Each year, we call February Black History Month. I believe each month should be not only a black history month, but all people's history months. Americans come in many colors and shapes. We all built this great nation. However, as February is officially designated by our government as Black History Month, allow me to provide a brief overview of the black cavalry and to a lesser degree the infantry in the west.
These troopers and soldiers' only started receiving historical recognition in the mid-1960s, nearly 100 years after they were authorized by the U.S. Congress, and the majority of their recognition came with the introduction of "The Buffalo Soldiers, a Narrative of the Black Cavalry in the West," by Dr. William H. Leckie, a University of Oklahoma professor. The following is distillation of the history of the Buffalo Soldiers:
"The U.S. Congress authorized the establishment of six, segregated Negro regiments on July 28, 1866. They recognized the military merits of African Americans by creating two cavalry and four infantry regiments. In 1869, Congress enacted a troop reduction; the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments were consolidated into the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments were called Buffalo Soldiers by the American Indians. Some say this was because of the tenacity with which they fought, and others say it was because the texture of their hair reminded them of the buffalo. Buffalo Soldiers units were in Arizona, Colorado, the Dakotas, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Elements of the 10th Cavalry were stationed at Fort Lyons, and troops of the 9th Cavalry were at Fort Garland. The Buffalo Soldiers aided the settlement of the American West. During the period of the Indian Wars, they fought against the Cheyenne, Apache, Kiowa, Ute, Comanche and Sioux. Other duties included patrolling the borders, protecting transportation routes, pursuing outlaws, installing telegraph lines, and delivering the mail longer than the Pony Express. The Buffalo Soldiers Regiments served with distinction and dedication during the Indian Wars, settling of the west and Spanish American War that helped to lead to the integration of the U.S. military by Executive Order No. 9981 on July 26, 1948."
As a young soldier in the early 1960s, I was assigned to Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, which is 15 miles from Mexico. I had personal contact with a small number of Buffalo Soldiers who were then retired, and living on modest (less than $40 per month) pensions in Sierra Vista or Huachuca City, Arizona, near Fort Huachuca.
These old soldiers had many stories regarding how senior Army officers of the period opposed the integration of the services. On Fort Huachuca, there remains an old decaying wooden building, which was the black officers club in the 1940s, now on the national historical register. Due to racial attitudes of the period, this remote location was selected as the home of the all black 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions. An Army Division structure is mission dependent, and personnel number can vary from 9,000-25,000 personnel.
I am very pleased to live in Colorado and in particular Colorado Springs. In 2016, this community with the help of the leadership of El Pomar Foundation, Ent Foundation, my dear friend Daniel Ferguson and many other donors, built a Buffalo Soldiers Community memorial. Without the help of key Buffalo Soldiers Committee members such as Dennis Moore, Former D-11 board member, Bob Null, Mel Elliott, Education Director Jim Mason, George Payton, Rob Mench, former president of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, Mark Knight and Dawn Elliott along with many others, the memorial would not be a reality.
Additionally, thanks to Mayor John Suthers, City Councilman Merv Bennett, State Sens. Kent Lambert and Mike Merrifield and Reps. Terri Carver and Pete Lee, we now have Buffalo Soldiers Memorial highway, the only one in the United States.
In so many ways, we have come a long, long way since July 26, 1866, but as our current political and social climate suggests, we have many miles to travel.
Willie Breazell is chairman of the Buffalo Soldiers Community Memorial Committee.