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The Beginning

African Americans have served proudly in every great American war. In 1866, through an act of Congress, legislation was adopted to create six all African American Army units. The units were identified as the 9th and 10th cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st infantry regiments. The four infantry regiments were later reorganized to form the 24th and 25th infantry regiments.
These fighting men represented the first Black professional soldiers in a peacetime army. The recruits came from varied backgrounds including former slaves and veterans from service in the Civil War.


Our Roots

African Americans have fought in military conflicts since colonial days. However, the Buffalo Soldiers, comprised of former slaves, freemen and Black Civil War soldiers, were the first to serve during peacetime. Once the Westward movement had begun, prominent among those blazing treacherous trails of the Wild West were the Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. Army. These African Americans were charged with and responsible for escorting settlers, cattle herds, and railroad crews. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments also conducted campaigns against American Indian tribes on a western frontier that extended from Montana in the Northwest to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the Southwest.

Throughout the era of the Indian Wars, approximately twenty percent of the U.S. Cavalry troopers were Black, and they fought over 177 engagements. The combat prowess, bravery, tenaciousness, and looks on the battlefield, inspired the Indians to call them Buffalo Soldiers. The name symbolized the Native American’s respect for the Buffalo Soldiers’ bravery and valor. Buffalo Soldiers, down through the years, have worn the name with pride. Buffalo Soldiers participated in many other military campaigns: The Spanish American War, The Philippine Insurrection, The Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II, and the Korean Police Action. Much have changed since the days of the Buffalo Soldiers, including the integration of all-military servicemen and women. However, the story of the Buffalo Soldiers remains one of unsurpassed courage and patriotism, and will be forever a significant part of the history of America.

African Americans have fought with distinction in all of this country’s military engagements. However, some of their most notable contributions and sacrifices came during the Civil War. During that conflict, more than 180,000 African Americans wore the Union Army blue. Another 30,000 served in the Navy, and 200,000 served as workers on labor, engineering, hospital and other military support projects. More than 33,000 of these gallant soldiers gave their lives for the sake of freedom and their country. Shortly after the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments: Six all Black peacetime units. Later the four infantry regiments were merged into the 24th and 25th Infantries.

In countless skirmishes and firefights, the troopers won the respect of the Plains warriors who named “Buffalo Soldiers.” African Americans accepted the badge of honor and wore it proudly. At least 18 Medals of Honor were presented to Buffalo Soldiers during the Western Campaigns. Similarly, 23 African Americans received the nation’s highest military award during the Civil War.


Six Regimental Units Activated

Buffalo Soldiers Background – Six Regimental Units Activated
Over 180,000 Black Americans served in the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War.  More than 33,000 died. After the war, the future of the Black soldiers in the US Army was in doubt. However, in 1866 Congress authorized, for the first time, Black Americans to serve in the peacetime army of the United States. Two cavalry and four infantry regiments were created and designated the 9th and 10th U.S.. Cavalry regiments and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st U.S. Infantry regiments were activated on July 28, 1866.  The four infantry regiments later became the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments. The all-Black American regiments, commanded mostly by white officers, were composed of Civil War veterans, former slaves, and freemen.


Buffalo Soldiers played a major role in the settlement and development of the American West.  After serving in most of conflicts against bandits, renegades, and Native Americans throughout the western United States, several units moved to Arizona at such posts as Ft. Bowie and Ft. Verde in the 1880’s.  As protectors of the southern border and the New Mexico Territory including Arizona, Buffalo Soldiers created the atmosphere to establish Arizona and New Mexico as states.


While stationed at Fort Huachuca, AZ, Buffalo Soldiers:

  • Protected traffic on the San Antonio-El Paso Road

  • Protected Native American Indian reservations

  • Protected settlers and guarded stage stations

  • Participated in campaigns during the Indian Wars

  • Constructed roads and telegraph lines

  • Maintained law and order along the US-Mexican Border


Also, all four regimental units (9th and 10th Calvary and the 24th and 25th Infantry) were garrisoned at Fort Huachuca, AZ at one time or another.  Fort Huachuca is the only military installation to have this distinction. 


