The Buffalo Soldiers are best remembered for fighting on America’s western frontier. In 1866, Congress passed an act created six regiments of exclusively black soldiers during peacetime. Later, these regiments were consolidated into wo infantry and two cavalry, referred to as the Buffalo Soldiers. According to popular lore, it was the Cheyenne Native Americans who created the name “Buffalo Soldiers” either because the soldiers’ dark curly hair resembled a buffalo mane or because the soldiers fought like the fierce Great Plains buffalo (Salter and Bunch).
Coincidentally, the Army purchased began purchasing and donning overcoats made of buffalo fur in 1869, but never officially adopted them as part of the uniform. The Buffalo Soldiers were defenders of American expansion into the western frontier. They killed buffalos to force the Native American tribes living in the west to either starve or surrender. These soldiers also captured thieves, built roads and protected the U.
S. mail, stagecoaches and wagon train. Members of the Buffalo Soldiers served in other parts of America, and defended American interests from Cuba to the Philippines (Eschner).
Buffalo Soldiers were among the first rangers in what became the National Park Service. Their duties included protecting against the poaching of wildlife, preventing private livestock from grazing on federal lands, and building roads and trails (National Park Service). The regiments faced severe racism and endured awful conditions, often the last to receive supplies. In his famous article “A Scout with the Buffalo-Soldiers,” Frederic Remington described a Buffalo Soldier camp, “Fort Thomas is an awful spot, hotter than any place on the crust of the earth.” Regiments were often forced to create “dry camps” or camps without water sources since there were none accessible to them. The NMAAHC wrote, “Black soldiers used military service as a strategy to obtain equal rights as citizens.
Paradoxically, they sought to achieve this by engaging in government-led wars meant to overtake the Southwest and Great Plains from Native Americans.” African American men had few other options than enlistment and fighting wars in the West had little impact on their social standing when they returned home. There is also speculation that the commanders chose to have all black regiments as the Indians would not immediately recognize them to be enemies as they would with white soldiers, who had been attacking their lands for decades. Historian William Gwaltney, a descendent of a buffalo soldier, said, “Buffalo Soldiers fought for recognition as citizens in a racist country and…American Indian people fought to hold on to their traditions, their land, and their lives.” In honoring their American citizenship by serving their country, the Buffalo Soldiers actively oppressed the Native Americans.
Remington also wrote, “The great clouds of dust choke you and settle over horse, soldier, and accouterments until all local color is lost and black man and white man wear a common hue.” The Buffalo Soldiers were mainly led by white commanders who deluded them into the belief that once the Natives were removed racial harmony would exist in America. After the conclusion of the Indian wars in the 1890s, the buffalo soldiers went on to fight in Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898, hunt for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, and act as park rangers in Yosemite National Park (Nix). Perhaps the most famous Buffalo Soldier, Henry O. Flipper, became the first black man to attend West Point and an officer of the Buffalo Soldiers after graduating in 1877.
The legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers was confined to a song written by Bob Marley in their honor, titled “Buffalo Soldier” until recently. In 1992, Former President Bush issued Proclamation 6461, which stated, “Their achievements in the face of adversity not only helped to open doors for younger black Americans, in the military and in society as a whole, but also set a timeless example for all those who wear our Nation’s uniform. Today, we celebrate the great legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers and acknowledge their special place of honor in the history of the United States. Now, Therefore, I, George Bush, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim July 28, 1992, as Buffalo Soldiers Day.” In 2014, the Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Park at Fort Leavenworth was named in their honor. As a result of controversy surrounding the removal of Confederate statues, the Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Park at Fort Leavenworth has also come under fire as the Buffalo Soldiers were a group that contributed significantly to the slaughter of Native Americans on American soil and the erasure of their culture.