1866 was a watershed for African-American participation in the military. An act of Congress authorized the formation of six Black regiments, two cavalry (9th & 10th) and four infantry (38th, 39th, 40th, & 41st). The infantry regiments were later consolidated and re-designated as the 24th & 25th Infantries. These soldiers became known as the BUFFALO SOLDIERS.
Over several decades, BUFFALO SOLDIERS served in forts throughout the United States, including Arizona, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. They endured bitter hardships and often received inferior food, equipment and horses. However, they received the highest number (18) of Congressional Medals of Honor and had the lowest desertion rate of any Army regiment from 1867 to 1898. In addition to engaging in several skirmishes with Native Americans, they confronted outlaws, desperadoes, protected stage and railway lines, guarded frontiersmen against bandits and cattle rustlers. They rescued Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War.
Native Americans bestowed the name BUFFALO SOLDIERS upon the Black soldiers. Although, the reason for the name is uncertain, one theory suggests that the buffalo represented strength and courage, the same spirit they saw in Black soldiers. Another theory implies that Native Americans thought that Black man’s hair resembled the mane of the buffalo. Black soldiers accepted the name BUFFALO SOLDIERS as a badge of honor and the buffalo was made a part of the 10th Cavalry’s regimental crest.
Although the BUFFALO SOLDIERS’ role in the settlement of the West proved to be invaluable to this nation, historical accounts of their deeds during that period are virtually invisible. However, the story was told on a postage stamp designed by the renowned artist Mort Kuntsler of Oyster Bay, New York.
The U.S. Postal Service saluted the BUFFALO SOLDIERS with the dedication of a 29 cents commemorative stamp, at Fort Huachuca. The BUFFALO SOLDIERS were first stationed at Fort Huachuca in the early 1890s with the arrival of the 24th Infantry and the 9th & 10th Cavalries.
Known for their ability to fight, the BUFFALO SOLDIERS stationed at Fort Huachuca distinguished themselves in two of the more well known campaigns at the turn of the century. The were at the battle of San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt and the campaign to capture Pancho Villa. BUFFALO SOLDIERS continued to be stationed at Fort Huachuca until the end of WWII. A permanent display of the BUFFALO SOLDIERS is located at the Fort Huachuca, Arizona Museum.