indians and outlaws, but also extended patrols of up to six months covering more than a thousand miles. Then, too, there was a scarcity of water and the extremes of weather common to the southwest.

When not on patrol, the Buffalo Soldiers engaged in endless drills, parades and inspections. At Fort Davis in 1877, a dress parade, complete with the post band was held each evening except for Saturdays. The post surgeon noted that: "the troops seemed especially proud of their uniform and of their profession as soldiers." [The information above is from the International Museum of the Horse.]

At least 14 Buffalo Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor in the years from 1870 to 1890. All four outfits later distinguished themselves in the Spanish-American War in 1898, and segregated units fought in both world wars and the Korean War. The U.S. Armed Forces were integrated in 1952.

Buffalo Soldier Monument
Secretary of State Colin Powell, the first African-American to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a long-time advocate of commemorating the Buffalo Soldiers with a monument. At the ground-breaking ceremony in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on July 28, 1990, Powell said:

"... since 1641 there has never been a time in this country when Blacks were unwilling to serve and sacrifice for America."

He dedicated the completed monument in 1992.

For more information ...

Buffalo Soldiers & Indian Wars:
Buffalo Soldiers, Forgotten American History:
Army's Monument to the Unsung:

Glendale and

Glendale outfits honor guards, color guards, and drill units. Visit our site for the best in parade and drill equipment and for uniform accessories at

Copyright © 2001-2018 Glendale Parade Store - 1-800-653-5515