Until the 1890s, the black regiments served almost entirely at remote western frontier posts. Comprised initially of mostly illiterate former slaves, they overcame their shortcomings and the army's initial tendency to supply them with cast‐off equipment. They also faced considerable racial hostility and occasional violence from white civilians throughout their frontier service.
All saw action against hostile Indians. Sergeant Emanuel Stance of the Ninth Cavalry was the first of eighteen black soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars between 1870 and 1890. Both cavalry regiments played prominent roles in the brutal Apache wars of 1877–81; they suffered more casualties than all the other frontier campaigns. They also fought in Cuba, in the Philippine War (1899–1902), and in Mexican border skirmishes (1915–16).
The sobriquet “Buffalo” Soldiers was applied first to the 10th Regiment around 1870. The term apparently originated with the Cheyenne Indians, who may have seen a similarity between the curly hair and the dark skin of the soldiers and the buffalo. Soon the Ninth's troopers also became known as buffalo soldiers, and ultimately the infantrymen too came to be considered buffalo soldiers. Many writers contend that the name reflected the Indians' respect for the soldiers, but Native American commentators disagree.
[See also African Americans in the Military; Army, U.S.: 1866–99; Plains Indians Wars.]
William H. Leckie , The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West, 1967.
Arlen L. Fowler , The Black Infantry in the West 1869–1891, 1971.
Frank N. Schubert , On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier: Biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866–1917, 1995.
Frank N. Schubert
"“Buffalo” Soldiers." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/buffalo-soldiers
"“Buffalo” Soldiers." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved December 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/buffalo-soldiers
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