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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Name origins
In Response To: Re: Name origins ()

Thank you very much for posting this Mr. Nagle.

The Negro had long been in Kansas, long before the Civil War. He had been the subject of much of the debate and fighting in that area prior to hostilities. Factions fought against each other for and against slavery long before Beauregard fired on Ft. Sumter. The Nations had also long been in Kansas and had intermingled with Whites and Blacks. They were all integral parts of the fabric of that place, its culture and its time. The word Nigger would not have been left at the door step of their ears. It would have entered, taken a seat, and made itself at home. The Nations fought on both sides of the Slavery issue in Kansas. One of the first Black regiments formed by the north, the 1st Kansas Colored, formed in ’62 had a mixture of Blacks and the Nations within its ranks. This regiment fought in several engagements against Confederate forces comprised of combatants from the Nations as well. Records of the combat between these two particular groups reveal that the fighting was indeed brutal beyond the norm. Dead Black troops were striped, scalped, mutilated and left on the field. In the company of Confederate forces, the Nations would have heard the word Nigger at every engagement where they would come into contact with Black troops.

I have had long discussions with all three of the scholars in this thread on the subject of the origins of the sobriquet “Buffalo Soldiers”. At times the discussions within these forums can run as smooth as a drive down the 210 freeway on a Sunday morning. At others it can get tangled, snarled and bogged down like traffic on the 405 on a week day. What is apparent to me and most relevant and even interesting is that there is a lack of any reference to the name coming from the subjects themselves. Soldier’s Black and White wrote home frequently during the Civil War about the pride they felt serving in their regiments and never failed to mention the “sobriquet” attached to the regiment, because in most cases it was rightfully hard earned with great courage and great loss. Names like the Iron Brigade, The Wolverines, Kershaw’s Brigade, The Irish Brigade, eloquently penned with fond remembrance in letters home, to news papers, politicians etc. Though it is true the Indian Wars regiments Black or White wrote less. The lack of any mention of the name by the Black regiments or the White regiments that served with them in the field speaks volumes on what was accepted by the soldiers themselves, or what they even knew of the term as it was being applied to them. I am sure that both Tom and Sharon are familiar with the court martial of an enlisted soldier who struck an NCO for calling him a “Damn Buffalo”.

The Relationship between the Buffalo Soldiers and the Nations

I do not subscribe to the notion that the Black Race was indeed more in touch with nor even had a greater awareness of a particular or peculiar Native belief based on Treatment of Race or an absorption into the Nations culture due to a particular circumstance. Though the former African slave at the beginning of the Indian Wars has either ceased to exist or is rarely found, the African culture is still strong and fresh on the minds of and practiced by the Black race. The other side of the “coin” is the effects of several hundred years of chattel slavery and the results of its indoctrination. This area of discovery and discussion is vaster than it’s more acceptable and politically correct black and white borders. In specifically talking about the Black regiments in the field through out the period of the Indian Wars, source documents, i.e.; courts martial records and the like; what narratives there were that would shed some light on the subject, reveal that the Black regiments were more in step with their White counterparts when it came to a view of the Nations. Black soldiers were not squeamish when it came to using the reverse derogatory and demeaning descriptive terms used by their White counterparts to describe the Nations. As well and ironically amongst certain Nations, the Black scalp or hair was indeed a prize because of its texture. It was clearly recognizable on a lance or a shirt, by sight one knew who it came from.

The role of the U.S. Army was to make safe White settlement, population and expansion on the frontier. To do this the Army would at first pursue a policy that would restrain it in its operations against the Nations. It would first protect, (rather reluctantly), as prescribed by treaty, the Nations interest and territory from white encroachment. As the policy became more aggressively anti-Nations, the Army would subdue, remove and relocate the Nations on lands designated for them by the Government. Finally with the flood gates of western expansion wide open, the army at full gallop with the violent power of the waters unleashed through the breech, would seek to annihilate and exterminate the Nations from the face of the western frontier.

The Frontier Army that would perform this task was still a small one, but very visible on the frontier. Though a small percentage of that Army, in some areas Black troops were 50 percent of the fighting force and strength of the U.S. Army. This would be very apparent in the South west during the late 70’s through the mid 80’s where Black troops were constantly in the field and engaged in major campaigns against Victorio, Nana and Geronimo, all fierce adversaries from the Apache Nations. The fighting during this period between these two adversaries was characterized as some of the most extremely violent and brutal of the Indian campaigns. Black soldiers in the Frontier Army clearly understood the mission the severity of it and the risk of the task given. Though the record may not be direct in its revelation, the actions of the Black Regulars and the final out come speak volumes to this fact; that they were first soldiers. Neither sentiment nor compassion based on a shared experience with the Nations in any way influence the performance of the Black Regulars in the way they carried out their missions and performed their duties as soldiers. Nor did it influence or tip compassion in favor of, or against the Nations people or its warriors. Blacks were a part of the U.S. Army, and that army was the very tool used to crush the Nation’s way of life. Black Regulars were no better or worse then their White counterparts when it came to carrying out the task assigned. They surely did not shirk from the task, and were just as thorough when it came to completing the task.

