On the Trail of the Ancestors: The Buffalo Soldiers

The last  excerpt from my book, On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Journey Across America brings Miles Dean to New Mexico where he honored the Buffalo Soldiers. 41av5lVPC0L._SL500_AA300_

 From Ch. 19:  Retracing the Steps of the Buffalo Soldiers

Using the sun as his compass, Miles employed the techniques his ancestors relied on to forge these  formidable mountains. He thought about the Buffalo Soldiers, the post-Civil War African American units legislated by Congress in 1866.  Named Buffalo Soldiers by a Native American tribe, legend says,  because their short, dark, curly hair resembled the mane of the buffalo, the six regiments comprised soldiers who had served in volunteer units during the Civil War or were emancipated slaves from southern states.

Charged with escorting white settlers moving west, building forts and roads, installing telegraph lines, protecting water sources, railroad construction workers, farmers, miners and cattlemen, mapping uncharted territories and generally maintaining law and order, these soldiers faced hostile attacks from Indian tribes, stagecoach robbers, horse and cattle thieves, corrupt politicians, an often skeptical press and public, and prejudice from superior officers.  Always commanded by whites, the black units received second-hand weapons, aged horses, and rancid food.

Yet despite these conditions, the Buffalo Soldiers recorded the lowest desertion rates in the army.  Serving in early battles in West Texas before 1870 through the final massacre of Sitting Bull’s Ghost Dancers at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890,  some units then  fought alongside President Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba and later served during the Mexican Expedition. Many joined the National Park Service, serving among the first park rangers.  With the integration of the military in the 1950’s,  all Buffalo Soldier regiments disbanded.

Miles recalled his reading about Cathy Williams, a former slave , who at 16, disguised herself as a man to enlist in the US Army as a  Buffalo Soldier. She lied about her age, saying she was 22, told recruiting officers she was a cook, and that her name was William Cathey.  While  army regulations forbade the enlisting of women, Williams managed to hide her identity, and served as a soldier for nearly three years. Illiterate, her prospects for work nothing more than low-paying jobs, Williams could earn more by becoming a black man in the army than as a black female cook. …  images

…Revered for their skills, often acquired through their mixed African- Native American ancestry, their skin color barred them from patronizing local establishments as they traveled through small towns throughout the West…

On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America combines Dean’s memoir- his dreams of becoming a cowboy, his years as a high school and college athlete, and his cross-country journey, with the historical figures, many unsung, he visited as he traveled.

It’s non-fiction and a perfect book for book group reading or to share with  middle school and high school students or to read aloud to younger children. The Educators’ Guide  includes cross-disciplinary activities in writing, art, drama, geography, math and a character education platform,  “The Horseman’s Creed.”  The book is available as a paperback or ebook.

Read last week’s excerpt here.

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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One Response to On the Trail of the Ancestors: The Buffalo Soldiers

  1. This is a fascinating sounding book, and I have just bought a kindle copy.

    Like

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