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Buffalo Soldiers on the Frontier by Henry B. Crawford
Henry Crawford with other  buffalo soldier reenactors
View historical photos of Buffalo Soldiers.
The army was looking for experienced men to fill the ranks, and black Civil War veterans topped the list. Early on, most enlisted men in leadership roles (the sergeants and corporals) had served in the Union Army during the war; could read, write, and figure; and were well versed in the ways of military life.

Buffalo Soldiers were stationed throughout the southern plains and Southwest, a priority area for expansion. The army's primary jobs were to patrol and explore the territory; build roads, forts, and telegraph lines; guard major transportation routes and railroad construction crews; and provide escorts for cattle drives and mail coaches. Soldiers also served as the federal police force, apprehending horse and cattle thieves, escorting prisoners to and from courts of jurisdiction, and enforcing the terms of Indian treaties. The army basically established the infrastructure needed to sustain a government presence and a civilian population.

Although army regiments were officially segregated throughout the 1800s, Buffalo Soldiers and their white counterparts fought side by side in many engagements with Indians and outlaws. A typical expedition might have used companies or detachments from both white and black regiments placed together under one command. It was not uncommon, for example, for companies from the black 9th Cavalry and the white 4th Cavalry, along with Indian, Mexican, black, or white scouts and interpreters, to ride, camp, and fight together as a single unit.

Segregation and racism existed on the frontier and the army was not immune to it. Black soldiers experienced both discrimination and praise from their white counterparts, superior officers, and the various civilians they encountered. Many original accounts and official documents detail how black soldiers were mistreated as well as how many were revered and respected. In spite of all challenges, the Buffalo Soldiers performed well on the frontier and left a proud American legacy. Their desertion rates were the lowest and their reenlistment rates were the highest in the army. They were awarded no fewer than 20 Congressional Medals of Honor during the Indian Wars period in the service of their country.

Henry Crawford is a historical reenactor whose reenacting and academic areas are the American fur trade, freighters, buffalo hunters, Texas in the 1830s and '40s, the Civil War, and the postwar frontier military. He participated in the TEXAS RANCH HOUSE segment on Buffalo Soldiers and had this to share about his pastime.

My primary reason for being a Buffalo Soldier reenactor is that it's fun. It is a great thing to share with like-minded individuals. There is also a certain satisfaction associated with participating in events at historic forts in West Texas, wearing the uniform and riding my horse using a period saddle and tack. There is nothing like reliving historic events at places where they actually occurred. Reenacting also allows one to be a teacher. When done correctly, it is an excellent tool for teaching about historic lifestyles and period technology. It adds a dimension to learning that cannot be provided through books and lectures.

Finally, historical reenacting gives us an opportunity to try to relive the experiences of someone else, to share his work and pleasure within the context of his own time and place. It is both entertainment and education, and for all who participate and experience it, living history reenacting truly brings the past to life.

Rickey Reinhart I'd like to dedicate this particular reenactment to my fellow reenactor, Rickey Reinhart, who appeared in two army-featured episodes of the TEXAS RANCH HOUSE program. He died at age 51 of complications during surgery about a month after we shot the Fort Santiago episode. TEXAS RANCH HOUSE was the last of many public programs that Rickey was involved in.

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