The Indians coined the term ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ for the African-American frontier regiments, either for their curls’ resemblance to tousled bison head-fur, or their predilection for buffalo-hide overcoats. Effectively banished from peacetime service east of the Mississippi, they were not immune from bigotry in the West. Custer refused to command black troops; given his fate at the Little Big Horn (1876), this was perhaps fortuitous for them. They were active in operations leading to Apache leader Geronimo’s surrender at Skeleton Canyon (1886), and involved in fighting with the Cheyenne, Comanche and Sioux from Texas to Dakota. However, their most decorated action (ten gallantry awards) was defending an army payroll convoy from robbers (1889). The perpetrators were suspected to be Mormons. There were four ‘Buffalo’ units: the 9th and 10th cavalry, and 24th and 25th infantry. After the Indian Wars they were detailed to more peaceful pursuits, including building an arboretum at Yosemite (1903).
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