History

The Stories of the Texas Buffalo Soldiers are Brought to Life by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

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When your mind’s eye raises an image of the men that rode chivalrously through the American west to come to the aid of settlers, it’s probably conjuring up the concepts that have been assisted by Hollywood and artist’s renderings in school textbooks meant to solicit some form of emotion from a middle-school-aged adolescent. We are an impressionable group, and nine times out of ten, our impression in this case is that of a gallant white male, dressed in blue, riding in on a strong horse, both components of which are healthy, happy to be there, and perhaps have a gleam in their eye. That being said, there’s a part of history that often went overlooked in movies and textbooks, and that is the one of the U.S. Buffalo Soldiers.

The Stories of the Texas Buffalo Soldiers Are Brought to Life By Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Photo: Facebook/Traces of Texas

The story of western expansion in America has been glazed over or built up (depending on whose version you’re watching or reading) in a way as to make our past be more appreciated. In hindsight, it’s hoped that screenwriters and textbook aficionados didn’t overlook key components of the truth in efforts to have them forgotten, but simply to provide a “Cliff Notes” version that would keep our ever-developing brains tuned in and riveted. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is taking a different approach to the past by bringing the lesser-told stories and underappreciated parts of our history to life at a number of events throughout Texas that you and your family can watch and learn from, namely, the story of the U.S. Buffalo Soldiers.

The Stories of the Texas Buffalo Soldiers Are Brought to Life By The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Photo: Facebook/Buffalo Soldiers Program – Texas Parks and Wildlife

During these events, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department representatives in period costume will share the history of the Buffalo Soldier and treat visitors to various tastes of history through role-playing, demonstrations, and scenarios depicting the life and times of these brave men. The 9th and 10th cavalries, as well as the 24th and 25th infantry regiments, were the official units of the U.S. Buffalo Soldiers, which were formed after the Civil War, and with the exception of possibly a white officer, consisted of 100% African-American soldiers.

The Stories of the Texas Buffalo Soldiers Are Brought to Life By The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Photo: Facebook/Texas Historical Commission

Those that weren’t enslaved prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as many freed slaves, joined these units – some in an effort to escape various forms of oppression, others to make a choice and do something that they wanted to do. Although they were free, many of them faced powerful discrimination, anger, and hatred throughout the South, and quite a number of them saw the U.S. Army as a place that could offer them the chance to serve as equals. This is something, however, which would take decades longer as it wasn’t until 1948 that the military was desegregated through President Harry S. Truman, and until then, African-American soldiers continued to serve in separate units, many in service positions as opposed to combat or leadership roles.

The Stories of the Texas Buffalo Soldiers Are Brought to Life By The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Photo: Facebook/The Walking Ghosts of Black History

Little-known was the fact, however, that the U.S. Buffalo Soldiers were at the forefront of the expansion of the American West, often being sent to construct roads, build forts, and hang telegraph wires, and in Texas, the 9th Cavalry arrived in approximately 1867 to do just those things, coming into contact and direct conflict with Native Americans as they followed their orders to expand into the west. As such, one of the streams of thought as to why they were referred to as “buffalo soldiers” is that Native Americans perceived the African-American soldiers to fight as tough as buffalo. Actual reasons have never been documented, although the name stuck.

The Stories of the Texas Buffalo Soldiers Are Brought to Life By The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Photo: Facebook/Texas Parks and Wildlife

Playing a large role in western expansion, the U.S. Buffalo Soldiers served as the first national park rangers, were members of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps (using bikes to explore and patrol areas of the American West) and served in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Often underappreciated in our history books as well as in Hollywood versions of our past, many of our own citizens didn’t realize such a group even existed despite such contribution. As such, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department works to bring the stories of the Texas Buffalo Soldiers to life through programs, period costumes, and tools in free presentations (with regular park admissions at select locations) for you to enjoy with family and friends, and learn a key part of our history and true life expansion into the American West.