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Buffalo Soldiers history entwined with American West

buffalo soldiers memorial.jpg
Posted at 7:46 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 10:24:54-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — In our series of stories celebrating Black History Month, News 5 is focusing on the Buffalo Soldiers; the all-black Army Cavalry and Infantry regiments established following the Civil War. The units were kept segregated up until World War II when the military integrated its forces.

On the 150th anniversary of the Act of Congress establishing the regiments that would become the Buffalo Soldiers, local volunteers celebrated the dedication of a new monument in Memorial Park celebrating the service of these soldiers. Dennis Moore was part of the committee that helped to establish the local monument.

"We thought the buffalo would be eye-catching for people coming past this way to make them want to come up and see the memorial," he explained.

Moore's participation in the memorial project would lead him to years of in-depth study of the Buffalo Soldiers. Prior to the pandemic, he would regularly give guest lectures on the many accomplishments and missions of these units.

Moore explained that during the summer of 1866, the ranks of the Army had dwindled from more than 1.8 million men to fewer than 18,000. There was heavy demand for soldiers on the frontier as westward expansion flourished.

"Congress realized, they needed men and bodies to protect out West," Moore said.

The men who served with the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry guarded stagecoaches, railroad crew, and wagon trains. They also settle range wars, chased horse thieves and cattle rustlers. They built forts, roads, and bridges. They strung telegraph wires and charged San Juan Hill with Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War.

They did all these things at a time when Jim Crow was both the law and a way of life. Moore said the Buffalo Soldiers were frequently treated worse by the people they were protecting than the criminals they sought.

"They got mistreated, not just by the local community. Some of their officers mistreated them, tied them to the back of wagons, and drug them because they didn't obey commands and all sorts of stuff," he said.

The legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers lives on across the federal government today. Prior to the creation of a formal US Border Patrol, Buffalo Soldiers were sent to protect American border towns. They provided security for postal deliveries and guarded the national parks before the creation of the National Park Service.

Perhaps their greatest legacy lives in the armed forces. Moore tells the story of Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. who enlisted with the 9th Cavalry in 1899. He would become the first African-American to rise to the rank of Brigadier General in the US Army.
His son Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was a Captain with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and would later become the first African-American Brigadier General in the US Air Force.

"These were the men that everybody stood on the shoulders of, they're the ones that really pushed in the integration, as far as I'm concerned, in the military," Moore said.

He hopes that our local memorial will inspire the community to learn more about its past.

"I want everybody to know the whole American History," he said. "Without knowing their history, you do not have the whole American history."

On the day the memorial was dedicated, the city also announced that a 10 mile stretch of US Highway 24 between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs had been renamed in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers.