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Students Trace History of Buffalo Soldiers in Guadalupe Mountains

Students Trace History of Buffalo Soldiers in Guadalupe Mountains


In June 1866, Congress authorized the creation of six regiments of Black soldiers — two cavalry and four infantry. The two cavalry regiments would go down in history as the “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Now, 139 years later, a group of Black and American Indian college and high school students dug in the dirt for hours under a hot sun in Guadalupe Mountains National Park to learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers and the Apache Indians.

But the task was more than just digging to find evidence of the soldiers and their turbulent co-existence with the Apaches, who had a strong presence in the area during the 1800s.

For the students, it was also an opportunity to take a look at their heritage.

For the second year, 10 college students from the predominantly Black Howard University in Washington, D.C., and five high school students from Mescalero participated in the National Park Service Warriors Project, which gives students the opportunity to get a feel for archaeology and anthropology and get a glimpse of the past.

Eleanor King, a Howard University anthropology professor, said the students’ task was to locate Buffalo Soldier camps, which were also used by the Apaches once the soldiers were gone.

In conducting excavations and mapping, students found evidence that a 60-acre site between the lower and upper Pine Springs areas was used for camping and patrolling by the soldiers and was also periodically home to the Apaches.

In about two weeks, students found fly buttons believed to have come off of soldiers pants, framing and cut nails, rivets, a box-like oven with ash in it underneath a hearth, a mess kit and a small lid believed to have come from a tin can. Stone and metal tools were also found.

King said she and her staff and students were working closely with Park Service archaeologist Charles Haecker to document sites and artifacts found during the project.

Haecker, a military archaeology specialist, said the Buffalo Soldiers served on the Western frontier. The 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments served in the Guadalupe Mountains and surrounding area.

The soldiers built forts and roads, protected railroad crews, escorted stages and trains and protected settlers. In the Guadalupe Mountains, the soldiers often clashed with the Apaches and tried to keep them out of the area by guarding Pine Springs, which was their main source of water.

They also had adversaries such as Sitting Bull, Victorio and Geronimo.

Although they were often given some of the worst assignments by the Army, the Buffalo Soldiers persevered, and the 9th and 10th Cavalries developed into two of the most distinguished fighting units in the army, Haecker said.

John Lujan, park superintendent, said preparations for the archaeology research were extensive and Haecker had worked hard to make sure all of the necessary permits and paperwork were in order.

“We feel this program initiated by the National Park Service is important because it encourages a discussion between the African-American and Native American students about the relationship between the Buffalo Soldiers and the Apaches,” King said. “Once the two were enemies. But today, out here, they are working side by side.”

— Associated Press

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