On July 28, 1866, Congress passed a measure establishing the ninth and 10th cavalries and four infantry regiments (38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st) to be comprised of African-American enlisted men. Three years later, the four infantry regiments were consolidated into two regiments, the 24th and 25th.
“The troops were paid $13 a month, plus room, board and clothing,” according to the National Park Service. “Enlistment was for five years. Almost immediately these new regiments were transferred to the Western states and territories for service on the American frontier.”
They became known as “buffalo soldiers,” and the origin of the name is up for debate. One story says it was given to them by Native Americans, who reportedly saw a resemblance between the black man’s hair and the mane of a buffalo, according to the Buffalo Soldiers website. Another story relates the name to the ferocious fighting spirit of the buffalo, who display unusual stamina and courage when wounded. The men were former slaves, freemen and black Civil War soldiers, who went on to fight in the “Indian Wars.” They also served as U.S. park rangers out West.
On July 28, buffalo soldiers will celebrate their 146th anniversary.