After the Civil War, six all-Black regiments were sent to the western frontier and became known as the Buffalo Soldiers. The name may have derived from Native Americans comparing their curly hair to a buffalo’s fur. Another is that their bravery and ferocity in battle reminded the Indians of the way buffalo fought. Whatever the reason, the soldiers considered the name high praise, as buffalo were deeply respected by the Native peoples of the Great Plains. And eventually, the image of a buffalo became part of the 10th Cavalry’s regimental crest. These troops were on the front lines of American westward expansion, tasked with protecting railroad lines and settlers, and earned 18 medals of honor for their service during the Indian Wars. Though they were continually discriminated against — they weren’t allowed to serve back East for fear of violent pushback from white citizens — the buffalo soldiers had the “lowest desertion rates” of any regiment in the Army. In areas where Buffalo Soldiers were stationed, they sometimes suffered deadly violence at the hands of civilians.
The remarkable courage demonstrated by these proud African-American soldiers in the face of fierce combat, extreme discrimination in the Army, deadly violence from civilians and repressive Jim Crow laws continues to inspire and oppress us still.