Photo by Reynaldo Leanos, Jr. You likely know a thing or two about the underground railroad that helped hundreds escape to the north.
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But just 15 minutes outside of McAllen there are forgotten pieces of a lesser-known underground railroad that went in a southerly direction. Tombstones with dates as far back as the mid s are scattered in the tall grass. One way she does that is by examining the genealogy of families who originally settled here.
The Jacksons were slave and plantation owners from Alabama. Nathaniel Jackson did not believe in the Confederate cause and eventually freed his slaves. Nathaniel and Matilda were a mixed-race couple looking for a fresh start. The Apache used the same term "We called them 'buffalo soldiers,' because they had curly, kinky hair It is now used for U.
Army units that trace their direct lineage back to the 9th and 10th Cavalry units, whose service earned them an honored place in U. During the Civil War, the U. The USCT was disbanded in the fall of In the Regular Army was set at ten regiments of cavalry and 45 regiments of infantry. The Army was authorized to raise two regiments of black cavalry the 9th and 10th Colored Cavalry and four regiments of black infantry the 38th , 39th , 40th , and 41st Colored Infantry , who were mostly drawn from USCT veterans. The first draft of the bill that the House Committee on Military Affairs sent to the full chamber on March 7, did not include a provision for regiments of black cavalry, however, this provision was added by Senator Benjamin Wade prior to the bill's passing on July 28, The 38th and 41st were reorganized as the 25th, with headquarters in Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, Louisiana , in November The 39th and 40th were reorganized as the 24th, with headquarters at Fort Clark , Texas, in April The two black infantry regiments represented 10 percent of the size of all twenty-five infantry regiments.
Similarly, the two black cavalry units represented 20 percent of the size of all ten cavalry regiments.
During the peacetime formation years , the black infantry and cavalry regiments were composed of black enlisted men commanded by white commissioned officers and black noncommissioned officers. Carpenter , Nicholas M. The first black commissioned officer to lead the Buffalo Soldiers and the first black graduate of West Point , was Henry O. Flipper in From to the total strength of the US Army totaled 25, service members with black soldiers maintaining their 10 percent representation.
From to the early s, these regiments served at a variety of posts in the Southwestern United States and the Great Plains regions. They participated in most of the military campaigns in these areas and earned a distinguished record. Thirteen enlisted men and six officers from these four regiments earned the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars. In addition to the military campaigns, the Buffalo Soldiers served a variety of roles along the frontier, from building roads to escorting the U. On April 17, , regimental headquarters for the 10th Cavalry was transferred to Fort Concho , Texas.
Companies actually arrived at Fort Concho in May The 9th Cavalry was headquartered at Fort Union from to Cavalry regiments were also used to remove Sooners from native lands in the late s and early s. A lesser known action was the 9th Cavalry's participation in the fabled Johnson County War, an land war in Johnson County , Wyoming , between small farmers and large, wealthy ranchers.
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It culminated in a lengthy shootout between local farmers, a band of hired killers, and a sheriff's posse. The 6th Cavalry was ordered in by President Benjamin Harrison to quell the violence and capture the band of hired killers. Soon afterward, however, the 9th Cavalry was specifically called on to replace the 6th.
The 6th Cavalry was swaying under the local political and social pressures and was unable to keep the peace in the tense environment. The Buffalo Soldiers responded within about two weeks from Nebraska, and moved the men to the rail town of Suggs, Wyoming , creating " Camp Bettens " despite a hostile local population.
One soldier was killed and two wounded in gun battles with locals. Nevertheless, the 9th Cavalry remained in Wyoming for nearly a year to quell tensions in the area. After most of the Indian Wars ended in the s, the regiments continued to serve and participated in the Spanish—American War including the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba , where five more Medals of Honor were earned.
Buffalo soldiers fought in the last engagement of the Indian Wars, the small Battle of Bear Valley in southern Arizona which occurred in between U. Another little-known contribution of the Buffalo Soldiers involved eight troops of the 9th Cavalry Regiment and one company of the 24th Infantry Regiment who served in California's Sierra Nevada as some of the first national park rangers.
Army regiments had been serving in these national parks since , but until , the soldiers serving were white. Beginning in , and continuing in and , African American regiments served during the summer in the second- and third-oldest national parks in the United States Sequoia and Yosemite. Because these soldiers served before the National Park Service was created , they were "park rangers" before the term was coined. A lasting legacy of the soldiers as park rangers is the Ranger hat popularly known as the Smokey Bear hat.
Although not officially adopted by the Army until , the distinctive hat crease, called a Montana peak, or pinch can be seen being worn by several of the Buffalo Soldiers in park photographs dating back to Soldiers serving in the Spanish—American War began to recrease the Stetson hat with a Montana "pinch" to better shed water from the torrential tropical rains. Many retained that distinctive crease upon their return to the U.
The park photographs, in all likelihood, show Buffalo Soldiers who were veterans from that war.
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At the time of his death, he was the highest-ranking African American in the U. Charles Young was also the first African American superintendent of a national park. During Young's tenure in the park, he named a giant sequoia for Booker T. Recently, another giant sequoia in Giant Forest was named in Captain Young's honor. Some of Young's descendants were in attendance at the ceremony.
In , 9th Cavalrymen in Sequoia built the first trail to the top of Mount Whitney , the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. They also built the first wagon road into Sequoia's Giant Forest , the most famous grove of giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park. In , 9th Cavalrymen in Yosemite built an arboretum on the South Fork of the Merced River in the southern section of the park.
This arboretum had pathways and benches, and some plants were identified in both English and Latin. Yosemite's arboretum is considered to be the first museum in the National Park System. John Bigelow, Jr. In the Sierra Nevada, the Buffalo Soldiers regularly endured long days in the saddle, slim rations, racism, and separation from family and friends.
As military stewards, the African American cavalry and infantry regiments protected the national parks from illegal grazing, poaching , timber thieves, and forest fires.
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Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson researched and interpreted the history in an attempt to recover and celebrate the contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers of the Sierra Nevada. This had been a long time coming.
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It had been proposed in at the "Cavalry and Light Artillery School" at Fort Riley, Kansas that West Point cadets learn their riding skills from the black noncommissioned officers who were considered the best. Stationed in the West prior to , these black soldiers protected white communities, forced Native Americans onto government reservations, patrolled the Mexican border, and broke up labor disputes in mining areas.
African American men, themselves no strangers to persecution, aided the subjugation of Indian and Hispanic peoples throughout the West. It can hardly be surprising, then, that the relations among these groups became complex and often hostile-hardly surprising, but rarely examined. Despised by the white settlers they protected, many black soldiers were sent to posts along the Texas-Mexico border-- perceived to be a "safe place to put them.