Buffalo Soldiers in the West: A Black Soldiers Anthology
edited by Bruce A. Glasrud and Michael N. Searles, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 2007, $19.95 paperback.
Although buffalo soldiers might have been often overlooked or dismissed during their time, much has been written in the last few decades about these black cavalrymen and infantrymen who soldiered in the West. What this anthology accomplishes is to put much of the best writing about them in one collection. Among the respected historians whose “scholarly articles” appear here are Frank N. Schubert, William Dobak, Douglas C. McChristian and Paul Carlson. One of the book’s two editors, Bruce A. Glasrud, presents a valuable review of the best books previously written in the field. Then come the 17 carefully selected articles (all published since 1971) in four sections (each with an introduction)—“The Officers and the Troops,” “The Black Soldier,” “Discrimination and Violence” and “The Community of Soldiers.”
Not all of these articles were written from the military point of view. As Glasrud and fellow editor Michael N. Searles note in their preface, “Although much has been written about the military exploits of these African American soldiers, coverage of their non-fighting rolls in the American West is less readily available.” Segregation and discrimination were the order of the day, and confrontations between black soldiers and white settlers were frequent, especially in Texas. Things were better for black soldiers stationed in New Mexico Territory, and the best for those who served at Fort Douglas, Utah Territory (where they were called “Improbable Ambassadors”). The most agreeable relationships between buffalo soldiers and the community were triggered by black musical bands and athletic events, especially baseball games. The black troops were under the command of white officers, of course. From the end of the Civil War to 1900, there were only eight black commissioned officers (and five of them were chaplains). But it was the black noncommissioned officers who had the most contact with the black enlisted men. This 319- page anthology is loaded with details that might otherwise be hard to find.
Originally published in the February 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.