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A History of California Buffalo Soldiers



Buffalo Soldier, Dreadlock Rasta

"There was a Buffalo Soldier

Stolen from Africa brought to America

Fighting on Arrival, Fighting for Survival"

-Bob Marley/1983

Recently I had a very Spirited debate with a Young Black Millennium who dictated that The Buffalo Soldiers were just Slaves doing Massa’s bidding including the murder of Native Americans. Of course this is a one dimensional view and offended me immediately. Superficially the statement was correct per history, but I couldn’t let it stand.

“I do not agree with that blanket statement,” I responded to the young man. “What in your way of thinking limited them to Massa’s bidding?”

A puzzled expression came over the young man’s smooth brown face; I could tell he had never given this any thought. I waited.

“I disagree strongly. The Buffalo Soldiers were Victims of Time and Circumstance but they Rose to the Occasion the best way they knew how and worked with what was available to them at the time. Two Resources were plentiful; Courage and Bravery. Yes, they were limited in what they could accomplish but you should never denigrate their accomplishments.” I waited.

I never had that Negative mindset about Buffalo Soldiers; maybe it’s a Generational thing. There is a story that was passed down in my family; two Chaney brothers fought alongside their Owner in the Civil War and when it was over they journeyed home in defeat. They came upon some marauders on the way and both brothers died defending their Owner. I researched this story and could never confirm it but one thing I noticed is that Black Folks with the surname Chaney spell it like so and Caucasians with the surname spell it Cheney.

Blacks fought in American Wars since The Revolution: in 1866 Congress passed The Army Organizational Act making it possible for Black Soldiers to legally join the U.S. Army. The 10th Calvary Regime at Fort Leavenworth Kansas became the First Buffalo Soldiers.

The duties of the Buffalo Soldiers were any and everything the White Soldiers wouldn’t do. This consisted of digging ditches, repairing and building Forts, building telegraph lines, settling railroad disputes, helping settlers find a place to live, and protecting the settlers from Native American Attacks.

This is how the Buffalo Soldiers earned their name; Native Americans likened Buffalo Soldiers hair to that of a Buffalo Pelt. One most also recognize that Native Americans also compared Buffalo Soldiers Bravery and Fierce Fighting Spirit to that of the Buffalo.

In 1903 Teddy Roosevelt dispatched 400-500 Buffalo Soldiers to Yosemite Valley in California and Sequoia National Park which is an hour from me Visalia California. They rode on horseback from the Presidio in San Francisco to the San Joaquin Valley in Central California to their assignment at Yosemite National Park near Fresno California. They blazed trails, evicted poachers, and protected tourists visiting the park from all over the world. Although challenging they took their duties seriously and it was noted that they didn’t take shit off nobody no matter what color they happened to be. They kept The Peace.

What a Spectacular Sight that must have been!

The Buffalo Soldiers were the Blueprint for today’s National Park Rangers and they did us Proud!

Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson tells the story of the Buffalo Soldiers who patrolled the National Parks of the High Sierra in Central California. Shelton takes on the very realistic personae of a Buffalo Soldier from the turn of century and directly engages visitors in a way that is immediate and thought provoking. You can see for yourself on Ken Burn’s The National Parks:

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A History of California Buffalo Soldiers
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