Buffalo Soldiers pave the way

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)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- February is African American Heritage month. This month celebrates the accomplishments of African Americans throughout history.

Locally, we are able to see these accomplishments through the history of the Fort Concho Buffalo Soldiers. These soldiers not only paved a way in the movement towards 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 was originally established in 1867. It 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 the Comanche to prevent illegal trade with Americans.

In 1866, Congress established the 9th, 10th, 24th and 25th U.S. Cavalry Regiments as the cavalries for enlisted colored people in the Army. Over time, troops from each of these regiments have served at Fort Concho. These colored, enlisted soldiers would later gain 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 did not have many enthusiastic welcomes from the white citizens they had sworn to protect. The colored troops 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, making them great candidates to be good soldiers.

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

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 recreate the soldiers from the 10th Calvary Company A. The members of the Company dress in uniforms authentic to those worn by the Buffalo Soldiers and participate in city events and programs held at Fort Concho.

"The volunteers of Company A of the 10th Cavalry have participated in hundreds of Fort Concho and San Angelo programs, ceremonies and events in the past 25 years," said Bluthardt. "Along with their fellow volunteers in the Infantry and Cavalry units, they have marched in parades in Abilene, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and many other Texas towns."

People are able to visit the museum at Fort Concho to learn more about the history and see actual artifacts, including the weapons, uniforms and barracks, dating back to the active time of the fort. They are able to learn the impact of the Buffalo Soldiers on the U.S. military during a time in which sergregation was prevalent.

It is important for people to learn how things were during the beginnings of segregation and observe how far the nation has come. Through the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, the military builds upon the success of the past. The Buffalo Soldiers paved the way for African Americans to proudly serve in the U.S. military today.