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Date: Sun, 3 Oct 1999 13:55:32 -0500 (CDT)
From: Grassroots Media Network <gnn@grassrootsnews.org>
Article: 78624
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.19937.19991004151511@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

The Buffalo Soldiers

By Prof. Sandra Smiling, 3 October 1999

"Buffalo Soldiers" was the nickname for the four regiments of African American soldiers who served on the Western frontier and elsewhere in the years following the Civil War. The nickname was given to them by the Cheyenne Indians of the Great Plains, who first faced them in battle in 1867. The soldiers showed such courage and heart that the Cheyenne named them for the creature of the Plains they respected most.

The Civil War had brought African Americans their freedom from slavery, but won them very little in the way of jobs or rights. Faced with the choice of unemployment or hard labor on a farm or in a workshop, many young black men opted to join the army. It offered a steady job with a paycheck.

At the onstart, the U.S. Army's leaders were uncertain of what to do with so many black recruits. In the South, whites still bitter over losing the Civil War would not tolerate having black men with guns anywhere near them. The North was not much better: Prejudice led many white citizens to oppose the stationing of black troops in their communities. So the Army sent the troops out West - into a vast wilderness.

Most had been slaves; many knew little but farming or heavy manual labor. Some who had never before ridden a horse found themselves in cavalry (horseback soldier) units. They had learned fast. They had to, to survive. They were not long in Indian Territory before they were sent out to rescue a wagon train under Cheyenne attack. They battled all day and into the night, winning the Cheyenne thieves, and Mexican revolutionaries. They scouted and mapped vast, desolate expanses of desert and mountain, making the way surer and safer for settlers who would soon follow in their paths.

The men in the Buffalo Soldier regiments were black, led by white officers. (Not until World War I did the U.S. Army allow black men to become officers - and then no higher than captain.)

In 1874, Buffalo Soldiers rode or marched thousands of miles across deserts and through blizzards while engaged in the Army's war against the Indians.

Despite the praise of some officers, historians often overlooked the Buffalo Soldiers' contribution to taming the American West. They were not the only blacks of the time who were left out of the history books. African Americans were homesteaders, lawman, mayors, bandits - they played every role played by whites in the days of the Wild West frontier. About one fourth of all cowboys who rode the western range were black. They are not seen in the old cowboy movies or in photographs of the period, but they were definitely there.

One Buffalo Soldiers' contribution counted enough to win him national recognition. In 1870, as a sergeant in the Ninth Cavalry, Emanuel Stance one a place in history. Stance, a 19-year -old farm boy when he joined the Army in 1866, had become a battle-hardened veteran by 1870. That year, he led nine men on a mission to track down and rescue two white children who had been kidnapped from a wagon train by an Indian war party. Stance found the warriors. Though he and his men were outnumbered 20 to 10, Stance did not relinquish. He had won - and rescued the two children. Stance was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor - the nation's highest award for bravery. He was also the first Buffalo Soldier to win this honor. (17 others were later honored.)

Buffalo Soldiers went on to serve with distinction in Cuba during the Spanish-American War (1898). They remained in the U.S. during World War 1 (1914-1918), but fought in Europe during World War II (1941-1945).

In 1948, President Harry S. Truman ordered that the practice of segregating U.S. military personnel by race be ceased. In recent years, historians and the Army have worked to make amends for ignoring the Buffalo Soldiers' contributions to their country. In 1992, a monument to the Buffalo Soldiers was dedicated at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas.

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