Looking back: The Buffalo Soldiers
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Buffalo Soldiers were made up of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, all African-American regiments, following the Civil War.

"Buffalo Soldier is the generic term for Soldiers who made up the all African-American regiments of the Army formed after the Civil War under the Army Reorganization Act of 1866, and generally served on the western frontier," said Historical and Archaeological Society of Fort Riley research historian, Caroline Sibley.

According to www.archives.gov, the Army Reorganization Act of 1866 added four new regiments to the six cavalry regiments that were already in place. Over the next 20 years, these regiments, including the 9th and 10th, served in the west, eventually being stationed at Fort Riley.

"The 9th and 10th Cavalry units, two of the original six regiments of African-American Soldiers created, largely served at or around Fort Riley," Sibley said. "The regiments were tasked, among other things, to serve as frontier Soldiers - protecting wagon trains, facing Native Americans in conflict, etc. When the 10th Cav. Regiments arrived at Fort Riley in 1867, they were initially tasked with protection of the Pacific Railroad."

While the Soldiers were stationed at Fort Riley, they would have been housed outside of Fort Riley in segregated homes in Junction City. she said.

In 2000, according to www.junctioncity-ks.gov, a memorial was placed in the area the Soldiers would have lived with their families. This memorial, costing $400,000, honors the Buffalo Soldiers and the relationship Junction City had with them.

Fort Riley also showed appreciation for these Soldiers, Sibley said.

"Some of the Fort Riley street namesakes - Forsyth and Sheridan - were directly linked with the 10th Cavalry," she explained. "Several troops were directly involved in rescuing Lt. Col. (James) Forsyth at Arikaree River, and Gen. (Philip) Sheridan thanked them officially with a field order after their involvement at Beaver Creek.

Although these deeds, among others, were highly esteemed, the Buffalo Soldiers were most famous for their service on the frontier "doing whatever was needed to be done to secure ever-changing missions in westward expansion," Sibley said.

According to www.history.com, their main tasks were to help control the Native Americans of the plains, capture cattle rustlers and thieves and protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews along the western front.

In fact, it was the Native Americans who dubbed them the "Buffalo Soldiers." However, the reason why remains a mystery.

According to the www.archives.gov website, one account suggests the name was acquired during the 1871 campaign against the Comanches, when Indians referred to the cavalrymen as "Buffalo Soldiers" because of their rugged and tireless marching.

Other accounts state that Native Americans bestowed the nickname on the black troopers because they believed the hair of the black cavalrymen resembled the hair of the buffalo. Another suggests that the name was given because of the buffalo-hide coats worn by the soldiers in cold weather. The troopers took the nickname as a sign of respect from Native Americans, who held great reverence for the buffalo, and eventually the 10th Cavalry adopted the buffalo as part of its regimental crest.

Their service was not limited to just military service, according to www.kshs.org.

They built or renovated dozens of posts, strung thousands of miles of wire and escorted stages, trains, cattle herds, railroad crews and surveying parties. Their scouts and patrols opened new roads and mapped vast areas of uncharted country, the website said. The record of the 9th and 10th speaks for itself.

"They also served with National Parks as rangers and assisted in developing the infrastructure of the west," Sibley said. "Overall, 18 Buffalo Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor and their regiments saw the lowest desertion rates.

"In general, I think the service of these men in a segregated military and nation proves the bravery, commitment, and integrity of each individual, and they did amazing things for the advancement of their peoples and culture in the United States," Sibley said.

The Historical and Archeological Society of Fort Riley will highlight some of the accomplishments of the Buffalo Soldiers, Sibley said.

"HASFR has funded a small Buffalo Soldiers photo exhibit," she said. "Its goal is to highlight African-American Soldiers and what they have done for their nation and community. The photos we used are from a local photographer who provides us with many photos from the early 20th century Fort Riley area. We aim to start conversations about the Buffalo Soldiers and how the African-American community has shaped U.S. history. The exhibit will be unveiled in April and spend time at the temporary Cavalry Museum location, the Geary County Museum and the Riley County Museum."