Did You Know: 10th Cavalry Was The First Black Military Unit In Arizona

December 27, 2013

It was one of most unique army regiments in Arizona. The group served in the state for several decades, but its lengthy service was not recognized until the 1960s.

In the late 1860s, a calvary of soldiers was created to build forts, roads and maintain the peace between white settlers and the native Indians in the southwest. Two decades later, they were stationed throughout Arizona, including Forts Verde, Whipple and Apache.  Did You Know the 10th Cavalry, Buffalo Soldiers, was the first U.S. African American military unit in Arizona?

“They had the same pay and the same duties as any other soldier of the time, but often they had more than one enemy, said John Langellier, director of the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott and the author of numerous U.S. military history books.

"They had racism to fight as well as say border raiders, or bandits, or American Indian tribal groups who were fighting for their own survival and freedom," Langellier said. 

Langellier said Buffalo Soldiers were among the most committed men in the military. While white soldiers were deserting their units by droves, Buffalo Soldiers were re-enlisting and volunteering.

"Black soldiers didn’t look at this as a just a job of work. It was a profession in arms, and so they really took pride in their uniform," said Langellier. 

The name Buffalo Soldiers began to surface in newspaper stories in the late 1880s, in papers like The Arizona Republican, but the all black cavalry unit’s military service and nickname did not gain momentum until the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement.

Bruce Dinges is with the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson. He said there are several stories as to how these soldiers got its nickname.

"The two explanations are one that it was because their hair resembled the fur on the head of the buffalo, and the other explanation is that it was a term of respect because they were strong and sturdy like the buffalo," explained Dinges. "But nobody knows exactly why.”

Buffalo Soldiers fought in several battles including the Spanish American War along with the famous Rough Riders and future President Theodore Roosevelt.