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National Historic Trails Interpretive Center
Release Date: 01/25/11
Contacts: Lesley A. Collins    

From Slave to Soldier: Buffalo Soldiers Challenged "The Conscience of a Nation"

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Historic Trails Interpretive Center (NHTIC) is recognizing Black History Month with a temporary exhibit entitled, “Buffalo Soldiers: Forgotten Troops of the Western Frontier.”

The exhibit opens Feb. 1 and runs through Feb. 26.

The following are interesting and compelling facts about Buffalo Soldiers:

  • Many of the early Buffalo Soldiers were former slaves.
  • During the Spanish-American War in 1888, Buffalo Soldiers made significant contributions to the U.S. victory over Spain. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders became famous during the U.S. invasion of Cuba, but key battles could not have been won without the skill and perseverance of Buffalo Soldiers. According to an eyewitness at a battle, “If it had not been for the Negro cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated.”
  • Buffalo soldiers earned a reputation for bravery and service. The 9th and 10th regiments had the lowest desertion rates of any of the Cavalry units in the West. Between 1870 and 1898, 23 black soldiers earned the Medal of Honor.
  • General George Custer, best known for the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, turned down an opportunity to become a commander of a black regiment. At the time, many white officers refused to command black soldiers, even if the position offered a promotion in rank. Still, most commanders of Buffalo Soldier regiments were white.
  • Before the National Park Service was created in 1916, Buffalo Soldiers were among the first park rangers. They served in Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park, among others.
  • Buffalo Soldiers served a nation that often denied them basic civil rights. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African-Americans, along with other minorities, often faced discrimination in the work place, schools, and public businesses.

General Colin Powell, the 65th U.S. Secretary of State, retired four-star general, and the highest-ranking African-American in the history of the United States military, said he was a “spiritual descendent” of Buffalo Soldiers.

On July 25, 1992, during a dedication ceremony at the Buffalo Soldiers Monument, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Powell made the following remarks:

“Beginning with the Buffalo Soldiers in 1866, African-Americans would henceforth always be in uniform, challenging the conscience of a nation, posing the question of how could they be allowed to defend the cause of freedom, to defend the nation - if they themselves were to be denied the benefits of being Americans?”

For more information, contact Alex Rose at (307) 261-7700.

The NHTIC is a part of the BLM's National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). The areas of the NLCS are specifically designed to conserve, protect and restore the exceptional scientific, natural, cultural, ecological, historical, and recreation values of these treasured landscapes.

The NHTIC is a public-private partnership between the BLM and the National Historic Trails Center Foundation. The facility is located at 1501 N. Poplar Street, Casper, Wyo. The Center is currently operating on winter hours, and is open Tuesday - Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

National Historic Trails Interpretive Center   1501 North Poplar Street      Casper, WY 82601  

Last updated: 01-25-2011