Fort Concho educates community on Buffalo Soldiers

SAN ANGELO, Texas-- Re-enactors from Fort Concho, a historical Army fort dating before the Civil War, fire a cannon from that time period. The unusual "Buffalo Soldiers" nickname was given to the black troops of the frontier west by the Northern Plains Indians after the Civil War, some of whom were stationed at this site. (Courtesy photo)

SAN ANGELO, Texas-- Re-enactors from Fort Concho, a historical Army fort dating before the Civil War, fire a cannon from that time period. The unusual "Buffalo Soldiers" nickname was given to the black troops of the frontier west by the Northern Plains Indians after the Civil War, some of whom were stationed at this site. (Courtesy photo)

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- During February, people across America will recognize Black History Month celebrating the accomplishments of African-Americans and paying tribute to those who faced adversity in gaining equal rights.

Within the San Angelo community, the Fort Concho Buffalo Soldiers Living History Unit will hold a Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Day at the Fort Concho Commissary Feb. 23. The event will feature educational programs and living history demonstrations showcasing the accomplishments of the Fort Concho Buffalo Soldiers. These soldiers not only paved a way in the movement toward African-American rights but also helped build the city of San Angelo, Texas.

"It's a part of history that isn't really taught in schools these days," said Paul Cook, Fort Concho Company A manager. "The Buffalo Soldiers were very important to Fort Concho. They not only helped build the fort but they also helped build the community surrounding it."

Fort Concho, originally established in 1867, was built for soldiers protecting frontier settlers traveling west against Native American tribes in the area. Soldiers, among other daily tasks, would also go out on campaigns against illegal trade between Comanche and Americans.

In 1866, Congress established the 9th, 10th, 24th and 25th U.S. Cavalry Regiments for enlisted colored people in the Army. Over time, troops from each of these regiments served at Fort Concho, later gaining the nickname of "Buffalo Soldiers," rumored to be given to them by the Indian tribes because of their dark, thick, curly hair resembling buffalo hair.

The Buffalo Soldiers joined the military at a time when racial segregation was very strong.

According to Bob Bluthardt, Fort Concho site manager, the Buffalo Soldiers at many western forts weren't often welcomed by white citizens the colored troops had sworn to protect. They still performed admirably in the field, maintaining the lowest desertion and discipline rates with the highest re-enlistment rates.

Many of the Buffalo Soldiers were also freed slaves with experiences preparing them for soldier life.

"About 80 percent of the troops were ex-slaves, so they were built for the military life, so they were used to working hard, long hours and surviving on little food and clothing," said Cook.

Some famous Buffalo Soldiers who served at Fort Concho include Henry O. Flipper, who graduated from West Point and became the nation's first African-American Army officer, and Elijah Cox, who remained in San Angelo after his service and was known for his talents as a fiddler.

Today, the history of the Buffalo Soldiers and Fort Concho is kept alive through the Fort Concho Museum and the Living History program.

Through the Living History program, volunteers reenact the soldiers from the 10th Calvary Company A. Company members dress in uniforms authentic to those worn by the Buffalo Soldiers and participate in city events and programs held at Fort Concho.