In the spring 1916, Buffalo Soldiers and Major Charles Young (one of only six black officers in the Army at the time) were called upon to join General “Black Jack “Pershing in his pursuit of Pancho Villa into Mexico after his attack on Columbus, NM. This became known as the “Punitive Expedition of 1916.” In January 1918 Buffalo Soldiers defended ranchers from incursions by the Yaquis just west of Nogales, AZ in one of the last battles of the Indian wars in the continental United States.  Throughout the period of the Indian Wars, about twenty (20%) of the U.S. cavalry troopers were black soldiers, while eight (8%) of the infantry were black soldiers.  These black soldiers rose above the challenges of harsh living conditions, difficult duty, and racial prejudice to gain a reputation of dedication and bravery. Buffalo Soldiers were known to have played a significant historical role in at least six National Park Service Units in the American Southwest: 

  • Fort Davis National Historic Site (N.H.S.), TX

  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

  • Fort Larned N.H.S., KS

  • Fort Bowie N.H.S., AZ

  • Chiricahua National Monument, AZ


The Buffalo Soldier units were disbanded in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 integrating the military services.

Behind the Nickname "Buffalo Soldiers"

According to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, the name originated with the Cheyenne warriors in the winter of 1867. The actual Cheyenne translation was "Wild Buffalo." However, writer Walter Hill documented the assertions of Colonel Benjamin Grierson, who founded the 10th Cavalry regiment, who recalled an 1871 campaign against the Comanche tribe. Hill attributed the origin of the name to the Comanche based on Colonel Grierson's assertions. Some sources contend that the nickname was given out of respect for the fierce fighting ability of the 10th cavalry. Other sources say that Native Americans called the black cavalry troops "Buffalo Soldiers" because of their dark curly hair, which resembled a buffalo's coat. Still other sources point to a combination of both legends. The term Buffalo Soldiers became a generic term for all African-American soldiers. It is now used for U.S. Army units that trace their direct lineage back to the 9th and 10th Cavalry, units whose service earned them an honored place in U.S. history.


Bringing Change


How They Got Their Name

Stories relating to the origin of the legendary name “Buffalo Soldiers” are as varied as there are people to tell them. Presented here are a few of the most accepted ideas regarding the name. Some attribute it to the Indians likening the short curly hair of the black troopers to that of the buffalo. Another possibility for the nickname was the heavy buffalo robes the soldiers wore on winter campaigns. Others say that when the American bison was wounded or cornered, it fought ferociously, displaying uncommon stamina and courage, identical to the black man in battle.


Motto: “WE CAN: WE WILL”

Their adversary, whether Indians, outlaws, Mexican revolutionaries, or gun smugglers, found that the Buffalo Soldiers, like their namesake, could not easily be diverted from their trail. Whatever the reason for the name, the Buffalo Soldier has come down in American military history as one of the proudest individuals of all.


How They Dressed

During the 1870-1880’s, the Buffalo Soldier wore a flannel shirt, and a blouse of dark blue with light blue trousers tucked into over-the-knee boots. Also, civil war kepi (hat) adorned with crossed sabers bearing regimental and troop designation. He was armed with a 45-70 Springfield carbine (rifle), a Colt Army .45, (1873 model) caliber pistol and a saber. He was outfitted with a slouch ‘campaign’ hat, black at first and a light grayish-brown by 1874. The Buffalo Soldiers were not issued a neckerchief but generally wore one of his own color of choice anyway. Sometimes yellow more often red or white. These were real necessities, especially for the men riding further back in the column needing protection from the thick clouds of dust kicked up by the front ranks.


The 10th Cavalry Regiment is one of the unique regiments in U.S. Military history. Moving west from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, within a year after its activation in 1866, the 10th began its march into immortality. The spring of 1877 marked the beginning of more than two decades of continuous service. Locations like the Great Plains and in the mountains and deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. The challenge was a formidable one. Ten years of near constant campaigning were required before conflicts with numerous Indian nations subsided. Five years would pass before there was peace along the tormented Rio Grande frontier where bands of Indians, outlaws, Mexican bandits and revolutionaries roamed, raided, stole and murdered under conditions nearing total chaos.

The regiment distinguished itself in Cuba at Santiago and Las Guasimas, and in the famous charge up San Juan Hill. What most people do not know is that the brunt of the fighting was borne by the soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments. One eyewitness has written: “If it had not been for the Negro Cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated. The 10th Cavalry fought for 48 hours under fire from Spaniards who were in brick forts on the hill.



Here at Ninth and Tenth Horse Cavalry Association, we’re committed to investing our expertise and resources in order to further achieve our cause. Since 2000, we’ve been supporting our community members in a variety of ways and measuring our success not by monetary size, but by more qualitative measurements such as the scale and effectiveness of our efforts. Just imagine what we can achieve together!

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