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Buffalo soldiers; where did they come from?

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Pastor Sammy Neely, right, presents Stanley Mackey with a certificate of appreciation, on behalf on Mackey’s father, Cpl. Wilson Mackey, who served in the military as a Buffalo Soldier. The presentation was made during the Juneteenth Celebration at Courthouse Park on June 17.


In 1866, African American soldiers contemplated a question: they had fought and died in the Civil War. Now what?

That same year, Congress contemplated a question, too. How do we revise and rebuild the military now that the bloodiest war in American history is over? It turns out that the answer to both questions was mostly the same.

The carnage of the Civil War had severely depleted military troop numbers. The Army needed more men, and it needed a new way to organize them.

On July 28, 1866, the Army Reorganization Act authorized the formation of 30 new units, including two cavalry and four infantry regiments “which shall be composed of colored men.”

About half of the black Civil War veterans took the opportunity and signed on. For the first time in history, African-American men were now considered “regular” soldiers. They could serve their country and further their quest for equality in the institution that gave them the best opportunity to do both — the U. S. Army.

Under the new Army structure, African American soldiers were organized into six segregated regiments, which were later combined into four: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. These soldiers fought in over 100 significant military engagements as America pushed ever westward, earning the nickname that symbolized their fighting bravery and fierceness: Buffalo Soldiers.

Buffalo Soldier regiments were stationed at Texas forts stretching from the Panhandle to the Valley. Major General William T. Sherman, commander of the 24th Infantry unit, reported to Congress in 1874 that it was probably a good idea to keep Buffalo Soldier troops in Texas because “that race can better stand the extreme southern climate than our white troops.”

In addition to protecting frontier settlements, Buffalo Soldiers regiments surveyed and mapped the vast Texas plains, built and repaired dozens of forts, strung thousands of miles of telegraph lines, and escorted countless wagon trains, stagecoaches, railroad trains, and cattle herds across the southwest.

There are differing theories regarding the origin of the nickname, “Buffalo Soldiers.” Some say the men of these regiments received their “buffalo soldier” nickname from the Plains Indians.

Archivist Walter Hill of the National Archives has reported that, according to a member of the 10th Cavalry, in 1871 the Comanche bestowed the name of an animal they revered, the buffalo, on the men of the 10th Cavalry because they were impressed with their toughness in battle.

In 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 eliminating racial segregation in America’s armed forces. The last all-black units were disbanded during the 1950s.

Mark Matthews, the nation’s oldest living buffalo soldier, died in 2005 at age 111 in Washington, D.C.

Today, the Buffalo Soldiers live on in the activities of the American Buffalo Soldiers Re-enactors Association.

Headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, the ABSRA was founded in 1990 by former Marine, Charles F. Long II, to preserve and promote the legacy of the soldiers.

Fort Powell, named in honor of General Colin Powell for his contributions in raising America’s consciousness to the history of the Buffalo Soliders, is the home of the ABSRA.

The Buffalo Soldiers re-enactors provide a color guard and an honor guard for various events, deliver lecturers on historic and educational topics, appear in feature films and documentaries, perform in parades and Wild West shows, participate in corporate trail rides and cook-outs, and serve on funeral details.


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