Horses in History: The Buffalo Soldiers

Learn more about these historic horsemen at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum.

From America's Horse

Some had been slaves just months before. Some had to learn job skills on the fly - learning the U.S. Army field manuals, as well as the finer points of horsemanship. They wore the same uniforms and received the same weapons as any other U.S. cavalry soldier, riding the same McClellan saddles. And they made history in the American West.

Buffalo Soldiers began writing their unique story in 1866, after the Civil War, when Congress authorized two new cavalry regiments “to be composed of colored men.” The 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments were charged with protecting settlers as they moved west and supporting the westward expansion by building the infrastructure needed for new settlements to flourish.

Their history is celebrated at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum in the Buffalo Soldier: An American Horseman exhibit, which is open through April 30.

The museum is adjacent to AQHA Headquarters in Amarillo and is a great spring break destination. Go online to www.quarterhorsemuseum.com to learn more about the Buffalo Soldier exhibit and other learning opportunities.

Area schoolchildren had the chance to see the exhibit first hand through field trips, and on February 27-28, Henry B. Crawford, curator of history at the Museum of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, was on hand to add some in-person excitement. He also offered an evening presentation on February 28.

Henry, a western frontier historian and living history re-enactor, brought some of the tools of the trade, including period firearms and a McClellan saddle, model 1859.

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“When I talk about the saddle, I’m speaking not only from a historical perspective, I’m speaking from experience,” says Henry, who used a palomino Quarter Horse named “Shane” for much of his re-enacting. “It’s the saddle I use when I ride.”

The weapons from his personal collection include a Spencer carbine, or short rifle designed for use on horseback, and a later model that was first issued in 1874, the Springfield Trap Door. The Buffalo Soldiers’ pistols came from Colt or Remington and were initially black-powder revolvers. Later, the single-action revolver came along.

Henry says it’s a common misconception that the Buffalo Soldiers were issued old or lesser-quality equipment.

“Everybody in the Army was issued the same things. That’s one of the myths,” he says. “They didn’t receive inferior equipment. Sometimes they received better equipment.”

With those guns in their holsters, the Buffalo Soldiers participated in the Indian campaigns in the West, fought with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, enforced the neutrality laws along the Mexican border, saw four tours of duty in the Philippine Islands and battled Pancho Villa during the Mexican Punitive Expedition under John J. Pershing in 1916. When the United States entered World War I, many of the non-commissioned officers received commissions, and several hundred troopers joined new units preparing to fight in Europe.

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In peacetime America, 1920 to 1941, they became efficient horse and marksmanship units, winning many competitions.

When the United States entered World War II, the 9th and 10th Cavalry, along with others, became subject to changing military philosophy and the mechanization of the cavalry. These wartime changes, for all practical purposes, meant the end of the mounted cavalry in postwar America.

What’s in a Name?

The name “Buffalo Soldiers,” given to the cavalry troopers by Native Americans, has become interesting lore in itself. There seem to be three possible reasons for the name.

First, it is said that the curly hair of the soldiers was reminiscent of a buffalo. Second, the soldiers were given the name because their fierce, brave nature was similar to the way buffalos fought. Third, it may have been because the soldiers wore thick coats made from buffalo hide during winter.

Whatever the reason, the term was used respectfully and with honor.

Member Benefit

Are you wondering how you can learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers? As an AQHA member, you receive free admission into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum! That means you have the opportunity to see the exhibit in person for FREE! Check out the museum today and learn about more ways the Quarter Horse had an impact on society.