By Frank J. Buchman
Buffalo Soldiers were an important part of this nation’s history never appreciated or even known about.
Pages of time will be turned back more than a century-and-a-half when Buffalo Soldier re-enactors come to Salina.
The Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association will be among featured educational entertainment during the EquiFest of Kansas, March 18-19-20.
Buffalo Soldiers were African-American regiments of the Army that were created at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1866. They served in peacetime Indian wars, the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, and the Korean War.
“We started the Nicodemus Buffalo Soldier Association in 1995. Our purpose is to bring the African-Americans in the West to life,” First Sergeant Barrie Tompkins said.
“It was a part of history that went unnoticed for so many years. Living in Nicodemus, we decided to form a troop,” Tompkins explained. “That way, we could go out and present a part of living history, instead of people just reading about it.”
The small town of Nicodemus in northwest Kansas’ Graham County was founded by newly freed slaves in 1877. Nicodemus was the first black community west of the Mississippi River. It is the only remaining predominantly black community west of the Mississippi.
Some early residents of Nicodemus served as Buffalo Soldiers. They fought Indians, captured cattle rustlers and protected stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews.
“Buffalo Soldiers from Nicodemus served in the 24th Infantry Regiment and the 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments,” Tompkins said.
Tompkins, a Kent Cavalry Company F Buffalo Soldier reenactor, believes the black men’s reasons were probably pretty practical.
“Joining the Army gave them a purpose,” Tompkins said. “This was at the end of slavery, so where else would they go? What else were they going to do? For many black men, it was a better option than sharecropping.”
Once they became soldiers, the men quickly realized the honor and glory would have to come after other things.
“The Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association was formed to honor them,” Tompkins said. “So many of the things the Buffalo Soldiers accomplished went unnoticed.”
They were the first park rangers for Yosemite National Park, according to Tompkins, commander of the Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association.
Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Poncho Villa were actually encountered by Buffalo Soldiers but never got the recognition.
“Buffalo Soldiers had the highest enlistment rate and the lowest desertion. Their alcohol rate was zero because no town would serve them,” Tompkins said. “White soldiers burned their barracks, yet every white officer who commanded Buffalo Soldiers never wanted to command anybody else.”
The Nicodemus Buffalo Soldier Association strives to keep their performances as historically accurate as possible. According to Tompkins, the group wants to educate spectators on the soldiers who weren’t written about in history books.
“You get a chance to actually see and meet Buffalo Soldiers in authentic uniforms on horseback,” Tompkins said. “Of course, we are not from the 1800s. But we want to do everything historically accurate as close as we possibly can to give you that feeling.”
After performing drills on horseback, the re-enactors will offer the audience the chance to ask questions about the history of the cavalry.
“The Native Americans knew that the Great Spirit, which is God, sent them the buffalo,” Tompkins said. “It clothed them, sheltered them and fed them. Hair on the hump of the buffalo looked like the hair on the black man. So the Indians started calling them Buffalo Soldiers out of great respect.”
After President Truman desegregated the U.S. military in 1948, the Buffalo Soldiers’ days were numbered. The all-black units were disbanded in 1953. However, their legacy endures.
Tompkins wants people to know that Buffalo Soldiers were men of many talents. He will discuss them during his own special presentations at EquiFest.
“Some say all the Buffalo Soldiers did was build forts and roads, but that’s far from true,” Tompkins emphasized. “Actually 23 Buffalo Soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor. They’re the highest decorated cavalry regiment in all of U.S. military history.”
Buffalo Soldiers helped settle the West. “They strung telegraph lines. They delivered the mail when Pony Express ended. Their contributions are numerous and great,” Tompkins reiterated.
Several members of the Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association, including Tompkins, appeared in two TNT movies. They were filmed in Teddy Roosevelt Roughriders starring Sam Elliot and also appeared in Buffalo Soldiers with Danny Glover.
The Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association presents an important part of history most people have never known about.
During the EquiFest of Kansas in Salina, March 18-19-20, Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers Association re-enactors will present the Buffalo Soldiers history.
Buffalo Soldiers were African-American regiments of the United States Army that were created in 1866.