Thursday, February 23, 2023

OVHS: Beyond the Buffalo Soldiers

A promise of a better life
The Southwest is proud of the history of the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. After the Civil War, the Army Organization Act of 1866 allowed former slaves to serve in America’s peacetime Army. Many former slaves were eager to enlist as the army life afforded them the opportunity for better social and economic engagement in a society that had imposed restrictions on them. Though the thirteen dollars a month was a meager wage, it was often more than they could expect as civilians. The food, clothing and shelter also provided them comforts of a better life.

Many accomplishments

The men of the 9th and 10th Cavalry made up about twenty percent of the troops in the West. The troops engaged with cattle rustlers and Indians, suppressed civil disorder, mapped uncharted areas, built roads, protected workers as they constructed the Union Pacific Railroad and rescued settlers. They rode with General John J. Pershing up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War and in Mexico, they chased Pancho Villa.

Cathay William... First and only female Buffalo Soldier
You might not know the unusual story of Buffalo Soldier, Cathay Williams. Cathay was born to a black free man and enslaved mother in Independence Missouri in 1842. During the Civil War she was obligated to work for Union Troops. Cathay sought excitement and self-determination. In 1866, after the Civil War, Cathay dressed in men’s clothing and enlisted in Company A 38th Infantry Colored Troops as William Cathay. As there were no physicals taken during enlistment, it was not detected that she was a woman. The baggy uniform could disguise her physique. Her company assignment was in New Mexico and Kansas. 

After two years of service carrying a musket and often on guard duty, “William” was ready to return to civilian life. After complaining of several medical maladies that took her into the infirmary, the post surgeon discovered William’s true identity. She received her discharge in short order! Oddly, the discharge papers did not refer to her gender. Instead it read: “He was then and has been since, feeble both physically and mentally, and much of the time unfit for duty.” Perhaps the Army did not want to recognize its error. Cathay went on to live on a ranch in Texas, and was known for being a century ahead of her time after serving in the Army as a Buffalo Soldier.

Learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers here  

Reference site: The Black West by William Loren Katz

The photograph is of an acrylic painting “On Watch”, by Ezra Tucker. It is on display at the Tucson Museum of Art.
- - -
Visit the Pusch House Museum
This is the last Saturday to see the exhibit “Arizona – The Road to Statehood” at the Pusch House Museum at Steam Pump Ranch.  Beginning Saturday, March 4 through March 25, the Oro Valley Historical Society will present, “Courageous, Resilient, Determined Women of Oro Valley and Beyond”. 

The museum is open Saturday, February 25, March 4, 11, and 25 from 9 to Noon. On Saturday, March 18 a walking tour of the Steam Pump Ranch property takes place between 9 and 11:30 a.m. (The Pusch House Museum is not open on March 18.) Tours leave about every 15 minutes from the Oro Valley Historical Society Booth at the south end of the Farmer’s Market. Steam Pump Ranch is located at 10901 N. Oracle Rd. Oro Valley. Donations for both the exhibit and tours are welcomed and encouraged so that the Oro Valley Historical Society can “Keep Oro Valley History Alive!”