Indians Came Up with the Name “Buffalo Soldier”

Interesting and ironic: the Native Americans named black men in the U.S. military “buffalo soldiers.” It was a commentary on their hair, which reminded the Indians of a buffalo’s coat. But the name took, not really in a good way, and all regiments of blacks in the military were called Buffalo Soldiers for far too long. They were in the army because they wanted freedom from slavery and instead were forcibly enlisted. The cycle of paradox continues: the black soldiers were part of the effort to address the “Indian Challenge.”

What was the Indian Challenge? In the mid-1800s, folks were traipsing across the country–more land, more gold. This got in the way of the natural order of things for the Native Americans–people were in their space, and it was standard practice in the Southwestern region to raid Mexican villages and haciendas for warriors to win recognition and to increase the tribe’s wealth. Now, the bounty was coming to them via “emigrant trains.”

Enter Fort Davis, Texas–and other forts across the region.

The military had to protect the roads from raids.

San Antonio-El Paso Road

And the mail and to be delivered–no ifs, ands, or buts.

Covered Wagon and US Mail Wagon

400 men lived at Fort Davis, spending most of their time scouting for Indians, conducting border patrol with Mexico, escorting the mail, and labor-intensive tasks like building roads and telegraph lines. The men at Fort Davis saw very little “action.”

The Fort was abandoned in due time, and ruins remain. They make pretty pictures.

Ruins at Fort Davis Texas

Ruins at Fort Davis Texas

Cottonwood at Fort Davis

Candidly, this wasn’t the most intriguing place I’ve been to. But interestingly they play the bugle (via recording) throughout the day, marking the soldiers’s activity. Why bugle? Because watches weren’t common, so the music told the time. Another clever moment–before the Civil War diverted funds and attention, Fort Davis experimented with camels imported from the Middle East and found they were much better suited to the desert than the poor horses.

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Got the Bob Marley song stuck in your head? Here are the lyrics to Buffalo Soldier. You’re welcome.

Do you know of other ways that time was told?

3 Responses

01.15.13

Thanks for the lesson behind the term I knew from the Marley song but had no idea about the meaning or history behind it.

If its a sunny day, I can guestimate by looking up in the sky. I saw a Nat Geo or Discovery special about Icelandic spar (type of stone) which may have been used for navigation (and time telling) even on cloudy days by the Vikings.

01.15.13

I’ve listened to Bob Marley sing about the Buffalo soldiers for years. It has been my feeling that he lifted the Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy et.al. chorus from the old Banana Splits variety show. Remeber the four animals that had a Saturday Morning tv show…with Danger Island (starring a young Jan Micheal Vincent) and a cartoon and general mayhem that only humans dressed in comic animal costumes could get into during a live action sequence? Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky? Specifically, if you look for, find and listen to their theme song (The Tra La La Song[One Banana, Two Banana]) you might find the similarities amazing. Liz Phair also recorded the song for a cd much later on. Yeah!

John – I don’t remember the Banana Splits in the slightest! Are you older than I am? I thought we were the same age…? It’s odd, bc I tend to know pop culture beyond my era, but this one has me stumped. Well done, friend! Watched a YouTube video and you’re totally right about the tunes!!

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