Buffalo Soldiers Pt. 3

San Angelo - TX - Written by: Cory Robinson, Curator at Fort Concho

By the time Fort Concho was founded in 1867, African-Americans had served in the United States volunteer military from the American Revolution through the Civil War. 

On July 28, 1866, an Act of Congress established post-war regiments of regular soldiers composed of black enlisted men, or those considered other than white.  The original strength levels included four infantry regiments (38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st) and two cavalry regiments (9th and 10th).  On March 3, 1869 another Congressional Act reduced the military to only 25 regiments of infantry, consolidating the 38th and 41st into the 24th Infantry and the 39th and 40th into the 25th Infantry.  These men were ex-slaves, sons of former slaves, or free men of color who resided in and were recruited from all regions of the United States.  In the frontier army, they received the same pay and basic equipment as that of the white units, a major contrast to post-civil war society.  Elements of all four regiments of these “Buffalo Soldiers” were assigned to Texas forts within a few years of their creation.

Black soldiers began arriving at Fort Concho in March 1869 and served at various times until March 1885.  At the fort, alongside the white units, they spent most of their time building and maintaining the post, caring for animals and equipment, and drilling and performing routine ceremonies.  In the field they explored, scouted, patrolled and mapped the vast West Texas regions, strung several hundred miles of telegraph wire and helped build hundreds of miles of roads.  Black troops stationed at Fort Concho also took part in a few major military campaigns.  In the spring of 1875, Lieutenant Colonel William Shafter took six companies of the 10th Cavalry and two of his own 24th Infantry on the great Staked Plains expedition.  In 1880, Colonel Benjamin Grierson and his 10th Cavalry, along with elements of the 24th and 25th Infantry, pursued Apache Chief Victorio across the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas.

For sixteen years elements of all four regiments of Buffalo Soldiers called Fort Concho home.  In spite of racism and the hardships of the frontier army, these men served with great distinction.  They helped create and maintain Fort Concho and had a substantial effect on the growth of San Angelo and the development of West Texas.

How did they get their name?

The origin, significance, and prevalence of the term “Buffalo Soldier” are not clear.  Most agree that the name, presumably a sign of respect, came from the Cheyenne or Comanche Indians sometime between 1867 and 1871.  The tribes supposedly compared these men to the buffalo in both appearance and their fighting tenacity.  There is very little evidence that the soldiers themselves used this title and most people at that time called them other terms such as “brunettes” or other derogatory names.  The name originally was given to the cavalry soldiers and over time became synonymous with all African-American regiments.  The earliest known references date from 1872 and 1873, but the term would not be widely used until the 20th century.

Camp Supply, Indian Territory
June 1872

The Indians call them “Buffalo Soldiers” because their wooly heads are so much like the matted cushion that is between the horns of the buffalo.

Frances Roe
Wife of Lt. Fayette Roe
3rd U. S. Infantry

Fort Sill, Indian Territory
October 5, 1873

The colored troops (called by the Comanches the “Buffalo Soldiers,” because like the buffalo, they are wooly), are in excellent drill and condition…These “Buffalo Soldiers” are active, intelligent, and resolute men; are perfectly willing to fight the Indians, whenever they may be called upon to do so, and appear to me to be rather superior to the average of white men recruited in time of peace.
Letter from unnamed correspondent

Printed in the magazine The Nation in 1873


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