When someone thinks of the west the first things that probably come to their mind are probably Cowboys, Indians, Gunfights and The Gold Rush. Little to no people think of blacks and their contribution to the expansion of the west. This is due to the fact that even though the west was considered free territory blacks were still enslaved tot a certain extent. What people have to realize is that slavery is more mental than anything. Blacks made contributions in many areas of the west: on the ranch, in wars, and also in commerce. In this paper I plan to bring to light a majority of the many contributions that blacks made to help make the American west what it is today. Many people carry the misconception that the west was only founded and established on the accomplishments of Caucasians. This is primarily because during the time of the expansion of the west blacks were still looked down upon so eve if they made a great contribution they were not given credit for it. Blacks gave many great contributions to the west, which aided in the success of the founding of that particular part of America and its history.
"During the time period of 1863 approximately 3,120,000 slaves were freed (Blacks in the west pg. 55)" Due to this large influx of free slaves many of them needed somewhere to go and jobs to do. So many of the decided to go to the west were they would be able to receive a new chance and new identities. " Black families coming wets in covered wagons established self sufficient all black towns and filed every job from barber, to teacher, doctor to state legislator. This went to show many people that there stereotype of blacks that they were dumb and less human was extremely incorrect. But the main contributions that I will be focusing on will be that of Black Cowboys and the buffalo Soldiers.
When one thinks of the cowboys the first thing that comes to their mind, or at least my mind would be a white man riding in the open parries of the West. But in many cases that was extremely untrue. "Nearly a third of all cowboys who helped build the American west were black (Black Pioneers Pg.16)". Many people do not know about this due to segregation. Mainly if not only white cowboys were given recognition due to the fact that slavery had just ended and many people were getting use to the fact that blacks were free and equal to them.
One black cowboy that made a substantial contribution to the West was William Picket. " He was a legendary cowboy from Taylor, Texas of black and Indian descent. He was born on December 5, 1870 at the Jenks branch community on the Travis county line. (The readers encyclopedia of the American West pg 190- 191)". Picket had to endure many hardships in order for him to become who he was. " He was often identified as an Indian or some other ethnic background other than black to be allowed to compete (The readers encyclopedia of the American West pg 190-191)." This meant that even though slavery had been abolished on January 1, 1863 and it was now the early 1900's slavery was still being practiced just not out in the fields. Blacks were still looked down upon as inferior there for hindering them from making the advances that they could have if they were given the right opportunity. Even though blacks had many different obstacles to keep them back they were still able to forge ahead and make contributions to aide the west in its expansion.
One of the many contributions of blacks that went unnoticed was their contribution to the war scene. Many blacks participated in battle due to the fact that it was an easy way for them to get out of the south. This allowed them to be able to explore different parts of America and they were able to get out of their social situation even if it meant certain death.
The thirty-ninth congress on July 28, 1866 passed an act to adjust the military peacetime establishment of the united States military" (The forgotten heroes: The story of the buffalo soldiers pg 15-16). This there fore allowed blacks to be allowed to be in the army. They were now beginning to receive more rights therefore they no longer starting to feel as if they were slaves.
"During the Years when the united States and the Confederate states were at war , the Government could not spare the resources to protect the frontier against Indian. Forts were abandoned, and so were the settlements that they had protected. In 1866 Congress authorized six regiments of Negro troops for the peace time army." (Blacks and the military in American History pr 69-63). Yes The United states allowed Blacks to fight in war but what was their purpose for allowing them to enter. Was it that they were quality fighters, or was America looking for bullet stoppers? I find it o be very convenient that They deicide to enlist black soldiers when there is no one else that is willing to do the job. The forts in the frontier had been abandon by the already present army. They left primarily due to fear if they had not already been killed. Therefore I feel that they took advantage of newly freed slaves that were looking for a way to gain a living and respect.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the government was fighting the Indians in the west. It withdrew most of its men and resources from the Indian wars, to concentrate on ending the rebellion. "At the end of the Civil War, 186,000 black soldiers had participated in the war, with 38,000 killed in action."( Southerners and eastern populations did not want to see armed Negro soldiers near or in their communities. They were also afraid of the labor market being flooded with a new source of labor. General employment opportunities in these communities was not available to blacks, so many African-Americans took a long hard look at military service, which offered shelter, education, steady pay, medical attention and a pension. Some decided it was much better than frequent civilian unemployment. Of course in some quarters, it was thought this is a good way of getting rid of two problems at the same time.
