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Buffalo Soldiers of Western Nebraska



African American soldiers of the 9th and 10th cavalry regiments, garrisoned at Fort Robinson and Fort Niobrara, played a significant role in military history. Eventually, the ranks of the Buffalo Soldiers, as they would come to be known, would include the first black graduates of West Point, 23 Medal of Honor recipients, and a woman disguised as a man.

In 1866, after the end of the Civil War, Congress established six all-black peacetime regiments of soldiers, which were later consolidated into four– the 24th and 25th Infantry and the 9th and 10th Cavalry.  Even though the pay was incredibly low at only $13 a month ($242.24 in 2022 dollars), many African Americans enlisted to receive better treatment and earn more money than they did in civilian life. 

The troopers regularly faced horrific and often deadly racism. White officers first commanded them, and many, including George Armstrong Custer, refused to command black regiments, even if it cost them promotions in rank. Black soldiers were only allowed to serve west of the Mississippi River because whites did not want to see armed black soldiers near their communities, so the Buffalo Soldiers first performed in the American Southwest.

In 1885, the 9th Cavalry arrived at Fort Robinson, which served as their regimental headquarters from 1887 to 1898. 

The Native Americans of the Great Plains referred to these black troops as “buffalo soldiers.” Although many stories are told about what “buffalo soldier” means, it is commonly believed that the natives were referencing the color and texture of the troopers’ hair, which resembled a bull buffalo’s black, wooly coat.

The soldiers considered the name an honor, as buffalo were greatly esteemed by native peoples and were ferocious in battle. The moniker soon came to identify all of the African American regiments formed after 1866.

The black troopers of Fort Robinson helped to build the new post during the fort’s 1887 expansion. They were the first cavalrymen and soldiers of the 9th Cavalry stationed at Fort Niobrara in the Dakota Territory, sent to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota during the Ghost Dance movement, which culminated tragically in the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29th, 1890. Fort Robinson also served as the base from which the 9th Cavalry deployed to Wyoming during the Johnson County War of 1892.

In addition, Fort Robinson served as the regimental headquarters of the 10th Cavalry, stationed there from 1902 to 1907. The U.S. Cavalry favored solid-colored horses, which were the same color for each unit. This aided commanding officers in identifying servicemen in the chaos of battle. Each horse, after being trained, was assigned to a trooper responsible for the health and welfare of his steed. The Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalries were expert horsemen; from 1907 until 1947, black non-commissioned officers of the 9th Cavalry trained West Point cadets in riding skills and tactics.

The fort also was home, at various times throughout its history, to 10 of the 23 black Medal of Honor recipients who served in the Indian Wars and Cuba during its war with Spain.

It was also the last duty station of the first black chaplain in the U.S. Army, Henry Vinton Plummer. Plummer, who had escaped slavery in Maryland in 1862, had been the chaplain of the 9th Cavalry since his appointment by President Arthur in 1884. Plummer was court-martialed in 1894 for drinking and furnishing alcohol and for conduct unbecoming an officer and dismissed from service. After multiple efforts to clear his name over the next 110 years, his court martial was finally overturned in 2004 by the governor of Maryland. In 2005, the Army changed Plummer’s discharge to honorable.


Charles Young (March 12, 1864 – January 8, 1922) Brigadier General (posthumous)

Charles Young was born into slavery in a tiny cabin in Mays Lick, Kentucky, on March 12th, 1864. His father, Gabriel Young, escaped captivity in early 1865 by crossing the Ohio River into the state of Ohio and enlisting in the 5th United States Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment. His service secured Gabriel and his wife, Arminta Bruen, their freedom, guaranteed by the 13th Amendment after the war. The Young family remained in Ohio after the end of the Civil War, and Charles graduated high school in Ripley, Ohio, with honors in 1881, the only of twenty-one graduates who were black. In 1884, Charles was accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1889, he became only the third African American cadet to graduate and be commissioned as an Army officer. 

Second Lieutenant Young was assigned to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where he served from 1889 to 1890. Over the next 28 years, he rose through the ranks of the military to become the first black colonel in the United States Army, despite the barriers created by racism that he faced. In 2022, Colonel Young was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General. 


10th Cavalry in Cuba.
10th Cavalry in Cuba.

After the Spanish American War of 1898, the Buffalo Soldiers never returned to Fort Robinson. In 1951, the last Buffalo Soldier regiments were disbanded when the United States military was finally desegregated, concluding over 85 years of distinguished service.

One of the barracks of the Buffalo Soldiers has been preserved, serving as an open dormitory for large groups visiting the Fort in the summer. The barracks also serve as the location of the annual Christmas dinner, the preeminent event of the winter season at Fort Robinson.


More information:

Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Robinson,” Explore Nebraska History, accessed September 8, 2022
Black Part Org

Story by: Kathrine Rupe
Photography by: Hawk Buckman

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