'Lest we Forget'

History of the Buffalo Soldiers

On July 28, 1866, the U.S. Congress authorized the formation of Six “Colored” U.S. Army Regiments: They were the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 38th, 39th,40th and 41st Infantry Regiments.

On August 3, 1866, General Phillip Sheridan, Commander of the Military Division of the Gulf, was authorized to raise one regiment of “Colored” cavalry that was to be designated as the office was opened in Louisville, Kentucky. Of the original recruits, the majority came from these two states and were veterans of the Civil War. Col. Edward Hatch was selected to command the new regiment. Col. Hatch was a Brevet Major General at the close of the Civil War, and an able and ambitious officer. He serviced admirably in this position until his death in 1889.

Recruitment of White officers proved to be a serious problem for both the 9th and 10th Cavalries. Despite enticements of rapid promotions, many officers, including George Armstrong Custer and Frederick Benteen refused commissions with these African American units.

The 9th Cavalry was ordered into Texas in June of 1867. There, the regiment was charged with protecting the stage and mail routes, building and maintaining forts, establishing law and order in a vast area full of outlaws, Mexican revolutionaries, raiding Comanches, Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Apaches. To further compound the regiment’s problems, many Texans felt that they were being subjected to a particularly harsh form of Post-Civil War Reconstruction being imposed by the Federal Government in Washington D.C. They saw the assignment of Black Troopers as a deliberate attempt by the Union to further humiliate them. As such, the relationship between the Troopers and local population were often at or near the boiling point. Despite prejudice and the almost impossible task on maintaining some semblance of order in an area extending from the Staked Plains to the north, El Paso to the west, and Brownsville to the south, the 9th Cavalry established themselves as the most effective fighting forces in the U.S. Army.

The 9th Cavalry was transferred to the District of New Mexico during the Winter and Spring of 1875 and 76. Over the next six years they were thrust into what had been a 300-year struggle to subdue the fiercely independent Apaches. In 1874 – sparked by pressure from greedy contractors suppling the reservations, and by cattlemen, lumber men, and settlers hungry for Apache land, Washington approved a policy of concentrating on all Apaches on a select few reservations.

Unfortunately, the main reservation was located in San Carlos, Arizona, a desolate wasteland despised by the Apache. The independent lifestyle and culture of the Apache, along with their hatred of the San Carlos Reservation insured that hostilities were sure to follow. Those Apaches that periodically fled the reservation were highly skilled horsemen with a superior knowledge of their ancestral homelands. Under the command and leadership of Skinya, Nana, Victorio, and Geronimo, the Apaches proved to be an illusive and worthy adversary for both the troopers of the 9th Cavalry and later the 10th Cavalries.

As 1881 came to a close, the battle-weary Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry had serviced continuously in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona frontiers for fourteen years. In November of 1881, the Headquarters of the 9th Cavalry was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas, with portions of the regiment being assigned to Fort Sill, Fort Supply, and Fort Reno in the Indian Territories (which is now known as Oklahoma).

Over the next four years, the troopers were primary concerned with the unpleasant task of evicting white settlers known as “Boomers”, who were attempting to settle on Indian lands. The 9th Cavalry’s unpopular duty continued until the regiment was transferred to Wyoming in the June of 1885. From here, companies were stationed at Fort Robinson and Fort Niobrara, Nebraska, and to Fort Duchesene in Utah.

In 1891, the 9th Cavalry was called on to assist in subduing the Sioux in what became known as the “Ghosts Dance Campaign”. Once “Rulers” of the northern Plains, the Sioux were desolate and in poverty on their assigned North and South Dakota Reservations. In 1889, word spread of a “Messiah”, a Paiute with the name of “Wovoka”. He had seen a vision that the “Ghosts” of the Plains Indians would return, bringing with them the buffalo herds previously slaughtered by the white settlers and hunters. This new “religion” swept through the Plains Indians, alarming Dr. D. F. Royer, the newly appointed Agent at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Dr. Royer over-reacted by pleading for troops to protect him and his staff. By the end of November, one-half of the United States Army was concentrated on or near the reservations. The Army’s show of force was intended to scare the Sioux into submission. However, many Indians, fearing a massacre, bolted from the reservation and fled into the Badlands.

The subsequent military actions of the Army to pacify and return the Sioux to the reservations, culminated in the massacre of one-hundred forty-six men, women, and children at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1891. The 9th Cavalry played no part in this slaughter. This was the regiment’s last campaign on the frontier.

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