When Congress reorganized the peacetime regular army in the summer of 1866, it had taken the above situation into account. It also recognized the military merits of black soldiers by authorizing two segregated regiments of black cavalry, the Ninth United States Cavalry and the Tenth United States Cavalry and the 24th, 25th, 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments. Orders were given to transfer the troops to the western war arena, where they would join the army's fight with the Indians. "In 1869, the black infantry regiments were consolidated into two units, the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry and the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry" (Blacks in the West, pg 17). White officers commanded all of the black regiments at that time. They were now officially Buffalo Soldiers. They were given this name due to their extreme bravery and fearless attitude.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the government was fighting the Indians in the west. It withdrew most of its men and resources from the Indian wars, to concentrate on ending the rebellion. "At the end of the Civil War, 186,000 black soldiers had participated in the war, with 38,000 killed in action" (The Civil War in the American West pg. 42). Southerners and eastern populations did not want to see armed Negro soldiers near or in their communities. They were also afraid of the labor market being flooded with a new source of labor. General employment opportunities in these communities was not available to blacks, so many African-Americans took a long hard look at military service, which offered shelter, education, steady pay, medical attention and a pension. Some decided it was much better than frequent civilian unemployment. Of course in some quarters, it was thought this is an good way of getting rid of two problems at the same time.
Initial recruiting efforts concentrated on filling recruitment quotas with little regard for the recruit's capability and soldiering skills. These recruits had to be discharged and replaced, causing a delay in some regiments arriving at their assigned posts. Over a period of time, since whites could get good jobs in peacetime and even highly educated blacks usually could not, recruiters increasingly, began to enlist blacks who were more intelligent and capable than the average white soldier. This helped the eventual success and acceptance of the first African-American graduate from West Point Military Academy who was also the first African-American officer, posted to the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, Henry O. Flipper. Colonel Allen Allensworth was the first African-American chaplain and was posted to the Twenty-fourth Infantry. He is also founder of the first black established town just outside Bakersfield, California. In the late 1880's West Point graduates John H. Alexander and Charles Young were granted commissions to the Ninth U.S. Cavalry. Reverend Theophilus Steward of the 25th Infantry, was also relentless in his efforts to help his men in the areas of education, finances, moral and coping strategies as soldiers and as civilians.
Black soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars, fought their opponents as they have done throughout this country's military history. They fought to win and to give their lives if necessary, for their personal beliefs. They wanted to gain the respect and equality they never saw as slaves and rarely received as freedmen. So, they continued on as soldiers. They were sadly mistaken in thinking they would gain these components of freedom, in a country built in-part by their enslavement and which still held deep racial and cultural prejudices.
As soon as these soldiers were relocated into their hostile environments, they were engaged in life and death struggles. They were under fire. Friends were killed and their oath to keep the peace, put to the test by Indians, settlers and those outside the law. Though they guarded railroads and telegraph lines, stagecoaches, arms shipments, towns, homesteads, whites and Indians, they never knew when they would be ambushed by foes or the very townspeople they were protecting! Not infrequently, just by entering a town or saloon, shoot-outs occurred. There was also the occasional sniper, waiting for a kill. Those that murdered troopers were never punished for their crimes, even when there were witnesses. The troopers always responded with a deadly intent of their own. When investigated by the military, those troopers found guilty were punished accordingly, but not always justly.
After arriving at their posts the alternatives to soldiering were: desert to all white communities, where they were regarded with hateful scorn and risk imprisonment. Death and torture at the hands of the Indians or possible death by exposure to the killing heat and freezing cold. Though the Buffalo Soldiers did their duty in carrying out the government's version of law and order on the frontier west, many influential blacks such as Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce, continually spoke out for the Indians and against the United States treaty making and treaty breaking policies.
One of the things that the Army supported that you would think they would disregard was racism and segregation. Even thought the army had decided to enlist blacks to help in there operations. I feel that it is fair to say that they were for selfish reasons. Basically they figured the more black soldiers they sent out the less whites that would have to serve in the army.
"The army supported segregation. It maintained separate facilities where possible. ( The forgotten heros: the story of the Buffalo soldiers pg 39)." The Buffalo Soldiers built many forts whose facilities at times they couldn't use. At Fort Concho for example, there were separate rooms for educational purposes, etc. The necessities of military life forced white and black troops together, breaking down long standing prejudices.
So brave and courageous were these men that their legendary Indian foes called them Buffalo Soldiers. Their commanding officer, Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson of Civil War fame, said "the name was given because the Indians respected a brave and powerful adversary, which relates directly to their much-revered buffalo." IN looking at the events that I have spoken about it is easy to see why the Buffalo soldiers were given their name. They had to have been fearless fighters due to the simple fact that they were fearless going into battle. They were the only people who were brave enough to go into the west and defend the same people who years earlier had enslaved them. This shows us the determination that they possessed inside of them there fore allowing them to personal fears behind them and fight to make a name and a life for themselves. The buffalo soldiers were not in theses wars to protect their nation, they were in these wars to try and make a better life for themselves. Many of them went to was knowing that most likely they were not going to survive. Although they still had the hope that they would live. Anything was better than staying in a neighborhood where you were treated like a second-class citizen. Being in the army assured them a job and somewhere to stay. Even thought the government a reason for having these men was twisted, It all turned out for the better.
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