By Anthony Wood
The Buffalo Soldier Era
The African American military tradition reaches back to
colonial times. However, as a matter of
official recognition, the first detachment of all-black soldiers fought for the
Union Army during the latter years of the Civil War.
 Between 1866 and 1869, the newly constituted
United States Armed Forces reconfigured the original companies into four
military units—the 9th and 10th Calvary and the 24th and 25th Colored Infantry
Regiments. Soon afterward they began
their deployment in the American Southwest protecting settlers. Throughout the 1870s and 80s, in addition to
their regular duties of manning forts and defending military outposts and
frontier towns, the two infantry regiments performed public service jobs such
as stringing telegraph wire across a vast expanse of Texas, New Mexico, and
Arizona. The 9th and 10th Calvary
Regiments fought Native American nations in all-out campaigns and brief skirmishes,
earning them a certain amount of renown in the western territories.
Beginning in the late 1880s, the 24th and 25th Infantry
Regiments deployed north to the Dakotas and Montana Territory.
 Over the next decade, Forts Shaw, Maginnis,
Custer, Keogh, Assinniboine, Harrison, and Missoula became a temporary home for
the Buffalo Soldiers. It was during this
time that the 25th captured the American public’s imagination as an
experimental bicycle division. Seeking
to replace expensive horses with cheaper forms of transportation, the military
personnel of the 25th performed patrols and other duties on two wheels. The experiment gained national attention
when, in 1896, these African American cyclists embarked upon a remarkable
journey from Missoula to St. Louis.
In 1898 the Spanish-American War marked a temporary end to
Buffalo Soldiers’ deployment in the West.
All four regiments were posted to active combat duty. The 10th Calvary became renowned for its gallant
charge up San Juan Hill alongside Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, while the
other regiments equally distinguished themselves in less celebrated clashes
with the enemy. In fact, both the 10th
and the 24th played a significant role in the capture of San Juan Hill as well
as in the Battle for El Caney.
After the Cuban campaign, the regiments were sent to repress guerilla
fighters in the Philippines, a highly controversial operation that would last
 The wars in
Cuba and the Philippines had a lasting impact on the shape of Montana’s African
American communities. Many soldiers
returned to Montana weary and unwell, and chose not to reenlist with the Army,
but instead make the state their permanent home.
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