To continue to claim that the Black soldier had some special affinity toward his adversaries in the Nations, based on race or similar circumstance is to continue to historically handicap the Black soldier, falsely producing a historic figure not only less than his White counterpart, but more importantly it reduces the Black soldier as well, striping him of true hard earned glory, the direct result of courage and valor under conditions above and beyond those suffered by his White counterparts. Had the Black Regular contemplated and entertained what we today press upon him falsely, surely he would have been hampered in his mission and ultimately failed in his endeavor to complete it. The struggle between the Black Regular and the Nations were above and beyond any relationship the Black Race as a whole had with the Nations. The struggle for freedom which Blacks would endeavor to secure during the Civil War, a freedom won with great sacrifice and courage under fire, would have dire consequences when the frontier army went to war against the nations. That Army would now have former slaves, now free proud Black Men within its ranks who would fight like “Lions against Lions”. Within the context of these same consequences the Nations struggling to exist would spare no one, Black or White who encroached on their freedom.

Surely there is enough proof of written record and primary sources that substantiate the fact, that Blacks and the Nations forged strong and secure relationships and alliances. Nations within the so-called Five Civilized Tribes had relations with Blacks both slave and free, as did the Seminoles and others. Kansas and Oklahoma became homes and shared living space on and off reservations for Blacks and Natives alike. Jim Beckworth and Isiah Dorman are two prominent names that come from the pages of this culture. The Indian fighting soldier of the frontier Army is and was in a world separate from these particular circumstances. The death of Isiah Dorman, a Black scout for Reno, killed at “Reno’s Crossing” during the battle of the Little Big Horn is a mere footnote seldom read by most, but huge in the eyes of those who killed him. His death that day ranks second to that of George Armstrong Custer. Legend has it that he to had relations among the very Sioux and Lakota in the encampment the 7th attacked. When discovered he notably got special treatment, a cavalry picket pin was driven through his testical’s numerous times. It is said only Sitting Bull himself saved the body of Dorman from further disfigurement. The attack of Native women on Dorman’s lifeless body was indeed particularly vicious. In this instance it is a case where Dorman had once been accepted by the Nations, had a wife among them, befriended Sitting Bull himself, now only to incur their wrath because he helped to lead “Yellow Hair” to them, he betrayed them.

If there is any truth or an understanding of that truth, as to how the Buffalo Soldiers got their name perhaps it can be found in a segment of that statement that at first seems to have been added for political correctness; it is that portion that speaks to the respect, and recognized courage the Nation’s warriors had for the Black Regulars. Surely in that world of constant struggle for life and death, courage was common place. It is a part of the fabric or the nature of combat. These circumstances will produce it naturally. It is not particular or peculiar to color. Neither is respect. Respect in this case is a direct result of the courage one exhibits under fire whether in defeat or victory. It is a mutual admiration between warriors based not on race, but the “stand” under the horrific circumstances combat can produce. The view is restricted and narrow for the Buffalo Soldier and Warrior, during their struggle on the frontier. The record shows that it is only after “Boots and Saddles”, “Bugles and War Bonnets” have long faded, that the view begins to open up and widen. Prior to World War One, letters appear, narratives are penned, Remington is well read. The 10th Cavalry truly becomes the first regiment nationally recognized, if not Army wide, as the Buffalo Soldiers with its adoption of the buffalo as its distinctive unit insignia or crest. Battles are reenacted and old soldiers and warriors meet and reflect. They contemplate on and discuss the whole which was not visible to them in a time of great killing and survival. The courage of the Buffalo Soldier is revealed in the faces of those who would charge up Kettle Hill in the War of ’98, and through the jungles of the Philippines in the early 1900’s over the Meuse-Argonne into the landscape of World War One. These are the direct benefactors, the “Sons” of the Black Indian Fighting regiments. They were marching forward draped in the success and sent off with the blessing of the Veterans of the Indian Wars. The generation that fought through and survived the Indian Wars would tell the tale and surely at this time introduce and forever cement in our memory the story of the “Buffalo Soldier”.

In retrospect, and this is my opinion, that the Black Indian Fighting Regiments, surely in the early to mid years of the Indian Wars, fought through the wars and campaigns with no earthly idea that they were being called such, nor had they known did they even care. The record shows that they spoke very little of it and took greater pride in service. They were proud to be the 9th or the 10th, the 24th or the 25th, cavalry or infantry, proud to be “Regulars”, soldiers on the frontier serving in the U.S. Army.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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