Thursday, February 10, 2022

Black History Month: The Buffalo Soldiers

The story of Black Americans fighting under our nation’s flag is a rich part of American history.
Over the course of the Civil War approximately 180,000 Black Americans served in the Union Army and Navy. The Army Organization Act of 1866 allowed former slaves to serve in America’s peacetime Army. 

Two Cavalry (the 9th and 10th) and two Infantry (the 24th and 25th) regiments served throughout the American West and they became known as the Buffalo Soldiers. The name was given to them by the Plains Indians. The soldiers adopted the name as they knew how esteemed buffalo were to the Native Americans. (The Buffalo Division made of the 92nd and 93rd infantry was constituted for World War I and was also activated in World War II.)

The early Buffalo Soldiers mainly served in the Western Frontier where their role was to contain the Plains Indians and provide security for settlers. They fought the Comanche, Cheyenne, and Apache Indians. In 1877, Colonel August V. Kuatz, Commander of the Department of Arizona, made Fort Huachuca the home of the Buffalo Soldiers. (On April 3, 1865, Kuatz’s division of the United States Colored Troops was among one of the first to occupy Richmond.) From 1870 to 1890, fourteen Buffalo Soldiers were awarded medals of honor, the Army's highest award for bravery.  The Fort Huachuca Buffalo Soldiers made significant contributions in the Spanish American War including the charge up San Juan Hill.

Some of the other duties of the soldiers included capturing cattle rustler’s and outlaws as well as guarding mail deliveries, stage coaches, wagon trains, and railroad crews. One of their most important tasks was mapping the Southwest to accommodate roads and telegraph lines, infrastructure that was integral to the development of the area.

In 1948, the last Buffalo Soldier units were disbanded when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which integrated all military service. Steve Lewis of Bradenton, Florida, one of the last Buffalo Soldiers, died on December 28, 2021 at the age of 99. Lewis served in the Ninth Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army in the early days of World War II. It is uncertain if there are any surviving Buffalo Soldiers.

In 1992 Congress passed a law designating July 28th (the day the first regiments were formed) as Buffalo Soldiers Day. A memorial plaza honoring Buffalo Soldiers was dedicated on May 3, 2021 in Tucson. The memorial is located next to the Quincie Douglas Library at 1575 E. 36th Street, Tucson and is open to the public.
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This month the Oro Valley Historical Society's exhibit will focus on Black History. Discover Black traditions and the origins of Black history month. The exhibit also features black history specific to Tucson and the Greater Oro Valley area. 

The Pusch House Museum at Steam Pump Ranch (10901 No. Oracle Road) is open Saturdays, February 12, and 19 from 9 to Noon and February 26 from 9 to 11 (doors close at eleven due to maintenance work in the Pusch House). For more information or to donate, volunteer or become a member, visit
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Reference sites: Katz, William: The Black West Lawson, Harry, PhD. The History of African Americans in Tucson