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The first peacetime all-Black army regiment, which we honor on Buffalo Soldiers Day, July 28th each year, was formed mainly to keep order in the Wild West after the Civil War. In such a rough-and-tumble place, where unknown natural dangers and thieves abounded, the buffalo soldiers had extremely low desertion rates. These brave men of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were inexplicably named the ‘buffalo soldiers’ not by their own leadership, but by the Native American tribes they came into contact with — and no one quite knows why! These troops helped catch cattle thieves, protect national parks, ensure the safe travel of settlers from the East, and much more. Today, we honor their service in helping our country stay safe, and being a groundbreaking step towards greater racial equality in the military.
History of Buffalo Soldiers Day
The buffalo soldiers, named by Native American Indians for reasons no one has ever quite determined, were some of the most valiant frontier military men in the wild, Wild West. The group of all-Black servicemen consisted of the 9th and 10th Cavalry-, as well as some infantry regiments, after the end of the Civil War. The military had begun to allow Black people to serve in a segregated military that was far from equal — when the 9th and 10th Cavalry mustered in 1866 and 1867, respectively, they were given low-quality and insufficient amounts of supplies.
Despite the lack of supplies, their assignment to the dangerous and distant American frontier, and the racism that reared its ugly head from their commanders as well as the citizens they were sworn to protect, the buffalo soldiers boasted the lowest desertion rates of any of the frontier groups at that time. In the beginning, the 9th Cavalry was sent to Texas and the 10th to Kansas. However, their tasks remained largely the same — to protect roads and settlers from Native American Indians.
The buffalo soldiers are perhaps best known for their engagement in the Indian Wars, a series of battles and skirmishes that unfolded as White settlers encroached upon the land of Native American Indians. Over the course of more than a decade, the buffalo soldiers were able to largely subdue the Native American Indians, with the 10th Cavalry even joining the 9th in Texas in their campaigns. Of the US Cavalry soldiers that fought in these battles, the tiny but mighty buffalo soldiers made up no less than 20%!
After the Indian Wars, the buffalo soldiers faced new kinds of assignments. As national parks like Yosemite were established, they played a crucial role in warding off unfriendlies like poachers. Later, the cavalry and some infantry units were transferred to Florida in response to the Spanish-American War. They would go on to serve in places like the Philippines, the Pacific theater of World War II, and at the Mexican Border — and they faced racism every step of the way.
Racial segregation in the military was abolished in the late 1940s and, by the 1950s, the buffalo soldiers were all but a memory, having been redistributed to other units. The legacy they left, however, was unmistakable. When the dust cleared, 14 members of the buffalo soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, and they had done undeniably important work in securing the safety of roads and settlers. They were valiant and brave men who we honor today as inspiring historical figures.
Buffalo Soldiers Day timeline
The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, which comprise the buffalo soldiers, muster in 1866 and 1867, respectively — part of what takes the 10th Cavalry longer to muster is the leaderships’ choice to wait for more educated men.
By this year, the buffalo soldiers succeed in subduing the Native American Indian resistance to westward expansion in Texas, which is part of the series of skirmishes known as the Indian Wars.
After successfully managing the settler expansion of the West and warding off the tribes settled there, the buffalo soldiers are re-stationed in Florida during the Spanish-American War.
All units of the buffalo soldiers are officially deactivated, and members are integrated with White units at the end of segregation in the military.
Executive Order 9981, issued by President Truman, officially ends racial segregation in the United States Armed Forces.
At the truly ripe age of 111, Mark Matthews, the oldest living buffalo soldier, dies in Washington, D.C.
Buffalo Soldiers Day FAQs
What are some organizations that support Black veterans?
Some organizations include The National Association for Black Veterans, Black Veterans Project, and the Center for Minority Veterans.
Where are the buffalo soldiers memorials?
There are memorials at Fort Clark, Fort McKavett, Fort Concho, Fort Elliott, and more!
Are there other national holidays on July 28?
Yes! July 28 is also National Chocolate Milk Day and World Hepatitis Day.
How to Observe Buffalo Soldiers Day
Learn about racism in the military
Though there are protections and legislation preventing racism and segregation in the military, the culture can be a challenging one for people of color. Today, Black and other minority service members still report instances of racism, so we must all do our best to educate ourselves and eradicate the issue.
Visit a buffalo soldiers monument
Sprinkled throughout the country, monuments to the buffalo soldiers are long-standing testaments to their bravery. There is even a Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas! Stop by a monument or museum close to you and post a picture of it with the hashtag #BuffaloSoldiersDay to encourage more people to learn their history and respect their legacy.
Fly the flag
At the end of the day, the buffalo soldiers served the United States through the most challenging of situations — wild Western plains, deserts, hostile Native American Indians, and racism in parts of the country — for their love of it. We can honor their service by flying our flag proudly!
5 Important Facts About Buffalo Soldiers
Many became decorated military members
Many buffalo soldiers members were recipients of the Medal of Honor, awarded for going above and beyond the call of duty.
They were lacking supplies
When the 10th Cavalry Regiment was instated, the men were given old horses and equipment, and very little ammunition — despite this, the group showed great retention and success.
They had a flooring number of engagements
The buffalo soldiers were involved in nearly 200 engagements during the 30 years they supervised the American frontier.
They had the first Black West Point graduate
Henry Ossian Flipper, the first Black man to graduate from U.S. Military Academy West Point, also became the first Black officer to command U.S. military forces when he was called to lead the 10th Cavalry.
Not the Congressional Medal of Honor
Though there is some confusion on this topic, the award is simply called the Medal of Honor, not the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Why Buffalo Soldiers Day is Important
They’ve had a huge cultural impact
From being the muse of a Bob Marley song to sparking inspiration for TV episodes and movies, the buffalo soldiers have been an inspiration of dedication, honor, and valor for many — especially Black Americans.
They were inspiring
The buffalo soldiers had record-low desertion rates, won 14 Medals of Honor, and had the first Black West Point graduate — it’s safe to say they’re pretty inspirational! It’s important to remember the men who strove this hard for equality and the country, and aspire to be like them.
It shines a light on the military
Many of us take the freedom we enjoy for granted. Reading up on the buffalo soldiers and the history of the military at large reminds us just how hard-earned this right actually is. Besides appreciating the buffalo soldiers, this holiday helps us appreciate all the men and women who fight for our rights.
Buffalo Soldiers Day dates