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The Buffalo Soldiers and the Indian Wars

Updated on November 13, 2016

Buffalo Soldier


When the Civil War ended many people moved west. The Indians did not want the settlers on their land so they started attacking them. Congress authorized the Army to form new regiments of Black Soldiers in 1866. These regiments were the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiment and the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments. They were organized to go west to protect the settlers and fight the Indians. The four infantry regiments were later reorganized into the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments.

Buffalo Soldier Cathay Williams

Unknown | Source

When the Civil War ended, Cathy Williams, who had been a cook in the Union Army enlisted in the Buffalo Soldiers 25th infantry Regiment because she needed a job to support herself. She enlisted as William Cathay. Later she had to be hospitalized and it was discovered that William Cathay was a woman. Women were not allowed to serve in the Army so in October 1868 “William Cathay” was found to be unfit for service and was honorably discharged.

Keeping the West Safe

Henry Bryan Hall, Sr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Henry Bryan Hall, Sr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Many of the men that joined the army had served in the Civil War. Many of them came from the New Orleans area, southern states, and northern states. Many of the men that enlisted had been slaves, and some were freemen.

There were around 5,000 black Soldiers that served in the western frontier from 1866 to 1890. The men would sign up for 5 years at a time. They would get 3 meals a day, a uniform, $13.00 a month pay and an education.

Fighting the Indians in the West

By Charles Marion Russell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Charles Marion Russell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The African American soldiers were very important in developing the West. They fought the Indians, put up telegraph lines, helped construct forts on the frontier, patrolled the Mexican border, captured outlaw gangs, thieves, cattle rustlers and Mexican bandits. They also performed jobs that no one else in the army wanted to do. The Buffalo Soldiers and the white soldiers worked as carpenters, plasterers, painters and bricklayers. They were also responsible for fighting Indians, protecting settlers, cattle herds, and protecting railroad crews. They would also have to do jobs no one else at the fort wanted to do like gathering fire wood for fuel which was difficult to find in the hot dry climate of Southern New Mexico.

The black regiments served all over the west. The regiments were made up of black soldiers but were commanded by white officers. At this time white officers did not like to serve with the black regiments. Life was not easy for the Buffalo Soldiers as they were discriminated against and they were segregated. They sometimes had inferior equipment and their food was not always the best.

In 1866 the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments started being called “Buffalo soldiers” by the Kiowa Indians in Western Kansas. The Kiowa thought the soldiers were brave like the buffalo and their hair was black ad curly like the buffalo. The soldiers of the cavalry considered the name a compliment and they used a picture of a buffalo on their regiment crest.

The Buffalo soldiers got very little recognition for their service in the army from 1866 to 1890. There were 417 medals awarded and only 18 medals were received by the African American enlisted men. The Buffalo Soldiers fought the Indian tribes in the west from Montana to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. During the time of the Indian wars, the U.S. Cavalry troopers were made up of about 20 percent African Americans.

Cavalry and Indians

Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The 9th and 10th Cavalry obtained little respect from the rest of the army while they were fighting Indians, Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws, Comancheros, and rustlers. They fought such icons as Geronimo, Billy the Kid, Poncho Villa and Sitting Bull to name a few.

The Buffalo Soldiers also explored and mapped large areas of the southwest. In 1871 General William Sherman and the 10th Cavalry checked out the Texas frontier to decide it was safe for white settlers. They mapped over 34,000 miles of unsettled territory.

Companies of the 25th Infantry went to New Mexico in August of 1866. They served in 7 army forts all over the territory. Most of them went to southern New Mexico in September of 1867. Six companies of black troops from the 38th Infantry replaced them. The 38th Infantry had fought against the Cheyenne Indians in Kansas.

When the 25th Infantry arrived in New Mexico they started fighting Apache Indians. The Apaches were difficult for the black and white troops alike. They had problems with the terrain as it was rough and water was scarce. The infantry moved slowly and the Indians were fast as they knew the terrain.

Buffalo Soldier

Unknown | Source

The best the Buffalo Soldiers could do against the Apaches was slow down the raiding and protect the settlers and their livestock. They also helped protect the settlers from rustlers and outlaws. They had to escorted military people, U.S. Mail carriers, and supply trains. They also escorted people traveling the Butterflied Overland Trail on their way to California.

The Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry played an important role in the Colfax County War in 1876 and the Lincoln County War of 1878.

Buffalo Soldiers Battle with Indians

By Unknown Public Domain
By Unknown Public Domain | Source

There were 885 men sent to Fort Davis and Fort Stockton from the 9th and 10th Cavalry. The Buffalo Soldiers guarded the civilian and government stagecoaches ;on the El Paso road and the San Antonio road when they were not fighting the Comanche and Apache Indians. On December 26, 1867, there were 400 Kickapoo Indians that moved toward Fort Lancaster while the soldiers from the 9th Cavalry company K were moving their horses out to the pasture. The Buffalo Soldiers fired at the Indians while they tried to get their horses back to the fort coral for safety. They fought the Indians all night. When the fight finally ended the next morning they had lost 18 horses to the Kickapoo and 2 soldiers.

Rescue the Children

Unknown | Source

n May of 1870, the Apache took 2 children in one of their raids. The 9th Cavalry with Sergeant Emmanuel Stance in command was sent from Fort McKavett to bring the children back. Sergeant Stance and his buffalo Soldiers fought many battles with the Apache and they finally rescued the children. They also got over a dozen horses that the Apaches had taken. Sergeant Stance was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery. He became the 1st African American to win the medal since the end of the Civil War.

Buffalo Soldiers were posted all over the Southwest, Great Plains, and Texas. The 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry were sent to Texas In 1873. They served in many military campaigns while they were in Texas. They also had many other duties.

Buffalo Soldiers Plains Wars

Buffalo Soldiers by Don Stivers
Buffalo Soldiers by Don Stivers | Source

The Buffalo soldiers and the armies main job was to get the Kiowa, Comanche, Southern Cheyenne, and Apache Indian tribes moved back to their reservations in the Indian Territory. Under the leadership of Chief Quanah Parker, the Indian tribes put up on last fight for their freedom and native land. The Indians had been fighting the army from 1874 to 1875 to remain on their land. There had been over 20 battles fought around the Red River area.

The Staked Plains Horror

By Leaflet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Leaflet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

On July 26, 1877, Captain Nicholas Nolan was sent with 60 Buffalo Soldiers from the 10th Cavalry to stop the Comanche raids. They left Fort Concho and went across Texas to meet up with the Comanches. It was a very hard trip and was made worse by the bad drought in Texas. The Buffalo Soldiers became lost in Llano Estacado after they had chased the Comanches for 5 days. The buffalo Soldiers had no water and four of them were dead. Many of the horses died and some of the soldiers drank their horse's blood to stay alive. This expedition was called “The Staked Plains Horror.”

Chief Victorio


After the Apache Chief Victorio had been very successful raiding in New Mexico he decided to come back to Texas and continue raiding. Units from the 24th Infantry and the 10th Cavalry were sent toward Rattlesnake Springs to encounter him and his braves and stop his raiding. The Buffalo Soldiers surrounded Victorio in August of 1880 and after fierce fighting Chief Victorio lead his braves out of Texas into Mexico. Word was received that Victorio had been killed one month later by Mexican soldiers.

Buffalo soldiers on the Move

Unknown | Source

In July the 10th Cavalry was given notice that the regimens headquarters were being moved to Fort Apache, Arizona. The regiment band was also moved. There were 12 Buffalo Regiments that moved from Fort Davis Texas. The Buffalo Soldiers were moved from Texas to Arizona because the Indian Raids had decreased in Texas. They marched along the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad from Texas to Arizona.


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    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This is a wonderful tale and history lesson, Norma. I always enjoyed the Bob Marley song "Buffalo Soldier" and so it was good to read all about them. I loved the accompanying images as well. Good work.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      This is such a sad tale, but it has been well researched and the addition of the images adds to the impact of the article. It seems that most of the countries in the 'new world' have similar stories of their early days, and wars big and small continue even today. Will we ever learn?

    • norlawrence profile imageAUTHOR

      Norma Lawrence 

      3 years ago from California

      Thanks petraubie48. The story of the Buffalo Soldiers is a sad one.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      I learned a lot from the hub and was most intrigued by the story of William Cathay. Some of the war details are sad and horrific.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from North Central Florida

      Such a harrowing time for those whose life were entangled in this way. so much here I did not know. Our history is filled with many stories that make us realize how much so many have endured over the years.

      Angels are once again on the way to you ps


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