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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Name origins

Here are my thoughts--what I know and think--about what may be the earliest written--BUT NOT PUBLISHED--use of the term "buffalo soldiers."

The following from a June, l872 (recall the item in Nation appeared a bit more than a year later in October, l873) "letter" by Frances M.A. Roe, the wife of a 3rd Inf. officer, has often been cited as the earliest use of the term. Mrs. Roe wrote from Camp Suipply, Indian Territory (note the June l and l3 issues of the Army and Navy Journal note the garrison of this post consisted of companies C and F of the l0th Cav and B, C and I of the 3rd Infantry). Mrs. Roe observed:

"The officers say that the negores make good soldiers and fight like fiends. They certainly manage to stick to their horses like monkeys. The Indians call them "buffalo soldiers" because their wolly headfs are so much like the matted cushion that is between the horns of the buffalo."

In the same letter, Mrs Roe noted that Camp Supply "was certainly in Indian country, for it is surrounded by Comanches, Apaches, Kiowas, Cheyenne and Apaches..." She did not state which of these groups coined the term buffalo soldiers.

Mrs. Roe's observations formed the basis of a book published in l909, Army Letters from an Officer's Wife. Take careful note of this date---l909.

Moving from fact to my opinions:
For almost forty years I have considered the June, l872 letter as the earliest recorded use of buffalo soldiers. But it is now my view that
Mrs. Roe did not base her book on letters written in the l870s and 80s. I now believe she used the literary device of a series of "letters" to present what in fact are her memoirs--possibly written decades after the events they describe.
Consider: the published letters list the place, month and year they werte written--but not the day. Also, Mrs Roe does not name the persons she wrote to. And a totally subjective observation: although the book is written in the first person, I think the text reads like an after-the-fact narrative and not personal letters.
It is possible, of course, that her "letters" were based on a diary/journal actually written between l872 and l888.
As far as I know, Mrs. Roe's letters or diary/journal have not survived.

All of this is ot to say that Mrs. Roe's observations are not accutrate. She very well may have encountered the term buffalo soldirs at Camp Supply in the summer of l872. I think it is more likely, however, that she assigned a l872 date to information she kearned at another time and place--perhaps much later than l872 and far from the military frontier. But this is l00% speculation.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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