Their Stories - Our History

THEIR STORIES - OUR HISTORY

Buffalo Soldiers Background – Six Regimental Units Activated

In 1866 Congress authorized, for the first time, Black Americans to serve in the peacetime army of the United States. Two cavalry and four infantry regiments were created and designated the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry regiments and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st U.S. Infantry regiments were activated on July 28, 1866.  The four infantry regiments later became the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments. The all-Black American regiments, commanded mostly by white officers, were composed of Civil War veterans, former slaves, and freemen.

After serving in the majority of conflicts against bandits, renegades, and hostile Native Americans throughout the western United States, several units moved to Arizona to Ft. Bowie and Ft. Huachuca in the 1880’s. As protectors of the border through 1918 and the New Mexico Territory including Arizona, Buffalo Soldiers created the atmosphere to establish Arizona and New Mexico as states in 1912.  While stationed at Fort Huachuca, AZ, Buffalo Soldiers:


  • Protected traffic on the San Antonio-El Paso Road
  • Protected Native American Indian reservations
  • Protected settlers and guarded stage stations
  • Participated in campaigns during the Indian Wars
  • Constructed roads and telegraph lines
  • Maintained law and order along the US-Mexican Border


In the spring 1916, Buffalo Soldiers and Major Charles Young (one of only six black officers in the Army at the time) were called upon to join General “Black Jack “Pershing in his pursuit of Pancho Villa into Mexico after his attack on Columbus, NM. This became known as the “Punitive Expedition of 1916.”

Over a period of eighty two years the Buffalo Soldiers served as the primary arm of the government providing services that now are provided by a myriad of governmental agencies. Buffalo Soldiers were postman, park rangers, police officers and armed forces all rolled into one. Corporal Isaiah Mays and Sergeant Benjamin Brown were both awarded the Medal of Honor for their protection and defense of the Wham Paymaster stage in February 1890 near Fort Grant, Arizona. They were among twenty three Buffalo Soldiers to receive America’s highest honor.

The Buffalo Soldier units were disbanded in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 integrating the military services and mandating equal treatment of all uniformed soldiers in the armed services. The mayor’s proclamation is one step in paying the debt of gratitude owed these heroic men.

The "Buffalo Soldiers" Nickname – Some Disagree

According to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, the name originated with the Cheyenne warriors in the winter of 1867. The actual Cheyenne translation was "Wild Buffalo." However, writer Walter Hill documented the assertions of Colonel Benjamin Grierson, who founded the 10th Cavalry regiment, who recalled an 1871 campaign against the Comanche tribe. Hill attributed the origin of the name to the Comanche based on Colonel Grierson's assertions. Some sources contend that the nickname was given out of respect for the fierce fighting ability of the 10th cavalry. Other sources say that Native Americans called the black cavalry troops "Buffalo Soldiers" because of their dark curly hair, which resembled a buffalo's coat. Still other sources point to a combination of both legends. The term Buffalo Soldiers became a generic term for all African-American soldiers. It is now used for U.S. Army units that trace their direct lineage back to the 9th and 10th Cavalry, units whose service earned them an honored place in U.S. history.

The Buffalo Soldier Legacy 

Throughout the period of the Indian Wars, about twenty (20%) of the U.S. cavalry troopers were black soldiers, while eight (8%) of the infantry were black soldiers.  These black soldiers rose above the challenges of harsh living conditions, difficult duty, and racial prejudice to gain a reputation of dedication and bravery.

National Park Service Units

Buffalo Soldiers also played a significant historical role in several National Parks, National Historic Sites (N.H.S) and existing Army posts including: 

  • Fort Davis N.H.S., TX
  • Fort Larned N.H.S., KS
  • Fort Bowie N.H.S., AZ
  • Chiricahua National Monument, AZ
  • Fort Huachuca, AZ and Fort Bliss, TX

Throughout these sites, the soldiers protected traffic on the San Antonio-El Paso Road, helped build Fort Davis into one of the largest posts in Texas, participated in campaigns against Native Americans, protected settlers and guarded stage stations, constructed roads and telegraph lines, and explored and mapped previously unmapped regions.  Colonel Charles Young was the first African-American to head the National Park System.

Click on the U Tube video, The Bufflao Soldiers: An American Legacy for a great doclumentary on the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.