Black Soldiers in the Frontier Army

It would be a travesty to desecrate the grave of any American soldier, regardless of when he served and died. But in the case of the African American soldiers serving on the frontier, the robbing of their graves was particularly galling considering their plight. These were men, most of whom had endured slavery before they enlisted, who spent years performing some of the most arduous duty the American military has ever seen.

While African Americans have fought for their country since the American Revolution, the substantial forces of black soldiers in the West evolved out of the “colored” Civil War regiments that were instrumental in saving the Union. Impressed by the effectiveness of black soldiers during the war, Congress authorized the creation of black infantry and cavalry regiments. These forces were soon organized into the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries; and the 24th and 25th Infantries. Members of all these regiments, but particularly the Ninth Cavalry, served at Fort Craig.

In addition to fighting in the Apache Wars, these black regiments were critical in maintaining the peace, quelling riots and range wars, chasing outlaws, escorting pay wagons and mail coaches, and evicting white squatters from reservation lands. The buffalo soldiers were even tasked to put up telegraph lines throughout the region.

Despite the buffalo soldiers service and contributions, they never escaped the racism that had plagued their pre-military lives. Regardless of the uniform, they were consistently under assault from the ungrateful elements of a mainstream society that never accepted them as equals.

A Trail of Dead Horses

When the Apaches resisted confinement to reservations, the U.S. Army sent buffalo soldiers into a hornets nest triggered by bureaucratic blunders. Tribes that had earlier acquiesced to government demands were revolting against broken treaties and near-starvation conditions.

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Elusive Equality

Despite the critical role buffalo soldiers played in protecting settlements, trading posts, farms, and ranches throughout the region, their sacrifice and valor were not repaid with unconditional acceptance.

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The Reenactors

Sometimes the best way to remember the past is to bring it to life in the present. Since the early 1990s, Buffalo Soldier reenactment groups have been springing up all over the nation to pay tribute to these largely forgotten American servicemen.

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