It’s never too late to reflect on the history of our country or the history of our Soldiers, rather, it’s prudent for organizations to constantly reflect on their past and continuously learn from and measure themselves against it.
“Buffalo Soldier” was the nickname given to black Soldiers serving the U.S. shortly after emancipation. It was not a term of endearment, rather it was a comparison made between their hair and the wooly mane of a buffalo, bestowed upon the blacks by Native Americans.
As travelers blaze along Highway 160 in southern Colorado, they pass through a tiny municipality known as Fort Garland. Easily overlooked, this small fort was one of the first sites of professional integration between independent whites and blacks, as the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers were stationed there with along with several infantry units.
Military dispatches and reports indicate that these 9th Cavalry Soldiers had exemplary service records, and several of the Buffalo Soldiers serving at Fort Garland each received a Medal of Honor for actions during the Indian Wars.
Little is known or written about how these integrated Soldiers interacted with one another, but one can imagine it was likely an intense process of acceptance for everyone involved.
Intense circumstances and strong sense of duty may sometimes, at least temporarily, put these strains of society on hold. One such situation has become known as the Milk Creek Battle of 1879, in which strains between white settlers and Indians in western Colorado became so escalated that military assistance was required.
When a small U.S. Army patrol from Fort Steele was ambushed by a much larger force of Ute Indians, the troops circled their wagons and were pinned down for a week. The first to arrive and provide assistance were Buffalo Soldiers from the 9th Cavalry, who were able to sustain the fight until a much larger military force arrived. One of the troops from the Fort Steele patrol was eternally grateful and owed his survival to the 9th Cavalry professionals, according to Thomas Dawson and F.J. Skiff in "The Ute War."
Another interesting event occurred in Colorado in early 1880 when a family was traveling through a snowy Chocetopa Pass and their sleigh flipped. With their horses free to run, the family was left in the snowy pass with a very small chance of survival. As the horses happened to sprint past a military camp near the summit, several Buffalo Soldiers followed the tracks, which were strewn with children’s clothing and family supplies, back to the family and all were rescued.
Though the 9th Cavalry were not Colorado National Guard Soldiers, they did protect Colorado and assumed missions whenever called upon, and excelling in every case. These Buffalo Soldiers exemplify the military heritage of Colorado and are a compelling unit for research in military professionalism.