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Buffalo Soldiers on the Frontier by Henry B. Crawford
Henry B. Crawford is the Curator of History at the Museum of Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
Henry Crawford as a buffalo soldier
View historical photos of Buffalo Soldiers.
On July 28, 1866, Congress created six regiments of black soldiers -- the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and four infantry regiments (later combined into two) -- and assigned them white officers. Many of these African-American troopers were sent to the Texas frontier between 1867 and the close of the 19th century, where the Native Americans dubbed them "Buffalo Soldiers" due to their curly hair and brown skin color. The name was intended as one of respect, and the soldiers accepted it on that basis. These black soldiers came from everywhere, and included many Civil War veterans. There were ex-slaves and free men, the educated and the illiterate, skilled artisans and unskilled laborers, farmers and urbanites.

One of the myths regarding black soldiers out west was that they routinely received equipment far inferior to that used by their white counterparts. The truth of the matter is that all soldiers after the Civil War received the same uniforms and equipment. When the war ended, the army had thousands of uniforms in storage, so the bean counters in Washington (pressured by a Congress in favor of reducing military expenditures) opted not to replenish the supply until the existing stock was exhausted.

The typical cavalry soldier on the post-war Texas frontier used Civil War surplus uniforms and equipment. His uniform consisted of a 13-button navy blue shell jacket with yellow piping, or a plain four-button blue sack coat, along with sky blue wool trousers with reinforced seat, and knee-high boots or ankle-height shoes called brogans. His headgear was either a forage cap with a floppy crown and short bill or a campaign hat, essentially a broad-brimmed hat in one of various styles, in black, brown, or gray.

The supplies on hand were usually substandard due to unscrupulous contractors who produced shoddy and undersized uniforms to save money. Though ill-fitting and inferior, these uniforms were issued to the soldiers on the frontier, both black and white. Fortunately, there were many skilled tailors among the ranks who could make the proper alterations.

Blacks joined the army for the same reasons that anyone else did: income, adventure, travel, clothing, square meals, and meaningful responsibility. Employment for anyone was not easy to come by in the 19th century, especially after the Civil War. There was no unemployment insurance or job placement service. The army gave men a viable option: steady work and steady pay, plus food and lodging.

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